Public Service Announcement: Let’s talk about rape

Over the weekend Citizen presenter, Lilian Muli interviewed a rape survivor, Irene Karimi. One of the questions she asked was whether Karimi had done something or dressed in a certain way to provoke her attackers.

To which Karimi responded:

“When rapists come, it’s not because a woman behaved in a certain way, they do it because that’s who they are. It’s not because who the woman is. I didn’t offend anyone in that community.”

Many had issues with the questions she asked, adding that she was not only re-victimising the survivor but also putting the blame of rape on her.

The responses on social media were not only strange but also indicate that there needed to be a serious conversation about rape.

What is rape?

According to the  Kenyan Sexual Offences Act 2006:

A person commits the offence termed rape if—
(a) he or she intentionally and unlawfully commits an act which causes
penetration with his or her genital organs;
(b) the other person does not consent to the penetration; or
(c) the consent is obtained by force or by means of threats or intimidation
of any kind.

The Act of Parliament also gives the definition of defilement, which refers to committing  “an act which causes penetration with a child.”

But even with these definitions and punishment in the law, rape and sexual assault continue to happen.

Rape Culture is real

Rape culture is the environment in which sexual violence and rape are normalised and excused. Whether in media and in popular culture, it manifests itself as the objectification of women’s bodies, condoning of sexual violence as well as blaming the victim in rape cases.  Things like rape joke and revenge porn also constitute rape culture.

The thing about this culture is that it is ingrained in us that we need conscious effort to unlearn it.  The process of unlearning rape culture includes learning and practising consent.

Photo: Family Planning

We should stop victim blaming.

Victim blaming takes different forms, including asking what the victim wore during the assault; how they were acting; or if they were drunk. Basically putting the blame for the rape on the victim instead of focusing on calling out the rapist and making sure they face the consequence of their actions.

Victim blaming not only makes it difficult for survivors to come forward and speak of the abuse, it also makes the perpetrator continue with their crimes and avoid accountability.

It is imperative that we not only believe sexual assault survivors but also provide the support needed to enable them to heal, whether institutional or personal.

What you can do

  • Do not doubt the credibility of the survivor
  • Offer support to the best of your ability, including finding resources they can use and accompanying them to appointments with necessary authorities.
  • Create a culture of safety and consent, by avoiding language and situations that promote rape culture.
  • Do not assume consent. Make sure that your partner is participating in any sexual act freely and readily.
  • Correct misconceptions and myths when you hear them. As mentioned above, such faulty beliefs are what promote rape culture.
  • Avoid defining how a survivor reacts to the ordeal. Different people have different reactions to rape and sexual assault, from apathy to shock, from laughter to calmness.
  • Be careful in offering reassurances. A statement like ‘everything is going to be okay’ may sound reassuring but in reality, it may sound like you are trivialising the survivor’s ordeal and feelings.
  • Be a good listener. Avoid interrogating the survivor and telling them what you could have done if you were in that situation.
  • Keep in mind that the decision to share or not share their ordeal belongs to the survivor. Do not force them to reveal any details if they do not want to.
  • Men get raped too, understanding that is important in changing the perception of rape and masculinity. Shaming or mocking men who have been raped is one of the biggest contributors to under-reported cases.
  • Learn about laws and procedures in connection to rape and sexual assault as well as initiatives set up by institutions and individuals to fight sexual violence.
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