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Rape culture normalises violence against women
Author: Alec Basson
Published: 06/04/2016

​​​​In a rape culture, violence against women has become the new 'normal'.

This was one the viewpoints of Prof Julie Claassens of the Discipline group Old and New Testament in the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University (SU) on Monday (4 April 2016). She was the speaker at a colloquium hosted by SU's Department of Psychology.

Claassens said rape is the pinnacle of a very patriarchal and violent context.

Highlighting South Africa's rape statistics, Claassens pointed out that, according to estimates, a woman is raped every 17 seconds in the country. She said this led to South Africa being dubbed the Rape Capital of the world.

"What these statistics do not reveal, though, is the devastating effects of rape not only on the individual victims but also on women in communities around the world. Rape not only attacks the body but also threatens the innermost core of the human being."

Reflecting on the persistent reality of rape, Claassens related the biblical story of Tamar (2 Sam 13) and the case of Susannah in the Apocryphal addition to the book of Daniel. Tamar was raped by her half-brother Amnon, while Susannah rejected the advances of two judges and almost lost her life as a result.

Claassens said the stories of Tamar and Susannah not only reflect the complex reality of rape but also show the courageous responses of victims who refuse to accept the normalization of rape and hence resist in whatever way possible.

"For both readers who have been victims of rape and sexual assault, as well as women and men who stand in solidarity with those who have been violated, these narratives offer fertile space to reflect on what it will take for individuals and communities as a whole to resist the violence of rape and in some small way to transform a rape culture."

These stories "help us to name the violence of rape which is deeply systemic in nature and reflective of a much larger problem. They hold up female agency - the signs of female resistance - even though it may be slight, muted or limited in light of the overwhelming show of male power, helping us to not further relegate women to a state of powerlessness".

Claassens said the stories of Tamar and Susannah may play an important role in raising awareness regarding the reality of rape that persist to this day.

  • Photo: Prof Julie Claassens speaking at the colloquium.
  • Photographer: Justin Alberts.