Over the last few days, reports of a politician accused of alleged sexual assault has dominated the airwaves and resurrected the whole rape and sexual offenses debate about who to blame or rather how to rid our society of this heinous and insensate act.
The chart below shows the total number of reported offenses against morality – a category of crimes that includes rape, defilement, incest, sodomy, bestiality, indecent assault, abduction and bigamy according to the Kenya Police Service – in the 5 year period between 2009 and 2013 broken down into specific crimes. Please keep away from the defilement section if you do not wish to be appalled!
This, though, is the number of reported crimes and hence would not include the crimes where victims keep quiet out of fear, embarrassment or just ignorance.
A slight peek into this debate always brings out an uncomfortable truth. It is almost conventional wisdom now that to reduce these incidents, ladies should change their mode of dressing, take self-defense classes, carry pepper spray in their handbags, avoid some designated areas, et al: all this in a free society!
This, to me, conveys a certain narrative. That it is your fault you were raped. You should have known how to fight. You should have been stronger. You should have dressed differently from what makes you comfortable. You should have avoided that street.
Why blame the victim, albeit indirectly?
This is not me assuming that rape only occurs against women and it is only perpetuated by men. No. This is a collection of thoughts about this predilection to lay blame on the victim while minimal exertion is directed at the perpetrator.
So How Do We Change This?
Well, a tweet I came across on “rape prevention advice” embodied what I have felt for long..
— i100 (@thei100) March 25, 2015
To some, it is just an insensitive attempt at making a mockery of the vice.
I think not. To me, it is a well thought-out strategy that rightly shifts the power of prevention from the victim, innocent and barely on the wrong, to the perpetrator, who is in control and can decide whether an actual rape takes place or not.
With the current narrative, a victim feels responsible and might make them hide the truth out of fear of blame and more victimization while the perpetrators move from victim to victim. But if it were to be packaged, instead, as an intolerable act of violence where the perpetrators are called out for who they are and what they did and the victims supported in their recovery then we might see a difference.
Let us move away from telling the victim/probable victim that it is/was their fault and they shouldn’t exercise their right to movement, dressing and association in a free society and shift to reminding the perpetrators that it is their fault and their decision to bring harm to another human being. That what they did cannot be condoned.
Time to stop saying, “You were wrong to be raped” to the victim but turn to the perpetrator and say, “You were wrong to rape.”