Stop victim-blaming. It’s perverse

“There is no such thing as a safe space in this country if you’re black and a woman and lesbian. You’re a walking coffin,” said a young lesbian activist at a roundtable conversation I was part of this past week.

Story after story of exclusion, marginalisation, violence and invisibility dovetailed the latest wave of public reports of violence against girls and women in this country.

I feel drained by it all. Yet my emotional fatigue is not and cannot be close to what it must be like to be a woman in this country.

The arbitrary fact of having a penis confers on me male privileges I did not choose. I am a beneficiary of a global history of misogyny. So I feel pathetic, quite frankly, to even express exasperation.

Women don’t even have the space to emote openly. I have more space than they do. We men get rewarded for showing empathy. I get positive feedback for being an ally of women in a world where the standards for affirming men are low.

The young woman activist, however, cannot even emote openly about her story of surviving misogyny without being policed.

“Why did she go back to his house after she met him at the club? What did she expect the man would do? It’s like putting candy in the room and leaving a child there and being surprised it eats the candy.” This is almost verbatim what a man said on my radio show on Tuesday in an orgy of gross victim-blaming.

This culture of victim-blaming is so insidious that even women participate in it. One older woman called into the same show and urged women who are raped not to walk away from the rapist but to help their rapist deal with “the wounds and anger” that cause them to rape.

She cited the example of a perpetrator who had been abandoned by his dad. His absent father had left the boy “wounded and angry”. The boy sexually assaulted a girl.

The woman then said the victim has a responsibility not to walk away but to help the perpetrator.

The level of perversity in this comment is horrific. It stems from a seemingly innocent motive, the desire to help stop that young rapist from raping more girls. But why the hell should a survivor of rape be held chiefly responsible for recovering the humanity of the monster who attacked her?

This is taking victim-blaming to a whole new level. It sends a message to girls and women that they are, first, responsible for being attacked and, second, that as punishment for their supposed irresponsibility of making boys and men rape them, they must also help to soothe their victim-rapist.

Yes, that is what this is about: calling perpetrators the victims and victims the perpetrators. It is a violent inversion of reality as the ultimate expression of hatred against women.

Rapists and murderers aren’t born criminal. I am not suggesting that we should refuse to make sense of the head space of rapists.

We must ask difficult questions about the underlying drivers of violence if we are to eliminate the gratuitous acts of violence in society.

It is critically important, however, that in trying to empathise with a perpetrator, who might also be a victim of a biography he did not choose, that we shield women from misplaced accusations of being partly or wholly responsible for being raped or murdered.

A woman going home with a man after meeting him at a club does not thereby consent to having her rights violated.

The idea that her rights are reduced if she does not predict that he will rape her and so walk away from him is one of the most toxic and common bits of bullshit we routinely reinforce in public and private discourse.

Instead of teaching girls and women how to avoid getting raped we need to instruct boys and men not to rape.

We can do this even while grappling with the terrible range of structural drivers behind this war against women: violent masculinities; poverty and inequality; absent fathers and broken families; inequality; an absence of role models and mentors; a dysfunctional criminal justice system that does not deter us.

But a horrible, broken, unjust world does not excuse rape even if it makes it more likely that people will lash out in violent ways as an expression of loss of power and hopelessness. We can grapple with the complexities of these factors that fuel and sustain rape culture while demanding that men behave.

The way to get this balance right is not to perpetuate the culture of victim-blaming.

No girl or woman has a duty to stop rape. Boys and men have a duty to stop hating, raping and murdering women. We do it. We must end it.

See “‘Not all men’ misses the point”

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Eusebius Mckaiser
Eusebius McKaiser
Eusebius McKaiser is a political and social analyst at the Wits Centre for Ethics. He is also a popular radio talk show host, a top international debate coach, a master of ceremonies and a public speaker of note. He loves nothing more than a good argument, having been both former National South African Debate Champion and the 2011 World Masters Debate Champion. His analytic articles and columns have been widely published in South African newspapers and the New York Times. McKaiser has studied law and philosophy. He taught philosophy in South Africa and England.

Related stories

Steenhuisen remains simply the best

With reference to Eusebius McKaiser “The DA’s next leader should have a diverse political toolkit” (Mail&Guardian, September 23)

McKaiser needs to challenge his inner racist too

COMMENT: Clicks - or some of its employees - demonstrated culpa, not dolus

702: Vitriol dims the radio’s star

702 has recently lost a number of high-profile presenters. It says this is part of a shift to gain listeners. But insiders say something is rotten

Eusebius McKaiser: A letter to us people who live in the suburbs

The Covid-19 lockdown means wealthy citizens must take a long-overdue look at our privilege. Now is the time for cross-class solidarity

Steenhuisen is a shoo-in as DA leader, but he needs help

The biggest challenge for the next leader of the Democratic Alliance will be to get politicians like Mbali Ntuli onside

Lady Zamar: Is a woman’s word ever good enough on its own?

After news that house songstress Lady Zamar opened a rape case against hip-hop crooner Sjava, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival has removed him from its 2020 lineup

Subscribers only

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

More top stories

Hawks swoop down with more arrests in R1.4-billion corruption blitz

The spate of arrests for corruption continues apace in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape.

Catholic NGO boss accused of racism and abuse in Sudan

The aid worker allegedly called his security guard a ‘slave’

Agrizzi too ill to be treated at Bara?

The alleged crook’s “health emergency” — if that is what it is — shows up the flaws, either in our health system or in our leadership as a whole

SANDF hid R200m expenditure on ‘Covid’ drug it can’t use

Military health officials are puzzled by the defence department importing a drug that has not been approved for treating coronavirus symptoms from Cuba

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday