Uncomfortably numb

From the late 1980’s well into the early 2000’s South Africa was experiencing a strange phenomenon – family murders: men were killing their families and then themselves.

Whether it was the expected result of political change and uncertainty, it was an anomaly – and universities began to research these cases to find the cause. What came out of the studies was a general profile of families that may be vulnerable, and society was able to intervene – whether through community initiatives, churches, the workplace. People had some clarity, even the people who fell within the vulnerable category.

It’s easy to say that murder has always been around, just as it’s easy to say rape has always been part of the human condition. But this was not about what’s always been around – dysfunctional relationships, drunken rages and violence in the home.This was an anomaly: men who were not on record as abusers had wiped out their entire families without too much warning. And somewhere on society’s dashboard, a warning light lit up, academics grew curious and set about investigating.

A new anomaly

Now there’s a new anomaly. It isn’t the usual misery that has blighted sex through the ages – it’s not about raging hormones that won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, drunken lust, or predators stalking young women – this is different.

Today South Africa heard (as it’s heard almost every week for the last 8+ years) that another baby has been raped.
I remember feeling revulsion the first time I read about a baby being raped; it was in 2001. At that time it was a 9-month-old, and it seemed like something out of a horror movie. Nothing prepared me for the news 4 months later that an 8-month-old had been reportedly gang-raped by four men.

After that, I probably did what we all do in order to mentally survive: I started to numb out. Each year I’d write a fiery column around the start of our 16Days of Activism, and I’d get a big response: mostly from people who felt the same way.

I’ve kept them all – the first one asked what the hell was going on, the second was angled at the rise of nyope/whoonga use, the third questioned what various women’s organisations were doing about rape, the fourth highlighted the alarming stats that had SA angling for the world rape record, and the last simply advised women and girls to learn how to run really fast. Because I was becoming more and more numb as the years went by – helpless, probably the same way you feel.

But now I’ve come full circle, and this latest case has me asking again: what the hell is going on? The difference this time: I’m not the one who should be asking. Academics, SAPS, the Health Dept, Social Welfare, Prisons, the justice system, and anyone else in any position to do it – they should be asking on our behalf.

If there’s one thing that could make this 16 Days of Activism worth all the others put together, it would be a proper, deep, long-term academic psychiatric study of child rapists in South Africa. The pool of convicted perpetrators is sitting there for us to interview and ask: what was happening? What led to this? Were you on your own? Is this something you’d considered or heard about before? Were you under the influence of a substance, were you ill? Had you done this before? The questions are endless, but each one gives us more insight.

The baby that was raped yesterday was 6 weeks old – it’s impossible to get my head around this, we really, really do need to know what the hell is going on.

Read more: http://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/behind-sa-s-orgy-of-family-murders-1.241920
http://www.hsag.co.za/index.php/HSAG/article/view/128
http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/444213

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16 thoughts on “Uncomfortably numb

  1. What a thought provoking piece! Despite my background in psychology, I have never been able to accept that rehabilitation is possible in crimes like these. I shudder to imagine the state of mind a man must find himself in to perpetrate such a heinous crime. I firmly believe that the psychopathology of these individuals makes rehabilitation impossible and that punishment in its severest form should be meted out. Without sparking a debate on the merits of rehabilitation and statistics on recidivism, my opinion is simply that I would not want anyone who is capable of these acts reintroduced into society when “they have paid their dues”. Once you have crossed a line (which, granted, is diffuse and difficult to define) you should lose your right to be classified as human and a part of society.

    That aside, our focus should be on the victim. My eyes prick when I consider the trauma that such a fragile little mind must be subjected to. Its impact must be severe, even if its effects are deeply buried in the subconscious. Surely there must be a way to protect the weak and innocent from a depraved portion of society to whom respect and humanity are foreign concepts?

    Thanks J, for highlighting this. For a few minutes my own “numbed sense of propriety” was replaced by righteous indignation. By carefully nurturing this indignation instead of subduing it, we will all reach a point where we as a society will refuse to merely acknowledge that such terrible things happen and will actively strive to prevent this from happening to another innocent.

    • Than you for this insightful comment. I agree on rehab being doubtful for paedophiles, but I’m not sure that this is paedophilia – which is why we need to investigate. If it’s based on skewed belief that HIV can be healed by this, or if it’s a temporary psychosis caused by whigging-out on whoonga/nyope (wicked stuff, read up on it), then there is every chance we can tackle vulnerable parts of society BEFORE more of this happens. We need to know, so badly. Have an excellent weekend.

      • Thanks for the reply, J.

        I think understand what you are saying. However, regardless of the motivation of the perpetrator, the fact that they are able to inflict such pain on a totally defenseless child speaks volumes about their psyche. As a result, I’d prefer more of a focus on preventing these deeds and dealing severely with such criminals than to focus on rehabilitating those who have already committed such acts. This goes to what you are advocating i.e. determining and dealing with the cause of such behavior, I think?

        Incidentally, I am not advocating “mob justice” or the death penalty, just a measured and effective course of action to ensure that such deviants are not reintegrated into society. In my opinion, once someone has performed such a heinous act, there is a marked change in the way they perceive the value of life and dignity which is not reversible regardless of the amount of therapy they receive.

        I take note of your comment about drug induced acts of violence and while I understand that some might perceive the use of mind altering substances as mitigating circumstances, my opinion is similar to that on drunk driving: If you knowingly and by your own actions place yourself in a state of reduced capacity and then commit a crime, you should suffer the full consequences.

        I do however fully agree with you that the root cause must be identified and dealt with.

  2. I couldn’t agree with you more. I don’t know how we expect to reasonably tackle the problem without knowing the root cause of it. I won’t stop it, but neither will any type of punishment: I mean if punishment worked as a deterrent we would never have any kind of crime. So while throwing a tantrum and demanding the death penalty and mob justice is all well and good – it is still not going to get us to the point where we can educate. Educate mothers on how to watch out for those vulnerable. Look at your community and be on the lookout for the drug user, the dodgy uncle, the too-kind school teacher, the HIV positive man in denial. Who knows what the hell it is – but let’s at least start understanding (as far as we all can) and educate, talk, understand. and then empower. I wish this government would put some of the ridiculously squandered resources behind women and child protection: set up half way houses and homes for abused and vulnerable women who have to put up with the abuse in order to merely survive. Set up creches in townships with proper supervision and nutrition so that any vulnerable child is spotted, protected, schooled in how to protect themselves. Come on I really wish we could all start petitioning the Govt to do this!

    • We are in 100% agreement on every point you raise. I’m wondering if we shouldn’t approach WC leadership & see if UCT won’t partner to start a study here – make CT the guinea-pig, so to speak?

    • Very, very good idea! Although, weirdly (or maybe not so weirdly), the Free State seems to have a much lower incidence of this horror. Still, no reason they can’t study it. Good one!

  3. I have a couple of blogs but they are more for my own cathartic purposes than for public consumption. I have toyed with the idea of going public though. 🙂

    Thanks, I enjoyed your post.

  4. My opinion on the root cause of this problem – the very fact that human life is not valued. Thousands of ‘babies’ are aborted each year and they keep moving the mark as to when it is ‘viable’ or not. In America, babies are being aborted almost full term, so it’s no surprise that a full-term baby just out the womb is also not regarded as valuable and precious. I truly believe that abortion is at the root of this travesty! Maybe not just abortion, but the moving of it’s boundaries to suit society as it moves forward. As for the people who carry out such heinous crimes (the rapists of babies) … personally, I believe they should get the death penalty. Not a long drawn out courtcase, but a speedy resolution. In the name of justice and all that is holy (or have we ‘evolved’ out of that, too?)!!

  5. I have to disagree Belinda. I feel abortion is not the problem here. I watched a programme years ago about the rise of serial killers and the lack of father figures in their lives: how many people on death row have had no father figures? I believe Apartheid and the lack of the family unit is largely to blame for a lot of our social ills we face now. Men who believe women are property to be enjoyed and mastered and abused and violated. They are not humans to these men (and really with a president who has countless wives and seems intent on destroying gender equality – why is this not surprising?) I am not sure there isn’t also an HIV myth going on but haven’t heard this yet. I do remember that was the case in Zim about 12 years ago. And for this reason the ‘get circumcised’ ad campaign now is just irritating me. Surely they should rather say: use a condom and don’t rape babies – not get circumcised and then have sex with impunity? Makes no damn sense.

    • I think that there is no one easy answer to this issue – which is why it needs to be studied objectively, speaking to actual perpetrators and not relying on what we’ve found out before. Again: this is an anomaly – it’s far beyond sexual release, or even human survival. This is a profoundly disturbing problem, and we need to find out from people who know why they did this. Thanks for reading and commenting – I appreciate all these views – every one helps draw attention to the issue.

    • The circumcision thing is even more complex – it’s about preventing boys dying on a mountainside, but how do you get their parents to agree? Research does bear out that it has some effect on HIV, and boys who don’t get butcher-jobs will retain enough sensitisation to perhaps accept condom-use. Hopefully every single site/ad talking about surgical circumcision also states that one should practise safe sex. If you find one that doesn’t, complain.

  6. I can’t the words to describe how I feel about these latest rape cases. I just can’t wrap my head around it all. Why would a person want to do such a thing to such a small human being? They’ve just scarred a baby for life, surely they should have some sort of a conscience.

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