Confronting rape culture

Girls standing with Banners protesting Rape Culture

On the 11th of September, 2021, a group of Zambians, numbering in the hundreds, gathered at the Lusaka global Platform, great east road in Lusaka, Zambia. The group, comprising mostly of youths, male and female, were to attend a march organized by the NGO Sistah Sistah Foundation, dubbed “The March against Sexual Violence”. The goal was clear and the message succinct; End rape culture. Emphasis; not simply “End Rape” but, “End Rape Culture” close. The group marched from the Lusaka global platform to the Munali Bridge and back. As all this was happening, another group, a “Sistah” group if you will, was having a similar march in a different city (Kitwe, Zambia) with the same message. The days and hours preceding the march and after it were characterized by deep, sometimes heated conversations, mostly on social media platforms, about Rape Culture, what it is, what causes it and perhaps most importantly, what we can do about it. Refreshing as all these conversations were, there was one issue that was disturbing; the divisiveness that it highlighted regarding opinions on what causes and perpetuates the Rape Culture.

Rape, unlawful, nonconsensual sexual activity (often involving intercourse) through the use of force, threat of the use of force or with an individual that is incapable of giving legal consent, is different from Rape Culture. A Rape Culture in one in which sexual violence is treated as a norm, victims are shamed and blamed for the indecencies committed against them. The Rape Culture isn’t simply about the sexual violence itself, it is also about ideologies and societal norms that not only allows but also protects and promotes sexual violence, enabling the rapists and perpetrators of sexual violence to commit crime with impunity and total disregard for the welfare of others. Societies in which Rape culture is allowed, pressure the victims, mostly women into ceding their freedoms, unreasonably so, and places the burden of security on the shoulders of victims and then goes on to blame them if they fail to protect or defend themselves. Even more, Rape Culture gives momentum to atrocities that go well beyond the act of rape itself. Rape is a product of Rape culture, it is selfish, wicked, immoral and a crime, a crime against society and the victim.

Rape cultures view rape is a problem to be solved by improving the behavior of the potential victims and not potential rapist/perpetrators. Women are often advised to avoid wearing “revealing” cloths, go to parties, travel alone or have one-on-one meetings with males. Because of the existing stereotypes of what constitutes rape (man forcefully penetrating a woman) and vague, sexist laws on what rape is, there is an unwillingness and sometimes inability to punish the perpetrators of sexual violence.

Rape culture has its roots in deep-seated gender inequalities as well as long standing patriarchal power structures, which although designed to benefit mostly men, burdens them too. For example, rape culture ignores that men and boys can be victims of sexual violence and women can be the perpetrators of it. This leaves men that have been victims without proper legal protection and an unresponsive social support system.

In the midst of all this, some leaders and members of society choose to remain silent, it is a silence from which we can draw an inference, the only reasonable one being that they are sympathetic, if not altogether complicit in and towards acts of sexual violence and rape culture. Every member of society has a role to play if we are to put an end to rape culture. Do not blame or shame victims of sexual assault and report cases. Institutions like schools, universities and work places should create and implement clear rules and regulations on how to deal with cases of sexual assault and avoid creating an environment in which victims, male or female, do not report cases of sexual violence for fear of reprisal. We should all work to ensure that the communities around us understand the rights to which victims of sexual violence are entitled as well as the penalties to the perpetrators. A society that has zero tolerance for rape culture is one that is attainable, if only we work towards it.