Nowhere to run

November 2010 – from Health24

Why the bleak title?

Well, take the revolting case of the gang-raped schoolgirl (November 2010) – fed a date-rape drug on school property during the school day, and raped by several fellow students who filmed it on their cellphones.

Then they disseminated the clip to others, and it’s alleged that the clip was watched by other students and some teachers, who, it is also alleged, laughed as they watched because the girl was “drunk”.

When I sat down to thump these words down on paper at 10.30 this Monday morning, the three accused had not yet been arrested, and were still attending school on Friday – the case couldn’t be investigated because the students were writing exams.

At 11.45, Monday, there was a news report to say that the arrest of the three accused rapists has not been confirmed, that the nation must wait for a press conference. In the interim, the Minister for women, children and persons with disabilities will be visiting the alleged victim at her home in Soweto.

Why?

To tell her that she’s sorry? To tell her that it should never have happened, but it will probably happen again? That she should be glad she isn’t living in one of the rural areas where rape accompanies kidnapping – after which you find you are the underage wife-slave of some stranger? That luckily for her, the alleged victim lives in a land where we can provide the morning-after pill and ARV’s – in fact, we can provide everything you’ll ever need after being raped, but we can’t stop rape at all?

And it’s not hard to understand why we can’t stop rape. Because it’s apparently funny, portrayed as amusing to students and possibly even teachers. It’s also apparently not an urgent matter – it appears that you can rape someone, film it, show it to countless witnesses and then still walk around being vaguely famous without finding yourself handcuffed, in a van and on your way to a holding tank full of fellow-accused where you belong.

Or, if asked about your 13-year-old kidnapped bride hauling water in the midday sun after a night of forced sex, you can just tell the reporter that it’s a cultural thing and it will never change.

Who can possibly change the tide of rape that washes across this country while rape is still considered a normal and proper response to male sexual urges, still used as a form of punishment when dealing with lesbians or drunk teenaged girls, and used as a sacrament when it comes to finding yourself a child-bride?

At a press conference held just after 13.00, Monday, the country was told that two suspects had been arrested , and that the services of “an independent external investigator” have been engaged to “report on what disciplinary action needs to be taken, if any against learners, educators, and school management”.

What’s the matter with using with the local police, the school governing body and the Gauteng Department of Education? We can only speculate on why an independent investigator has to be paid when there must be hundreds of people working for the above-mentioned services who are obliged to investigate it thoroughly, and who are being paid for precisely that.

There is one more question to be raised here: if women are viewed simply as a means to burn off sexual energy, useful for hauling water, and as a good laugh to get rid of exam stress, then what possible difference could a female Minister of women, children and disabled persons make? It’s nice to have her there on paper – just like all our gender equality laws – and I’m sure that she is dedicated to doing her job well – but how is she able to make the life of even one woman safer in South Africa?

We would hope that she could count on the help of the SAPS, teachers, parents, traditional leaders, healers – everyone who isn’t a rapist. Or is she just there to visit the victims and fill up the gender quota?

 (Joanne Hart, Health24, November 2010)

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