Michael Abrahams | The trivialisation of rape
Humans have made tremendous advances during our time on the planet. We are able to converse with people in distant places on handheld devices while looking at their faces on small screens. We can travel by land, sea or air rapidly and with ease, and we have been able to banish or control many dreadful diseases.
Unfortunately, because of the persistence of archaic views on the matter, we have not evolved enough regarding the crime of rape, and rapists continue to run amok all over the globe. Recently, two news reports greatly disturbed me.
The first concerned a man accused of raping a woman on a hospital bed in Italy. The judge acquitted the defendant because the woman did not scream or cry out, even though her lawyers claimed that she did not because of the “painful situation” that she was in. Adding insult to injury, not only was the man found not guilty, but now the woman must answer to slander charges.
In the second report, a Malaysian member of parliament (MP) claimed that there is "nothing wrong" with a rape victim marrying her rapist. The disturbing comments were made in response to a proposal by an opposition MP to amend the Sexual Offences Against Children bill to include a ban on child marriages.
The MP also said that girls as young as 9 were "physically and spiritually" ready for marriage. "They reach puberty at the age of nine or 12. And at that time, their body is already akin to them being 18 years old. So physically and spiritually, it is not a barrier for the girl to marry”. As if that were not enough, he added that if a rape victim married her rapist she would then not face a "bleak future".
These incidents in Italy and Malaysia, two countries with very different cultures, exemplify a global phenomenon: the trivialisation of rape. The unfortunate truth is that after thousands of years, we fail to understand the psychological and biological consequences of this egregious and dehumanising offence, and refuse to acknowledge how traumatic and life-changing rape can be.
In 1989, Jacqueline Hamill, an Australian missionary, was raped and killed during a riot at the prison where she worked in the southern Philippines’ Davao City. Rodrigo Duterte, who had served as mayor of Davao for 22 years, made the following tasteless remarks about the incident while addressing a crowd:
“They raped all of the women … . There was this Australian lay minister ... when they took them out ... I saw her face and I thought: ‘Son of a bitch. What a pity...they raped her, they all lined up. I was mad she was raped but she was so beautiful. I thought, the mayor should have been first,” Duterte refused to apologise y for his remarks, claiming “This is how men talk”. He was later elected president. Donald Trump bragged about grabbing women by their genitalia and had at least one rape charge against him, but was still elected president of the United States of America.
Here in Jamaica, the trivialisation is ingrained in our culture. In the song Have To Get You Tonight, Buju Banton sings that he has to get a woman “even by gunpoint”, which describes rape, and in the hit song A Yah So Nice, Potential Kid sings, “Before my tun a ba**man me prefer tun a raper”.
Recently, when a Moravian pastor was arrested and charged for having sex with a fifteen year old girl, the family of the child was persecuted for bringing the church into disrepute, and there are reports of women visiting police stations to report being raped, only to be set upon by the police whose duty it is to protect them. In my own practice, women have told me stories of being raped by prominent public figures, including politicians, businessmen and entertainers.
For there to be a change, we must be educated on how rape affects victims, and understand that it has the potential to destroy their physical, mental and social well-being. In other words, it is deleterious to a person’s health, and can rob survivors of their lives.
Boys must be taught that sex is an option for females and that they have a right to decline. They must be taught to respect girls, and the focus should be more on how to build and maintain solid relationships with the opposite sex and less on getting into their panties. And boys and men can be raped too, regardless of what any law might say. The word 'rape has Middle English, Anglo-French and Latin roots, and means to seize, carry off by force or plunder. A vagina does not have to be involved.
Any way you look at it, rape is a dastardly act that must be taken as seriously as cancer, heart attacks, AIDS and malaria. It is a global health issue. A zero-tolerance approach must be adopted. We must all break the silence and report perpetrators without hesitation to the relevant authorities. There is strength in numbers, and if more victims report the crime, make noise and network with other victims, while recruiting men as allies, a significant impact can be made.