We must never condone rape culture

Saturday November 28 2015

Women participating in protests along Nairobi Streets on March 26, 2015 against rape. Rape culture is a term that was coined by feminists in the 1970’s. It was designed to show how society blamed victims of sexual assault and normalised male sexual violence. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Women participating in protests along Nairobi Streets on March 26, 2015 against rape. Rape culture is a term that was coined by feminists in the 1970’s. It was designed to show how society blamed victims of sexual assault and normalised male sexual violence. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

“…if she smokes shisha, buy her a pot, await her black out, then drag her to the backseat of your car and have your way with her.”

This was a statement in Njoki Chege’s City Girl column (Saturday Nation, November 14).

It elicited a lot of reactions from Kenyans on social media with some applauding it and others saying it condones and encourages a rape culture.

Rape culture is a term that was coined by feminists in the 1970’s.

It was designed to show how society blamed victims of sexual assault and normalised male sexual violence.

Emilie Bauchwald, author of Transforming a Rape Culture says that when society normalises sexual violence, it accepts and creates rape culture.

In a rape culture, both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable.

However, much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can change.

Rape culture is in the laws, language, images and other every day phenomena.

This includes music, jokes, advertising, legal jargon, words, laws and imagery that make violence against women seem so normal that people believe it is inevitable.

To quote Melissa McEwan, founder of the group blog, ‘Shakesville,’ it is a society that teaches “don’t get raped” instead of “don’t rape”.

You may ask yourself how the statement in Njoki’s article validates and perpetuates rape.

Simple. Rape is sex with a person without their valid consent.

The Sexual Offences Act defines sex with a person that is under the influence as rape.

EXTINGUISHING RAPE CULTURE

By validating the behaviour of the rapist (in this case, the shisha buyer) and demonising the ‘immoral’ shisha smoking female (in this case, the victim), the reader is given the impression that it is normal for her to be ‘dragged into the back seat of his car’ and if he ‘has his way with her’. The fault automatically shifts to the ‘high’ girl.

It is no wonder, therefore, that arguments given in support of Njoki by some people were that ‘she was giving a warning to girls that smoke shisha’ and that ‘sadly, it happens’.

What I fail to understand is why the burden of guilt is not placed on the perpetrator.

Why does the perpetrator walk away with what seems to be a pat on the back?

The media has over time been an avid perpetuator of the rape culture.

Some examples are Facebook’s refusal to pull graphic images of violence against women (while deeming photos of breastfeeding mothers to be objectionable), advertisements on billboards and mainstream media that use sexist language and objectify women and catchy tunes on TV and radio that advocate for sexual assault.

As we mark this year’s 16 days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence, we need to question our judgements.

We must remember that staying aware of rape culture is difficult and painful.

We need to sniff it out, notice it, get uncomfortable and share the discomfort with others.

We cannot interrupt the culture of violence unless we are willing to see it for what it is.