Why artiste’s rape saga has stirred bigger debate

Saturday April 7 2018

A rape victim.

A rape victim. Irate residents of Gituto village in Kiharu on April 9, 2018 stoned Duncan Wakahiu, 17, to death over alleged defilement. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By THOMAS RAJULA
More by this Author

On February 10, Wendy Kemunto was supposed to be out in safe company, celebrating her birthday. However, according to her Instagram story that has made the news recently, a friend she was with and his friend took advantage of her befuddled state and took turns to repeatedly rape her.

She was coming forth with the story, she says, because she had become pregnant as a result and the men were not ready to step up to the responsibility.

Even though the matter is still under police investigation, reports of date rape, non-consensual and coerced sex have been making their way into headlines lately. Last year, #MeToo trended as disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein faced allegations ranging from rape to sexual harassment by more than 50 women in film and other circles.

By February 11, a day after Wendy’s ordeal, #LetsStopSexWithoutConsent was already trending after Elsie Akoth – a freelance fitness model, poet, and now activist – narrated her ordeal, claiming she was sexually assaulted while she was drunk by her campus mates whom she thought were her friends.

Elsie had by then made her social media pages the platform where women, especially from her campus, revealed those they claim had sexually assaulted them .

The relationships ranged from friends, acquaintances and even lovers who didn’t understand the concept of consent in order to engage with someone else in sexual activities.

BURDEN OF PROOF

In such unfortunate incidents, the burden of proof legally lies on the victim’s ability to act rationally and not take a shower, try to fight the assaulter in order to get his DNA, report to the police immediately and then get checked at the hospital for the report to be compiled.

That, sadly, relies on the very unlikely assumption that someone who has just undergone the most horrifying tribulation of their life will be in the state of mind to act rationally.

The recent allegations have once again raised questions that have been a topic of discussion for a long time: are we doing enough to express to people likely to be perpetrators that sexual harassment and assault is horrible? Are we supporting victims of these acts first or are we still asking why they would be drunk, what kind of dress they were wearing, and wondering how consent given at one point can be withdrawn in the next?

Intoxication voids consent

A powerful image shared on Facebook amid the understandable uproar is part of a 2013 open letter in the Huffington Post by Carina Kolodny:

“Remember that intimate conversation you had with your son? The one where you said, ‘I love you and I need you to know that no matter how a woman dresses or acts, it is not an invitation to cat call, taunt, harass or assault her’?

“Or when you told your son, ‘A woman’s virginity isn’t a prize and sleeping with a woman doesn’t earn you a point’?

“How about the heart-to-heart where you lovingly conferred the legal knowledge that ‘a woman doesn’t have to be fighting you and you don’t have to be pinning her down for it to be RAPE. Intoxication means she can’t legally consent, NOT that she’s an easy score’.

“Or maybe you recall sharing my personal favourite, ‘Your sexual experiences don’t dictate your worth just like a woman’s sexual experiences don’t dictate hers’.”

During the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Gender Forum held at Alliance Française on March 27, sexual harassment was the subject of discussion.

One of the panelists, Phillip Otieno from Men for Gender Equality Now, said it all stems from a power play by the assaulters. This is something he feels can be changed during someone’s upbringing.

“Society has brought up a man to feel that he has to do some things in order to be considered a man. And they believe that it is something that is ordinary, and don’t look at things that lower the dignity of the other person, man or woman. We have to come to a point where we make men understand that anything they do beyond the point where somebody says ‘no’, then that’s sexual harassment.”

Of course, respecting a woman’s choice speaks to one’s respect for human rights. Unfortunately, even women are involved in castigating fellow women when issues of assault and rape come up in social settings. Questions about how exposing the dress was, why was she the only one in the company of men, why would she be drinking to the point of barely being in control of her body are also put up by women who believe a woman shouldn’t act a certain way. And this feeds to the culture where some men then go to clubs, bars and events simply to prey on women who could be carried away by whatever they were indulging in, knowing the reason they give can be supported by this thinking.

Dr Njoki Ngumi of Nest Collective talked about how some men feel like rejection is viewed as some sort of threat to their manhood. Where even a decline to a man’s greetings is met with insults and threats as the men look to “reassert their dominance” on women is something we see everyday.

She asked, “When you are talking to a woman, what are you trying to achieve? Are you trying to remind her she’s not a man like you and hence a lesser being, or do you understand that she may not want to connect with you in the way you do and that’s okay?”

Women should be free

Dr Ngumi asked: “What are we saying about men if we have to train women on self defence, why are some body shapes sexualised, yet the people in them are not responsible for creating themselves, and if a man can be allowed to go to the club and comfortably lose their consciousness without having to worry about someone taking advantage of his body, then why shouldn’t a woman feel the same sense of security?”

Some things should never be encouraged or condoned. Not respecting women’s bodies or wishes and taking advantage of them for not being as strong as men should be top of that list. Another powerful quote implies that a man doesn’t understand the concept of consent until there’s a gay man trying to make passes at him.