Tue | Jul 17, 2018

Jaevion Nelson | #saytheirnames - women must name their abusers

Published:Thursday | January 5, 2017 | 12:00 AM

The tendency to merely express shock, disappointment and concern when incidents of rape and sexual assault of women and girls are reported is exhausting. The pity with which we shower the perpetrators, especially those from the clergy and other 'respected' occupations, is unhelpful. It's horrifying that we recommend swift action if the perpetrator is male and such abuse was meted out to another male, but not so if the victim is female. Are we not interested in securing justice for our women and girls who are raped and assaulted, or putting an end to such incidents?

In November, I realised many people I know - those with whom I work, party, eat and socialise - far more than imagined, had been raped or sexually assaulted at least once. The issue was much closer to home than I thought. I'm grateful to them for sharing their experiences, despite how daunting it must have been to be open about something we shame people for.

Imagine being burdened with memories of being robbed of your childhood and being stripped of your personhood. It must be painful to walk around with all that agony, such painful memories - to face the person(s) who raped and abused them sexually, and to see them celebrated as noblemen in our society.

Why are our parliamentarians seemingly so powerless, so spineless, so unperturbed by the rampant abuse of our women and girls? Why do they seem more equipped and confident to express their views, to scream about the critical need to take action on social media and in private, yet rarely ever registering their concerns in Parliament?

I am bothered that we hardly hear about the perpetrators in many of these incidents. It's always a pastor, a businessman, or some other reference to their titles and occupations or location, as if it makes the crime less heinous. It's the victims who become a spectacle in the media and our communities. Uncannily, those who are affected protect them - never saying who they are, despite the detailed account of the incident provided. One reason is that we demand their privacy be respected and the victim fearfully obliges us.




It's telling when a society is more worried about the perpetrator than it is about the well-being of the victim. Does it not worry us that concerns about the perpetrator - however well-placed they are - often outweigh those about the victims?

Last week, in a post on Facebook, a friend named about five pastors from the Moravian Church she alleged have and/or continue to rape and sexually abuse persons. After reading the post, I recognised how therapeutic and partly revolutionary it might be to actually begin to #saytheirnames. No one should be told not to name their abuser; they shouldn't feel guilty for saying what happened and who did it. #saytheirnames sounds like a bold and well-needed initiative that might help us recognise and understand how pervasive the issues of rape and sexual abuse are in our country. Hopefully, by doing so, our denial will dissipate and we chart a course for ending rape and sexual abuse.

We need to focus on securing justice and providing support to the victims. We need to end our collective silence which encourages impunity. Have you thought about what your reaction does to those who muster the courage to come public? Why should they have to laden themselves with guilt, fear and embarrassment for being sexually assaulted or raped? They shouldn't have to worry about how we will treat them when they report these crimes. Why should they be treated as if they perpetrated the crime against themselves? Importantly, we shouldn't expect or demand that they somehow become concerned about the perpetrator and their family.

We are too sympathetic to the perpetrators of rape and sexual assault, especially when they have some kind of high profile. Does justice mean anything to us? Or does its meaning change based on the crime, perpetrator and who is affected? Why should any incident be swept under the rug and fÍted with euphemisms rather than calling it what it is exactly - rape and sexual abuse? How do we expect them to come forward if this is the case?

All of this is a part of the rape culture which protects the accused and not the victim. It's unhelpful. I'm begging you to leave that habit in 2016. Include it as a part of your resolutions for the new year.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.