Youth is not an excuse


Jahseh Onfroy crammed a wildly successful music career under the stage name XXXTentacion into a short life, which was also characterised by the recurring theme of violence. Violence against women, violence against friends, violence against colleagues.

He was an unrepentantly violent person and we were all complicit in ignoring his darkness because his music was “fire”. All of that turmoil came to an abrupt and violent end at the hands of unknown assailants on June 18.

Violence was not foreign to Onfroy. He recounted in interviews how — as a six-year-old — he had tried to stab a man who was “messing” with his mother. He was expelled from his first middle school for violent conduct and other infractions, which foreshadowed the deep dive into the violent darkness that would become the mainstay of his adult life.

Recognising his demons (the media’s euphemistic term for pathological behaviour), his mother tried to nurture his nascent passion for music by signing him up for the choir. He got kicked out of the programme for punching a classmate.

READ MORE: Bill Cosby found guilty of sexual assault

The first reported incident of domestic violence involving XXXTentacion allegedly took place in May 2016. According to his ex-girlfriend’s testimony that online magazine Pitchfork obtained, he threatened to penetrate her vagina with a “barbecue pitchfork”, headbutted her, tried to cut her tongue out for humming another rapper’s verse and held her head under running water in a bathtub.

At the time of his murder, XXXTentacion was awaiting trial for a 2016 domestic abuse case, in which he was charged with aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment and intimidating witnesses.

As news of his untimely demise made its way on to social media, there was an avalanche of celebration by people who believed his contributions to the music industry should not overshadow the pain he inflicted on his alleged victims.

In response, his fans and supporters began repeating the refrain used by alleged abusers the world over: she tried to ruin his life.

It’s very interesting how we are socialised to believe that the #MeToo movement and all its iterations are basically a way to ruin men’s lives or hamper their careers. The weirdest thing about this moment in our history is the response: “Why do you want to ruin his life?”

But why is the onus on everyone else but abusive men to keep on the straight and narrow? Holding abusers accountable is not an exercise in “ruining” lives, it is simply justice.

Historically, sexual harassment or assault allegations do not ruin men’s careers or lives. There are relatively few examples of men accused of harassment, assault or even domestic violence who have been held back by the allegations in any meaningful and tangible way.

Think for a moment of the biggest names that came out of #MeToo and how long it has taken for any sort of action to be taken against them.

Time and again we forgive prominent men — politicians, entertainers, businesspeople — for their transgressions even when they are criminal, as though we expect it of them to behave badly. Some may argue their behaviour adds to their profile, their “realness” and how human they are.

To some, XXXTentacion’s age (20) and the violent society we are all a part of is reason enough to shift the focus from his actions and from his victims.

I accept that cases like these require society to do some introspection. However, his youth was not a guarantee that he would have gone on to reform when much older men like Bill Cosby, Roman Polanski, James Toback and Harvey Weinstein went on to reoffend.

READ MORE: #ZolileKhumalo killer had previous assault conviction

It also does not ring true to say that, because he was born into a violent society, he can be excused for the crimes he allegedly committed. There are millions of people who can say that is also their story — but they don’t go on to rape and assault others.

Focusing on the perpetrator’s circumstances leads society to blame the victim and does not hold the perpetrators accountable for their actions.

These assaults happen because perpetrators exert power and take away any control the survivor has in choosing whether to engage in a sexual situation. And they continue to offend, safe in the knowledge that nothing will happen to them.

Our society is still primed not to listen to victims, be they male or female, and the system that is supposed to seek justice on their behalf can be invasive to the point of violation and persecution.

Whatever your feelings towards XXXTentacion and men like him, it is important to note that death does not erase how he treated women in his life. The music will live on, and so will his victims’ scars.

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

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Kiri Rupiah
Kiri Rupiah is the online editor at the Mail & Guardian.

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