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Women refuse to be silent about rape culture
Author: Amanda Gouws
Published: 06/05/2016

Women are tired of being blamed for rape and are no longer willing to be silent, writes Prof Amanda Gouws of the Department of Political Science in her regular column in Die Burger on Tuesday (3 May 2016).

  • Read the complete article below or click here for the piece as published.​

Amanda Gouws

Stellenbosch University experienced its second "topless" protest last Thursday when female students strongly expressed their opposition to a rape culture on campus. The ​protest was also in solidarity with the "RUReferencelist" – the list of 11 names of so-called rapists at Rhodes University, where women students also staged a "topless" protest.

This type of protest supports the protests against rape culture at American universities and the "Femen" phenomenon that began in the Ukraine. Femen is a group of feminists who protest against the treatment of women, wearing only their panties and with slogans written on their bodies. They have taken their protests to many European countries. The question is whether their protests convey the right message or whether men rather see them as sex objects, thus defeating the object of their protests.

A rape culture refers to circumstances that support the normalisation of rape. On university campuses, this is about attitudes, beliefs, and practices at residences where women are treated with disrespect or humiliated or their human dignity violated. These types of circumstances normalise rape because gender violence is not taken seriously and women are often blamed for rape. They also make it more difficult or women to report rape.

A rape culture buys in to rape myths such as the following: why was she on the street so late?, why was she wearing a short dress?, why was she drinking?, she was asking for it, etc. The Zuma rape trial was a striking example of buying into rape myths: at the court, people (many of them women) sang "burn the bitch" and burned a photograph of the victim and threw stones at her. She was the one on trial – not Zuma. The prosecutor called her a "serial rape accuser" who didn't know the difference between consensual and non-consensual sex. The view was that rape did NOT happen, rather than that it did.

Secondary victimization is often at the order of the day in court, which is why many women do not report rape. Carol Smart, in her 1989 book The Power of Law, writes about how in the case of rape the law dismisses the experiences of women, denounces them as liars and humiliates them, while the perpetrators often literally get away with rape.

"Date rape" on campuses is common, but few cases are reported because women students often blame themselves for getting into the situation where "no" is interpreted as "yes". They do not trust the campus procedures to vindicate them. These are the underlying conditions of rape culture and women are no longer willing to be silent, because the perpetrators are sitting in class with them.

From a legal perspective, disclosing the names of so-called rapists, is however, highly problematic because a person is innocent until found guilty in court, which can take years. In the meantime, women who make allegations can be prosecuted for libel or defamation. The Rector of Rhodes incurred the wrath of students when he said that men whose names appeared on the list would not be handed over so that they could be "named and shamed".

Rape destroys women's lives. False accusations shatter lives too. Women are tired of being blamed. They are saying: "don't teach women to prevent rape – teach men not to rape". Rape culture will remain a problem until many men learn that they are not entitled to sex at the end of a date.