Is rape a joke in SA?
In 2013, now-defunct men’s magazine FHM SA dismissed two journalists for making jokes about rape. Max Barashenkov, the features editor, used his Facebook page to “propose correctional rape and sterilisation for any white person who twerks”. As people posted their disgust at his comment, his colleague, Montle Moorosi decided to weigh in on that matter by taking it further, posting: “I think rape can be quite fun if executed in a romantic manner”.
FHM suspended and later dismissed both. In a statement, FHM stated that they were “horrified by the incredibly offensive comments” and stressed that the hurtful and deeply offensive comments in no way reflected FHM values. So what were FHM’s values? And does SA media have clear values and policies on sexual harassment, the use of offensive language with sexual innuendos, etc? And, as a society, when people make such remarks and jokes about rape, what is our stance. Plus, how do these comments and the lack of appropriate response and action feed into rape culture and the objectification of women?
Moorosi and Barashenkov wrote a letter of apology to South Africans and apologised to survivors of rape but, also challenged the multitudes of people who were outraged, called them out and insulted them on social media to think about their own reactions when actual rapes happen as well as how much they support efforts to end the scourge of rape in SA.
Jokes about rape are common in the vocabulary of men worldwide and South African men are no exception. During his campaigning in the US elections, a video did the rounds of President-Elect Donald Trump making lewd sexual comments about women, for which he was criticised. Despite outrage from different quarters he went on to win the elections.
Gender experts and activists in South Africa and worldwide believe there is a need for radical change in structures of power in governments, business, religious and cultural organisations in order to effectively change institutionalised sexism and patriarchy.
The Constitution and Law
The Preamble to the Sexual Offenses Act recognises that women and children are particularly vulnerable in general and, therefore, are more likely to be raped, sexually assaulted, and forced into sex work. The law also acknowledges that the prevalence of rape and sexual offences point to deep-seated challenges of a dysfunctional society.
The Constitution of South Africa obliges Government to create an environment in which everyone’s right to freedom and dignity and bodily integrity are protected. The government is also a signatory to the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women as well the Convention on the Rights of the Child. All these instruments place the responsibility of combating and eradicating the abuse of women and children on Government. Legislation has, therefore, been enacted and policies created to address the scourge of rape, domestic violence and discrimination against women and children.
But government alone cannot solve this problem, which is why the International 16 DAYS OF NO VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND CHILDREN campaign has been adopted, amongst other programmes, to encourage us, as South Africans, to participate and get involved in efforts to stop the abuse of women and children.
The South African Police Services crime statistics indicate that 51 895 people reported rape and other sexual offences in 2015/16. 9 510 of these rapes were reported in Gauteng.
UNAIDS says more women than men get infected with HIV because of the higher prevalence of women being raped and forced or coerced into sex. Many women encounter abuse in long-term relationships. The South African Medical Research Council (MRC) says women who are raped by strangers also get infected but not at the same rate as women who are in relationships.
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16 Days Campaign
The theme for the government’s 16 Days campaign is a challenge to us all: “COUNT ME IN: TOGETHER MOVING FORWARD A NON-VIOLENT SOUTH AFRICA FORWARD”.
It’s a call to all South Africans to lend a hand in whatever way they can to actively address the abuse of children, women and people with disabilities, to support policies to promote gender equality and to eradicate gender-based violence.
For a democracy to thrive, citizens have to get involved. Our participation begins at the polls when we vote but should continue beyond the election. Citizens have a responsibility to hold Government and its institutions accountable, while also promoting democracy and the culture of human rights where we live and work.
There are different ways in which we can do this:
- Support charities that work towards making children, women, people with disabilities and the elderly safe from any form of violence in your own neighbourhood or community.
- Do not laugh at or agree with jokes about rape, violence and the demeaning of women. You can register your protest or disapproval by speaking up and then walking away.
- Educate yourself about rape and violence against women and children to develop the skill to respond appropriately when people make comments or suggest that beating up women and children is justifiable.
- Learn about gender equality and make a commitment not to participate in jokes and conversations that suggest that women are less intelligent, are only good for marriage or to satisfy men’s sexual appetite.
Some of the ways to respond to such comments is by pointing out:
- The Constitution of SA guarantees the safety and dignity of everyone including women and children.
- The government has enacted laws and gender policies to protect women and children against abuse.
- Violence and gender inequality renders women powerless and unable to lead safe and productive lives and robs them of their right to meaningfully participate in politics, business and other sectors.
We need to make 16 Days of Activism a clarion call to live in a way that is conducive to all of us thriving every day.