If we can't tell rape from sex, something is terribly wrong

Johannesburg, November 22: When the story about a Jules High School girl allegedly being raped on the school grounds hit the headlines, I had a flash back to my worst moment as a mother of two daughters, then aged seven and 10.

One afternoon about 16 years ago my two princesses came rushing back from a Johannesburg school in a tizz because two men had been seen prowling around the girls’ ablution block. My girls, with whom I had not yet discussed sex, wanted to know the meaning of rape.

I found myself unusually stumped for words. It still pains me that my moment to lead my daughters through the rites of passage should have been stolen from me in this cruel way.

On the eve of this year’s Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign, the news is awash with the Jules High School incident, that some call “sex”, others “rape”, others “alleged rape”. The confusion and conflation of sex and rape is a glaring reminder that something is terribly wrong in our society.

In the Jules High School case we are told that boys drugged a 15-year-old girl, but in the same breath that she consented to sex.

In the course of a fortnight one newspaper ran these three contradictory headlines: “Girl in video was willing”; then (after an exclusive interview with the girl) “I was not in control after taking drink”; but a week later, “Girl admits to consensual sex”.

The girl laid a charge of rape, only to find herself charged with rape through some bizarre twist of the Sexual Offences Act that makes it a crime to have sex with a girl below the age of 16, but makes her equally guilty if she consents.

She stands before a magistrate and says she did, in fact, consent. What would be the consequences if she did not say this? What are the choices? To go to jail (for raping herself?) or to face an agonising trial in which the cards are stacked against her?

The young woman at Jules High School is the subject of a cellphone video being pawned on the internet. If she is not in physical exile, her soul must be somewhere close to hell. Where the two boys involved (who the police did not want to charge so as not to disturb their exams) will be macho heroes, her reputation will be one of a cheap, low down “slut”.

Thin line
I am not condoning women who have sex and then cry rape. Neither am I condoning under-age children having sex, under whatever pretext, on school grounds. What I am saying is that when the line between sex and rape has become so blurred that we use these words interchangeably, something is seriously amiss.

At the heart of this is the unequal power relation between boys and girls, men and women, that results in us not even being able to distinguish what is and is not appropriate behaviour.

The internet does not help. Try googling the word “girls” on Google images. You might expect to see pictures of young women going to school, planning their careers, at sports or at play. Instead, you will find young women in bikinis, painting their finger nails, or being available for boys. Images of “boys”, on the other hand, are of hunting in packs, playing sport, being successful and (proudly) “bad”.

Ahead of Thursday’s International Day of No Violence Against Women, Gender Links and the Medical Research Council released preliminary findings of a gender violence prevalence survey for Gauteng, showing that 51,1% of women in the province had experienced some form of gender violence, and that 78,3% of men admitted to having perpetrated some form of emotional, physical, sexual or economic abuse in their lifetime.

One in four women in the province had experienced sexual violence in her lifetime. An even greater proportion of men (37,4%) disclosed perpetrating sexual violence. What is chilling about the research is that in almost every case, men’s corroboration of what women said actually outstrips women’s claims. And, giving numbers to a well known fact, the research shows that overall, only one in 25 rapes is reported to police.

The “diversion” programme
Following the public outcry over the decision by the National Prosecution Authority to charge the two boys and the girl involved in the Jules High School incident, the three are now likely to be sent on a “diversion” programme. It would be interesting to know what this will consist of.

How not to drug a young woman? Why not to have sex on school grounds? Or how to treat others with the respect that a Constitution anchored in equal rights demands?

If girls and boys understood what was meant by mutual respect perhaps we would be able to identify right away what is sex and what is rape, just as we know right from wrong.

The obvious battles for gender equality, such as getting a Sexual Offences Act passed, have been won. But what the Jules High School case suggests is that the battle to change attitudes and mindsets has just begun.

Colleen Lowe Morna is executive director of Gender Links. This article is part of a special series on the Sixteen Days of Activism for the Gender Links opinion and commentary service. For more information, go to www.genderlinks.org.za

Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus

Client Media Releases

NWU PhD student to present at Young Scientist Conference
MTN opens nominations for Women in ICT awards
How will IOT affect your world?
Mandela Day lives on with Brainstorm's Leaders of Tomorrow