Editorial: Victim-blaming for rape

In today’s paper and online, we report on a charge of rape laid against a struggle hero — another account of sexual assault amid the many now emerging, both abroad and in South Africa. 

Singer and former parliamentarian Jennifer Ferguson’s story of her alleged rape, at the hands of a prominent South African sports administrator and politician, has been joined now by that of another woman who was allegedly raped by the man; so Ferguson has said in an interview.

The second woman hasn’t yet come into the open, but she may yet — especially if she sees signs of support for the revelations of her narrative in public discourse. She may yet join the women who, in some cases a long time after the alleged abuse took place, spoke up about the depredations of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and writer-director James Toback. 

She may yet be able to speak in an atmosphere different to that in which President Jacob Zuma’s rape accuser had to tell her story: Fezeka Kuzwayo had to use a pseudonym, Khwezi, go into hiding and later leave South Africa, as a result of the psychological and propagandistic assault upon her when she testified in court. 

Speaking out against power and its abuses can lead to a great deal more abuse being directed at the accuser. The victim of a crime is victimised all over again, if not by the police meant to deal with the crime, then by the defenders of the accused.

For a very long time, concerned citizens have been crying out about what seems an epidemic of rape. This week, the South African Police Service released crime statistics that, in general, show the crime situation to have deteriorated since the last stats came out. That’s quite bad enough, but the cops made their admission worse by quoting a study that apparently gave figures for how many rape victims were inebriated at the time. 

This looks perilously close to victim-blaming: Will the police next tabulate who was wearing what at the time of the rape? Is this the nature of the social research they trust to inform their policing? 

It makes one distrust big-talking Police Minister Fikile Mbalula’s six-point programme, released this week, which he said would help in combatting gender-based violence.


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