Trigger Warning: Rape and Sexual Assault
It is never easy for victims to speak up, and I do not use the word "never" lightly. There are many contributing factors to victims remaining silent, and these are still being perpetuated despite the robust conversations about rape culture and sexual abuse.
According to Africa Check, 95 percent of rapes were reported in 2008, dropping to 77 percent in 2016. This indicates that there are contributing factors to victims no longer speaking up as much as they used to.
I am often left disheartened when I need to reason with people about rape and sexual assault. It is tiring, as these conversations have been exhausted. It is also unnecessarily time-consuming, as all of the required information is accessible on the internet. Finally, it is triggering. I have chosen when I need to speak up. Not all conversations require my engagement, and that is something I have come to accept more this year.
In addition to this, I have realised that some people are not open to the process of unlearning and relearning, and therefore I cannot force them to. I had a utopian view that I could change people's perspectives, but this view was shattered beyond repair after the #RUReferenceList protest that took place at Rhodes University in 2016.
I realised that rape culture can be perpetuated by anyone. Victims and survivors of rape and sexual assault exist within your social spaces, and are even your friends. But it has never been — nor will it ever be — our duty or obligation to tell you about our experiences.
Part of the reason why we rarely speak up is the response we receive — from almost everyone involved. The police, doctors, family and friends play a major role in how victims respond to their involvement. Often it is the victim who is questioned and not the perpetrator. The victim is asked what they were wearing, if they were intoxicated, what they did to provoke the perpetrator, and what they were doing out at that time.
It is important to note the fact that reporting rape or sexual assault does not always lead to the conviction of the perpetrator.
Of course, this demotivates the victim from speaking up further. After being sexually assaulted or raped — traumatic enough in and of itself — it is difficult for the victim to even tell close friends about their ordeal. This is doubly true when victims need to tell people who might doubt them and question whether they have a personal vendetta against the perpetrator.
But it is important to note the fact that reporting rape or sexual assault does not always lead to the conviction of the perpetrator.
After having reported the rape to the police, victims then need to receive a sealed rape kit from the police and take it to a doctor, who will conduct a thorough examination to attempt to prove that the victim was raped. If the rape kit has been tampered with in any way, the victim needs to return to the police station to get another sealed rape kit.
Upon returning to the doctor, the victim is required to stand on a piece of plastic while the doctor examines them for any evidence that falls off the victim to be collected, states Antonio Stride, a doctor at Frere Hospital. Now imagine just having been raped, reporting the case to the police and still having to stand for several minutes on end while being examined by a doctor, while trying to keep everything together.
Only after having gone through this process does the draining part really start — having to convince people that you were actually assaulted or raped, because the perpetrator "does not seem like they would do something like that to anyone". Suddenly everyone is a perfect judge of character.
I believe that there is a fundamental flaw in our legal system when it comes to rape — "innocent until proven guilty". 'Once somebody has been accused of rape, I believe the victim above the perpetrator, fully affirm the #WeBelieveYou campaign, and stand in solidarity with all victims of rape and sexual abuse.
In addition to this problem, the definition of rape as it currently stands in the legal system is problematic, as it cannot provide a concise definition of what rape is.
Whether a victim speaks out instantly or after decades, it can never erase what they have gone through and the courage it took them to speak out about their rape or sexual assault.
Recently we have seen cases where victims have only been able to name their accusers decades after their rape or sexual assault. And instead of questioning why they have only spoken up about their ordeal now, the question should rather be why have they felt so uncomfortable for so many years, that they were never able to speak up.
The wrong questions tend to be asked, and that is why other victims fear speaking out. And whether a victim speaks out instantly or after decades, it can never erase what they have gone through and the courage it took them to speak out about their rape or sexual assault. But this should in no way force all victims to speak out about their rape and sexual assault.
Nobody owes anyone else their story, and no one should be shamed for not wanting to speak out.
Rape is not a faceless crime, and we should stop treating it as such.