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Deeply disturbing premises

Last week, George Lekgetho, when arguing for the legalisation of prostitution for the 2010 World Cup, said: “It is one of the things that would make it [the tournament] a success because we hear of many rapes, because people don’t have access to them [women].” Statements like this one confirm all my worst fears about the position of women abuse and myths about rape in South Africa.

The premises here are firstly that men are incapable of controlling their sexual urges; secondly, that if such urges go unsatisfied, men will resort to rape; and thirdly, that it is up to the government to provide enabling legislation for these uncontrollable sexual desires — all are deeply disturbing!

Many men throughout the world experience extended periods of celibacy without using prostitutes, or indeed resorting to rape. The commonly perpetuated myth that a man’s sexuality is somehow more urgent and savage than a woman’s should be deeply offensive to men. Many men and women throughout all ethnic groups and cultures choose to exercise their sexuality only in committed, loving relationships; or, at the very least, with another consenting adult. There should be no place for this myth to continue in a society which strives to promote the value of equality.

Men rape for many reasons, including a desire to exert power in response to a feeling of entitlement, or perhaps to fulfil a need to humiliate and oppress their victims to compensate for their own perceived inadequacy. These men are rapists, and as diverse and as complex as the reasons for their behaviour may be, it is by no means excusable and should never be tolerated. The idea that men in general are capable of rape if their carnal desires cannot be satisfied elsewhere is preposterous, and profoundly insulting.

It is dangerous to perpetuate the myth that all men will forcefully and violently take from a woman “sexual gratification” when they can find no one to give it willingly, as this implies that any man would be willing to rape — this simply is not true. Most men have a profound respect for women, and would never assault anyone in this most violent and intrusive way. Men who rape do not do it for sexual gratification, and they should be removed from society.

Finally, even if George Lekgetho’s thoroughly misguided belief were true, when did it become the government’s responsibility to legislate in order to accommodate this most anti-social behaviour? Women who work in the sex industry already suffer a higher number of assaults and rapes than any other group. With the exception of relatively few “high class” call girls and massage-parlour sex workers, women in this industry tend to be desperate and thoroughly exploited. Their situation may be such that they have no choice but to sell their bodies in order to feed their families. Such women are vulnerable enough without sending men to them who now believe that they have a government-endorsed right to sex. Regulation would not protect these women, as they are exactly the kind of people sought by such predators.

It is to South Africa’s credit that it has been chosen to host this most prestigious tournament. This does mean, however, that the eyes of the world will be scrutinising our young democracy. When comments like these are reported internationally they paint a bleak picture of men, women and sexuality in the South African context. With rape and violence against women at catastrophic levels, ideologies like Mr Lekgetho’s cannot go unquestioned. I sincerely hope that the 2010 World Cup does not focus on providing sexual experiences for men at the expense of being a successful sporting tournament, one of which all South Africans can be proud.