Don't victimise rape victims

Smooth-talking Charlie (35) seduces vulnerable Annie (14) and rapes her in the film Trust. (Supplied)

Smooth-talking Charlie (35) seduces vulnerable Annie (14) and rapes her in the film Trust. (Supplied)

I am a grade 12 student, living in Pretoria. I recently attended a screening of the movie Trust at the Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg with 300 of my peers – all grade 10 to 12 students. The aim of the movie was to create awareness among us, as young adults in the digital age, about the dangers of online dating.

The basic premise of the movie was that a 14-year-old girl, Annie, meets a "boy", Charlie, in an online chat room.
Over a period of two months, Charlie woos Annie and persuades her to meet him. When they finally meet, Charlie turns out to be a 35-year-old man.

"It's still me," Charlie says to a petrified Annie when they meet. "I didn't want to tell you my age because I didn't think you were mature enough to handle it."

By saying this, he is manipulating the fact that he knows she wants to be treated like an adult. "I love you, Annie. We are soul mates," he says to this vulnerable girl who is craving attention. He convinces her to go back to his hotel room with him, and there he has sex with her.

At this point the movie was stopped by our facilitator, Lebo Mashile, who asked us a very interesting question: Was this rape?

To me, the answer was a given. The 35-year-old man manipulated and then raped the 14-year-old girl.

Microphones were distributed among the audience and we were asked to share our thoughts on the movie. The first three students to speak had very similar answers: Annie was raped.

The fourth student to stand up, though, had a different view. With great conviction, he said Annie hadn't been raped: Annie had a choice and Annie was stupid. These words were met with applause and cheers. To my horror, I realised that most of the students in the room agreed that Annie was in fact in the wrong One by one, more and more students, driven by the cheers of the crowd, stood up and attacked this fictional character.

Now, of course Annie is much more than a fictional character – she is also a symbol. She is a symbol of the women in South Africa who have been raped or will be raped in their lifetimes – an estimated two women out of every five. The ­students who denigrated Annie represent the mentality that we, as a country, seem to have adopted.

The shame Annie feels in the movie, after she has had sex with Charlie, is the same shame that means eight out of every nine rape victims in South Africa will not report being raped to the authorities. How is it that, as a society, we have a mentality that makes rape victims ashamed of what's happened to them? Why do we victimise the victims? The mentality of my fellow students, our future leaders, represents a mentality that stretches far beyond the confines of that room.

We have the responsibility to change this. Our sisters and mothers should not live in fear of being raped. And, if they do become victims of this atrocious crime, they shouldn't be shunned by society.

As a leader of tomorrow I beg today's leaders to help us all to address the ever-growing issue of sexual assault. No longer should the women of Africa be wronged for being wronged.