We must continue with our efforts to end the rape culture in our community, our country and the rest of the world and to create a society where there is no violence against women, writes Prof Julie Claassens of the Department of Old and New Testament in an opinion piece published in Cape Argus on Wednesday (13 April 2016).
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Ending a Rape Culture
The other day an angry father writes in one of the Afrikaans newspapers: When will Stellenbosch University (SU) acknowledge that there is a rape culture in Stellenbosch and start doing something about it? The same question is asked by a group of protesting students who are tired of SU ignoring their pleas to recognize the many instances of violence against women on our campus.
The reality is though that many of us at SU have been writing and speaking about the travesty of rape and the broader phenomenon of violence against women that the American political scientist and feminist scholar Carole Sheffield calls "sexual terrorism." Rape is the pinnacle of a larger scourge of violence against women that includes domestic violence and (sexual) harassment that through the reality and threat of violence terrorizes women, utilizing fear to control, dominate and keep them in their place.
For me the broader question we have to ask ourselves then is why, if so many of us have been saying this is a problem, that nothing has changed? Why is it that whenever my colleagues or I teach or lecture on this subject that some student always asks that we should remember that men also are raped? Yes, according to statistics 10% of all rape victims are men. And rape in all instances is inexcusable. But why is it so difficult to focus on the plight of the thousands of women who are raped daily (according to estimates every 17 seconds in South Africa!)? Women whose bodies are not only violated but who also experience the very core of their very being destroyed.
And why is it that the next question often pertains to the fact that we should not forget that women also are rapists? Yes, every now and again one hears of a woman or two who force men into having sex. But this is less than 1% of all instances of rape. Together with the other classic divergence tactic of "blaming the victim" (she shouldn't have been out that late; she shouldn't have worn what she did), these arguments in some way take the focus away from the fact that men rape because they can. Because deep down some men really do not regard women as their equals. Because too many men from all walks of life secretly harbour the deep-seated myth of male entitlement. Beliefs that often are brought to the fore in the presence of alcohol.
So how do we go about ending a rape culture? This should actually start long before students arrive here at the University. It should already start at home where boys are taught the importance of empathy; to respect others, and that all people are truly equal. It should start in schools where boys are taught that rape is no joke and that "No" means "No!" Not try harder. What is crucial in both in the family setting as well as in schools is the importance of fostering other forms of masculinity that are not associated with violence and coercion.
My own work as a biblical scholar has been dedicated to the role of narratives both ancient and modern that narrativize the trauma of rape in helping men and women to recognize the existence of a rape culture. I propose that biblical narratives such as the story of the rape of Tamar by her half-brother Amnon (2 Samuel 13) or the attempted rape of Susannah by two esteemed elders in her community that forms part of the Apocryphal addition to the book of Daniel have the power to draw readers in and do two things: firstly, these narratives offer fertile space to help both victims of rape and sexual assault, as well as women and men who stand in solidarity with those who have been violated, to overcome the barriers of silence, secrecy and denial, so naming the violence of rape which is deeply systemic in nature. And secondly, these narratives that also show the courageous responses of victims of sexual violence who resist in whatever way they can encourage women and men everywhere to do whatever they can to refuse to accept the current rape culture as "normal."
Attempts like the recent midnight vigil at SU's Harmonie Women's Residence, which included fire alarms going off at 2 am as a sign that we will no longer be quiet about violence against women in our community; Taking Back the Night campaigns on campuses across the United States; the Thursdays in Black initiative in which everyone is encouraged to where black on Thursdays as a reminder of the reality of violence against women are all creative ways of reclaiming our agency and in some small way help end a rape culture.
These and other similar initiatives are rooted in the "crazy" belief that we can live in a world where there is no violence against women. In an essay in the book Transforming a Rape Culture (2005) Andrea Dworkin's bold act of imagining a 24 hour day in which no single woman is raped reminds us why we continue to write, teach, speak, and march to end the rape culture in our community, our country and rest of the world. She writes:
And on that day, that day of truce, that day when not one woman is raped, we will begin the real practice of equality, because we can't begin it before that day. Before that day it means nothing because it is nothing: it is not real; it is not true. But on that day it becomes real. And then, instead of rape we will for the first time in our lives—both men and women—begin to experience freedom.
*Prof Juliana Claassens is Professor of Old Testament in the Department of Old and New Testament in the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University. She is the author of the book, Claiming Her Dignity: Female Resistance in the Old Testament (2016).