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.