- The fate of victims of sexual crimes
Compiled by Kotie Geldenhuys
“You were wearing a low cut, short mini dress, what did you expect?” Those are often the first words a rape victim hears when she tells someone from whom she trusted to get support, after she was raped by a friend at a party. Victims who come forward to report what happened, often have to answer ridiculous questions such as: “How much did you drink?” or “what did you wear?” These questions about the victim’s behaviour and choices are sometimes almost as painful as the violent act itself. Victims often stumble upon rape culture: a culture in which sexual violence is the norm and victims are blamed for the attacks on them.
The SAPS recorded a total of 39 828 cases of rape for the 2016/2017 financial year. These statistics are shocking because they represent what happened to real people. Unfortunately, several incidents of rape go unreported as many children, women and men don't report the crime for fear of being blamed; not being believed; experiencing secondary abuse; or that the criminal justice system will fail them. Rape culture and the practice of victim blaming are inherently linked phenomena which are prevalent in the South African society. The existence of a rape culture which normalises sexual violence and blames rape victims for the attacks against them, strongly influences the outcomes of rape trials and the treatment of rape victims.
What is a rape culture?
The term "rape culture" is often used to describe the way a society can contribute to the normalisation, endorsement and often even justification of sexual violence. Examples of rape culture, according to the Southern Connecticut State University in the USA (www.southernct.edu/sexual-misconduct/facts.html), include:
- blaming the victim (such as by saying "She asked for it");
- trivialising sexual assault such as: "Boys will be boys";
- telling sexually explicit jokes;
- tolerating sexual harassment;
- publicly scrutinising a victim's clothes, mental state, motives and history;
- gratuitous gender violence in movies and television;
- defining "manhood" as dominant and sexually aggressive and "womanhood" as submissive and sexually passive;
- pressure on men to "score";
- assuming that men don't get raped or that only "weak" men get raped; and
- refusing to take rape accusations seriously, which is what happened in the Bob Hewitt case where one of the victims' mothers didn't believe her when she told her
- that he had raped her (refer to the Crime Series about this case as published in Servamus: June 2017 from p 36).
In this article we will also briefly look at so-called corrective rape (this describes the phenomenon whereby women are raped for being lesbian); male rape; revenge rape and cyber rape, as the rape is being justified in some way or another and/or the victim is being blamed for what happened to her/him in all these types of rape.
Victim blaming comes in many forms and it can apply to rape and sexual assault cases, but also to more common crimes, such as when a man is pickpocketed and is then blamed for his decision to carry his wallet in his back pocket. In rape cases, victim blaming happens when a rape victim is told to take responsibility for the crime, or that both the victim and the rapist are equally to be blamed. This creates the false idea that rape is something the victim is responsible for or something people can easily avoid.
Not everyone who engages in victim blaming explicitly accuses victims of failing to prevent what has happened to them. In fact, in its more understated forms, people may not always realise they are busy playing the blame game. Even hearing about a crime and thinking you would have been more careful had you been in the victim's shoes is a mild form of victim blaming (Roberts, 2016).
McKaizer (2017) stresses that the culture of victim blaming is insidious and that even women participate in it. In one case an older woman called a South African radio talk 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. This woman then said that the victim had 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 should a survivor of rape be held chiefly responsible for recovering the humanity of the monster who attacked her? This is victim blaming on a whole new level - it sends a message to girls and women that they are responsible for being attacked and that as punishment for their supposed irresponsibility of making boys and men rape them, they must also help to soothe their victim-rapist. In cases like these, the perpetrator is regarded the victim and the victim is seen as the perpetrator. Isn't it shocking?