Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Timeless threat: Silence.

It works every time or at least almost every time. Victims of sexual harassment, molestation and rape do not, in a lot cases, immediately report the incident. They are threatened in to silence. In the cases where the victims are not threatened by their attackers to remain silent, they are usually very reluctant to discuss the incident even if they report it. I have always wondered why the silence. Today, there is an increase in the report of rape incidents. Despite this increase, more than half of these incidents go unreported. Rape remains a whispered topic of conversation.

Rape. What is rape? A lot of people define rape as forceful sexual intercourse or sexual intercourse without the consent of the other person. The definition of rape varies in different countries and has definitely evolved over time. Different jurisdictions word their definitions differently.
The United Nations defines rape as “sexual intercourse without valid consent”.
The World Health Organisation in 2002 defined it as “physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration – even if slight – of the vulva or anus using a penis, other body parts or an object”.
Up until this year, the FBI defined rape as “The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will” How ancient is this? This definition had been in place since 1927. The new definition is “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person without the consent of the victim”. Note that this new definition is as all encompassing as any definition can be. It covers men, women as well as rape by objects.

No matter how precise the definition of rape is, I don’t think it could even begin to describe things from the viewpoint of the victim. There is so much more to rape than forceful sexual intercourse. It is an act of violence, an intimate kind of violence. In some estimates, over 70 per cent of rape victims know or have at least met their assailants. It could be a relative, friend, co worker, date neighbour or other acquaintance. The primary motives behind rape are generally said to be power, control and anger, though lust and sexual attraction are said to be influential.

I have read a few stories from victims of rape. These are personal experiences from women who decide to stand up and speak out, to share and to be heard. What I picked up was the fact that these women felt violated in the most personal way possible. Victims are left with the feeling of being unclean and try as much as possible to rid their bodies of anything that remind them of their assailant, a task most difficult because their very bodies remind them of the incident. It’s really not surprising then that a rape victim would be reluctant to report or discuss the incident. And this is not even taking into account the possibility of not being believed especially in cases of date rape.

A threat is made to instil fear and gain control, to coerce the threatened party to do or not to do something against their will. This added to the shock and trauma that follows a rape victim makes silence an easy option. In addition, the fact that the victim might very well know who raped them does not make it easy to open up. The very presence of this person in their lives is a reminder of the fact that they can come back any time and do it again. This presence is in itself a threat on the victim – a threat to be quiet.

Silence is not observed only by rape victims. Battered women are usually also reluctant to discuss or report such behaviour of, in most cases, their spouse or partner. Emotionally/psychologically battered women, in my opinion, are least likely to share or report such abuse. There is no set criterion to define emotional battery which makes it hard to identify and even harder report such a form of gender based violence. Personally, I take gender based violence to be crimes hard to identify (mostly because its hush-hush as no one usually wants to out rightly talk about it) and report which is why it is an issue in the first place. 

Especially to women.

Battered women, especially women who are beaten by their spouse or partner try to deal with the issue at home. In such cases, the violence is perceived as stemming from relationship issues. Such violence is reported usually after multiple incidents and as a last resort. In the African context, women are socialised to deal with such issues at home, do their best to “fix” whatever it is their partners do not like and are usually discouraged from discussing with issues especially with non family members. Most African women do not even know that battery should be officially reported, which is sad. Then there is the possible repercussion from reporting – risk of being beaten for reporting and putting family issues out in the open.

Today, women everywhere are being encouraged to speak up in order to be protected from gender based violence. Worth noting is the fact that silence is not a solution, it is part of the problem. Opening up to a trustworthy person, be it friend, neighbour, sister or co worker would certainly help in lifting the burden of such silence.

By Doris Gweh

1 comment:

  1. In Nigeria the problem is the law and the courts. It takes a period of 8 - 10 years for cases to be concluded and the actors move freely. This is a factor responsible for not reporting. Its recomended for women to press to have special court to handle rape matters.