Marius Redelinghuys
Marius Redelinghuys

#StopRape alone won’t stop rape

A significant component of the national outcry following the horrific gang rape and murder of 17-year-old Anene Booysen highlighted the extent to which South Africans shift blame and culpability on the raped, and not the rapist.

This manifests itself through the lazy recourse in our national dialogue to primitive and antiquated explanations for rape: broken families, a lack of family values, the absence of strict curfews, acceptable dress codes, being in acceptable places at acceptable times, drug and alcohol abuse, poverty and unemployment, and the list goes on.

All of these are no different from saying Anene, and the scores of men, women and children raped daily “asked for it”.

It is not just a cop out, but an insulting form of victim-blaming that turns every individual into a victim of circumstance instead of human beings who endured a gross, conscious, intentional human-rights violation.

This also assumes rape as a given, an inevitability, forcing all of us to passively accept this reality and reducing our efforts to combat rape to merely navigating through life in constant fear and hoping we don’t do anything wrong to subject ourselves to rape.

Rape, like the weather and changing seasons, becomes unavoidable. People don’t have to take personal responsibility for committing rape or for participating in a culture that condones it — it is beyond us. Like the weather, the only way to temporarily dodge rape, is to shield ourselves from it and run away or hide from it.

Failure to avoid being raped becomes no different from getting wet because you didn’t carry an umbrella: it is your fault, not that of the rapist. Only those lucky enough or those who can run fast enough can escape when they fail to protect themselves from rape.

It is in this context that rape is subconsciously treated as a justified or legitimate response inflicted against someone because s/he didn’t play by the rules of the game. Our society invents and prescribes these rules instead of critically challenging the game and its underlying culture.

As a nation we accept and celebrate the dominant aggressive masculinity, chauvinism and patriarchal attitudes that feed a culture of rape. Those of us who do not accept it simply distance ourselves from it or bow in submission to it.

When an opportunity comes along calling us out on this and highlighting this naked masculine aggression and patriarchy — like The Spear and its characterisation of the archetypal contemporary embodiment of it all did — we are readily bullied into submission by brute force and strength in numbers. This is, after all, the modus operandi of aggressive masculinity and patriarchy.

When rape becomes unavoidable and is an unchallenged extension of a dominant culture our responses to it and attempts to deal with it falter. This in turn explains, to a large degree, the inability of our society, state and government to deal with South Africa’s rape crisis.

Well-intentioned as it may be, we fall into the trap of seeking statutory and state-driven fixes through, for example, overhauling and bolstering the criminal justice system’s capacity to detect, investigate, prosecute and convict rapists. Rape is, by statutory definition and nature, not a detection-heavy crime (like drug-related crimes). There is also the temptation to magically legislate changes to social attitudes and conduct into existence.

Piling the burden of responsibility for combating rape on the shoulders of state and statute is similar to the Jackie Selebi-era shift to hiding rape under broad sexual offence crime statistics: we say we don’t know how to and are failing in dealing with it and shove it into a corner where we’re not as vividly and regularly reminded of it or our responsibility to fight it.

We are tempted to tinker around the edges of the problem and address its symptoms instead of systematically dealing with a culture of rape emanating from a dominant aggressive masculinity and patriarchy that permeates our society.

Calling it out, critically debating and consistently challenging its underlying features and implications, and arguing against and opposing victim blaming in all its forms is but one way of doing this.

The first and critical step in this is for each and every one of us to acknowledge that the only person ever to blame for rape is the rapist.

It is also time that we men start calling out other men who make sexist remarks or promote behaviour that undermines the dignity and integrity of women. None of us would tolerate any man cat-calling our spouse, sister or daughter at the taxi rank or in the local bar. Why are we sanctioning such behaviour — through silence or even participating — when our friends do it to strangers? This type of objectification is not just just some harmless fun, it is linked to the way men are socialised to see women’s bodies: the way they see and believe they can legitimately treat your wife, sister or daughter.

Rape is a common instrument of war which seeks to hollow out and humiliate the target, to reduce it to nothing ensuring compliance, submission and neutralising any threat. Our society’s propensity towards victim blaming continues this process, silencing rape survivors and making their humiliation and submission a lifelong feature of their daily existence.

Failing to challenge the game, its rules, its participants and its supporters makes us all guilty of supporting, perpetuating and entrenching this rape culture.

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    • Momma Cyndi

      Considering that the various surveys have suggest that a full one third of our male population IS a rapist …. is it surprising?

      In a country where 13 year old girls are sold to the healer in payment of a debt and parents are forced to be nothing more than pimps by having to accept payment for ‘deflowering’ …. is it surprising?

      When our justice system is more intent on raping a victim more viciously than her rapist and her chances of seeing any justice at all are horrifyingly low …. is it surprising?

      The general idea seems to be that having two X chromosomes is a crime and WE should be locked away so as not to ‘tempt’ the predators. Of course the predators themselves have a Y chromosome so they get to live free. How is that for a face-palm idea?

    • Sean

      There are many countries in the world, where a sexist remark is commonplace, which do not have comparable rape statistics to SA.

      There are also many countries in the world where people irritate and piss one another off, which do not have comparable murder statistics to SA.

      The problem is where we draw the line which we will not cross, not whether we will indulge in what is perfectly normal human behaviour.

      I personally would hate to think that I could not express my appreciation upon seeing a beautiful woman, there is however no chance of me forcing that woman to do anything.

    • bernpm

      “…..Failing to challenge the game (?), its rules, its participants and its supporters makes us all guilty of supporting, perpetuating and entrenching this rape culture……!

      Recently heard that a rape takes place every 7 seconds!! Roughly: 500 per hour or 12.500 per day.
      I do not know if that was a global stat or a SA stat.
      I do not know the authenticity of this claim.

    • Po

      Men have to realise that this is entirely in their hands. They have hidden behind the excuse that they cannot control their urges for centuries, and this is simply not true. They can and if they cannot then they are not human. Only men can stop rape, and they can only do this by becoming human.

      The only way to end this is for the men to stop. This is a terrifying proposition.

    • suntosh

      Nice piece Marius.

      “It is also time that we men start calling out other men who make sexist remarks or promote behaviour that undermines the dignity and integrity of women.”
      — I agree, this is where it really needs to start, on a practical, daily, grassroots level.

      However, rape also makes me wonder why, if a patriarchal society is geared in favour of men to begin with, why these men (already at an advantage) need/desire displaying such grotesque ways of further domination?

    • Mr. Direct

      Sigh, I do not put much faith in reaching out to the rapists to ask them to stop as a solution. I think if you have the mental capacity to rape, you care very little about right and wrong, or very little about the outcome of your actions.

      Perhaps changing perspective is the way to win this war. How about guilty until proven innocent in rape cases? If the benefit of the doubt always lies with the accused. Sure, there may be more wrongly accused people going to prison, but I bet it would reduce repeat offenders. It may also change the rapists perspective when on the verge, can I prove that I am innocent?

    • Alois

      The aggressive manner in which rape is executed, oftentimes in gangs, as we have seen in both South Africa and India, makes the subject of felonious assault against a human being in the form of rape worthy of being elevated to the level of a crime against humankind and given the same focus at UN level currently being given to LGBT concerns. Do the lower animals so behave?

    • Bushtracker

      Ok, ok. Hard to get past the agent of patriachy detectors here but bare with me for a moment, it’s not what you think.

      1) Somewhere between 12 and 17% of the population (Momma Cyndi February 11, 2013 at 5:19 pm) that is to say up to 1 in 6 of the people you see on the street, is terrorising 51% of the population in horrific life altering ways.

      2) The perpetrators have become sub-human. They display psychopathic behavior. (Po February 11, 2013 at 10:54 pm)

      3)the situation is desperate enough to propose the suspension of presumption of innocence, a central pillar of rule of law in a democratic society. Collateral damage in the form of innocent destroyed lives are now acceptable. (Mr Direct February 12, 2013 at 3:38 pm).

      Clearly this situation is maladaptive, abnormal, extremely urgent and something must be done. Something very bad must be afflicting South African men to make them behave this way. It;s a problem with men. Got that.

      As a member of the 75% to 66% who does not/has not/will not rape I just want to unpack WTF – can be happening and try to understand it. Maybe men shouldn’t be unduly hindered from discussing a crisis problem occurring in men?

    • All of us

      I raised two sons and one daughter. I was afraid for my daughter – that all of the energy that was expended on her growing into an independent, vibrant young women could be wiped out virtually overnight, my some ill adjusted domineering twit with and ego bigger than his brain.Fortunately that did not happen, but it is far too much of a reality in South Africa. I taught my sons to respect themselves first and to understand that their life partner was a human being first – worthy of dignity and respect – and that they did not own them in any way whatsoever – that sex was for mutual pleasure, not a one-sided right or obligation. It has paid dividends. I grew up old school and did all the housework etc. Husband ruled the roost. So I decided it would stop with me, and I raised them to be able to clean, cook and iron. Also made it clear that not being a hands on dad (including getting up and night and changing nappies) was not an option. Their wives are reapng the rewards and they have amazing bonds with their children. Point is, as mothers we can and should make a differene by sharing with our sons alternative views, and empowering them to make informed choices by ensuring that they have the requisite skills. As a single parent I can only imagine how much greater the impact would be if dads could do this as well. Sometime we have to let go of tradition/culture or be swallowed up by it and live lives of misery. The world changes and moves on with or without us.

    • Mr. Direct


      I am not sure I understand your post or conclusion. Was there a conclusion?

      I just do not see the point of asking the rapists nicely as the author suggests. It is not going to change a thing, is it? And I do not think that sexist remarks in a social context are the cornerstone of rapists ideology, so my opinion is this will also do very little, if anything at all.

      The only other option is to enhance the stature of women in all of the diverse cultures in South Africa, and I guess this is not going to happen because quite frankly some of these are stubbornly entrenched in the stone age, and again somebody would be asking nicely to respect women and the law more than they do.

      Depending on detection and punishment is the only realistic conclusion. But in the scenario of rape, it almost always comes down to the testimony of the accused and accuser. If rape is on the increase (or at least not in decline), one wonders whether the system is balanced. How does one find the balance – that is the ultimate question?

      My suggestion is a little radical, but why not question every part of the equation to see what can be changed?

    • Sean

      When rape and even gang rape is so prevalent it can only be corrected with a change in culture.

      We all learn what is socially acceptable initially from our parents and then from our peers.

      There will always be deviants who deviate froom socially acceptable behaviour, but this level of prevalence indicates that rape has become a socially accepted norm.

      I suspect that rape has become the “cool” thing to do in parts of society and this is the first perception that must change.

      Identify the groups within which it is prevalent, orchestrate targeted campaigns to get the message out that rape is far from “cool”, educate the parents and the peers.

      We would then be left with only the social deviants raping, much like the rest of the world, then we police properly and sentence adequately.

      Now how much chance is there of those in power getting this right, my guess would be less than nothing!

    • Bushtracker

      @ Mr Direct

      There might be a “toxic mix” of social, spacial, economic and historical factors driving SA’s rape stats. To my masculine way of thinking it doesn’t feel useful to emote hysterically or declare my whole gender has irredeemably been created just plain old evil. I don’t consider myself evil and 1/6 of the population don’t become evil overnight through sorcery or the influence of sunspots. To solve a problem you have to define it, decide where changes can be made to try to resolve the problem and then execute those changes.

      What;s often bugged me about the debate occurring around SAs rape stats is the way the Liberals and Gender Studies folks try to frame this debate with proposals like, “systematically dealing with a culture of rape emanating from a dominant aggressive masculinity and patriarchy that permeates our society.” This is not an actionable strategy to me, I’m fairly well educated but I can barely comprehend what Marius even means with words like that and the same goes for most males in my peer group. If it’s a widespread problem occurring in men and men must solve the problem (which I accept) then men should be free to use their own words to define and understand it.

    • hilbert

      sex is violent even at it’s most passive. but when it includes murder it’s a bit heavy, you will never ever get rid of rape, but you can bring it a little under control, it is clear that there is no control over crime in SA and anybody that says that it is under control has his head in the sand.

    • Momma Cyndi


      Statistically, around 10% of any given community, world wide, is plain tossed in the head and not able to function in a civilized society. The fact that studies in SA have put only half the population at such staggering percentages for rape, seems to point to an entrenched, learned behaviour (I may be way wrong here).

      There are many men out there who treat women well and would never even consider such a horrifying act. We all know that. It is trying to understand how we get them to be like you that we are struggling to come to grips with.

    • Bushtracker

      @ Mr Direct

      No. Making it easier to convict me for a crime I have not and intend not to ever commit does not appeal. The police are awful social engineers even when adequately trained, motivated and funded and the mass intimidation campaign you propose (by police, unleashing the very essence of aggressive masculinity) will not have the effect you desire IMO.

      Let’s please start by defining the problem in a way that the average man who hasn’t had the benefits (such as they are) of several years of university social studies can understand it.

    • Mr. Direct


      Interesting you are concerned that you would be implicated in a crime you would never commit. But yes, this would be the devil in the detail to radically changing the legal system.

      Defining the problem is too simple, it is defining the multitude of problems, and then trying to find the multitude of solutions, and implementing them successfully.

      I am just not sure that looking for a problem is where we should be right now. Surely after all this time, we understand the problems, and realise that they are not going to be solved any time soon. So what to do until then?

      If these people cannot be found guilty, then we are unable to discourage this, so the only way the stats are going is up….

    • The Critical Cynic

      All efforts to raise awareness and rid the world of the scourge of violence, especially power play violence in all forms, misguided or not, deserve support in some way from those who agree with the basic principles.

      The question of how to rid the world of its injustices is starting to be answered NOT by the people appointed by us to act on our behalfs – the governments of the world whose inaction and inability to direct their enormous resources to solving the problems smacks ever more of complicity in global crimes like human trafficking, the drug and arms trades, money laundering – but rather BY THE PEOPLE who really not only WANT to make a difference but also INTEND to.

      Avaaz is a global community of over 19m individuals with targetted campaigns making a difference on a multitude of global and local issues. Learn about us here

      If you are financially able, I ask you to Please support AVAAZ’s efforts to build a better world for all.

      Want to take real action to end the war on women, but don’t have much time yourself. Perhaps you could donate to a cause that has proven its ability to influence those in power to make better decisions and take better actions?:

    • The Critical Cynic

      Unfortunately statistics indicate that most SA women vote for ANC patriarchy and support it with their everyday actions. As Marius points out
      “When an opportunity comes along calling us out on this and highlighting this naked masculine aggression and patriarchy — like The Spear and its characterisation of the archetypal contemporary embodiment of it all did — we are readily bullied into submission by brute force and strength in numbers. This is, after all, the modus operandi of aggressive masculinity and patriarchy.” and all the ANC supporting women are complicit in their silence, or is it subdued by their fear? Either way they missed yet another opportunity to advance the freedom of women and black women in particular.

      Men who want to see a gender equal world are quite frustrated by the women not exercising their voting power to promote strong women who will truly represent them and their rights

      Show me one woman ANC MP with the guts to take on the patriarchy of her own leadership. Barabara Hogan tried but has since learned to toe the party line more sheepishly. There’s not one woman in the ANC with the guts of the Helens, Suzman and Zilla when it comes to calling out men for way they treat women.

      @MR Direct – radical it is, a good idea it clearly isn’t. If you go and see how ‘fair’ the guilty until proven innocent approach works in the middle east I think you would quickly retract.

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    • Steve Goodrick

      “Well-intentioned as it may be, we fall into the trap of seeking statutory and state-driven fixes through, for example, overhauling and bolstering the criminal justice system’s capacity to detect, investigate, prosecute and convict rapists”. Actually, if exactly that was done, we would not be here waffling on and on about it. Basics.

    • Mr. Direct

      @The Critical Cynic

      I have no problem conceding the point and retracting the suggestion.

      There has to be a way to reduce rape cases in the short to medium basis, while all of the other social ills that are contributing to the problem are being corrected – because let’s be serous now, poverty and social equality are a long way off from being solved.

      We are all too aware that the legal system is flawed at best, and the policing is suspect at best, but surely dancing in the streets is not our answer.

      Your link provides information about a potential compaign to have laws changed in India, but I do not see how this will change the problems here in SA. What pressure will the place on the South African population or government to solve our problems?

      I am not knocking it, just trying to understand…

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