“I hate to talk on sensitive matters like rape, but it’s becoming disturbing. How someone dresses or whether someone is male or female is not your business! All you see is body parts. You don’t even care if someone is creative or intelligent! See me as a human not another girl.”
Rape is “trending”. Funny, right? It might sound absurd but that is the reality of our setting at the moment. We have heard and read about rape cases from public figures as well as from lay people. New cases keep popping up almost on a daily basis and the MeToo hashtag has become a movement. A reasonable number of people have expressed diverse views as to how rapists should be treated in accordance with the sanctions on rape. That notwithstanding, the perpetrators have continuously abused their helpless “prey”. Who’s to blame?
As revealed by The United Nations (UN) and human rights organization report, sexual violence and assault on women and children is on the rise in the English speaking parts of Cameroon as a result of the sociopolitical crisis that has drained the two regions. According to Al Jazeera, the main perpetrators of the attacks are “armed separatists, military personnel and civilians.” From this, it’s clear that predators are taking advantage of the chaos.
The Organization for World Peace (OWP) in a discourse on gender-based violence has equally quoted Al Jazeera stating that “between January to March, there were approximately 500 sexual assault cases reported, this does not account for those unreported” and that “the United Nations have also investigated these claims and have found that there were also more than 500 additional cases that included, gender-based violence including forced marriage, denial of economic resources and emotional abuse.” This is why trivialising the debate by reducing it to dressing is outrageous.
It would appear no crime has ever witnessed the height of the blame game as rape has. The finger-pointing has gone beyond the bounds of any human explanation so much so that it has become a normal phenomenon for rape victims to be blamed for poor/indecent dressing. The questions begging for answers remain unanswered.
A couple of days ago, a friend responded to a post on this subject with: “Let’s assume for a second that dressing is a major cause of rape and that taking this stance doesn’t in any way contribute to blaming/shaming the victim. Whose standards of (in)decency are we going to use? How can we be objective and inclusive?” Tino Foy (Norbert Kah) recently asked, “Is there an anti-rape dress code?” I’m literally begging for answers to these questions.
Dressing expresses mood, attitude, and a sense of creativity. The choice of a dress code at one given moment is determined by the mood, weather, place, culture, occupation etc. No one can put on a garment and step out of the house into the streets with the intention of cajoling a rapist to molest him/her. At least no sane person can nurture such intentions. Even if an anti-rape dress code exists, it has an almost insignificant effect on the fight against rape.
A few weeks back, a teenager was raped to death in Douala and still in Douala, an inflamed crowd stripped a lady because she attempted to sneak into someone’s house. If decency is that important why strip the lady? Isn’t the act of stripping her just as gruesome?
These cases came after that of one of Cameroon’s pop singers Daphne. She braved the odds and challenges to let us into her dark past – rape. It’s not been a merry-go-round as she (even after speaking to the public about it) has been ceaselessly battling with its soul-sucking multifaceted aftermath. Her case isn’t the first nor the last as a list of rape cases (known) can go on and on. Come to think of it. A good number of rape stories are still hidden in the drawers or closets of offices, companies and homes. How do we expect victims to come out and speak up when they are blamed, judged and ridiculed and when we focus on the less important things?
Sexual violence and rape in particular is a sensitive issue that needs to be handled with tenacity. It takes more than courage to be able to deal with the consequences of rape, talk less of mustering the guts to openly admit being a victim of rape in public. Rape generally alters the victim’s sense of self-worth and places some of them in a state of high bouts of lasting anxiety, schizophrenia and depression. The least we ought to offer them at such a moment is soothing words (love) and an enabling environment for a speedy convalescence but the reverse obtains in our setting.
The moment a rape case comes up a cross-section of the society starts lashing out derogatory terms directed to the victim while others play detective and end giving excuses for the perpetrator They resort to all forms of ways the victim must have gone wrong in order to be raped, drawing hasty generalizations and irrelevant conclusions. And before you notice it ends up in gossip, mockery and a fertile subject of ridicule. There’s even a Nigerian official who in a now-deleted post said women who are raped deserve it because rape only happens to bad/evil people. This alone is a major reason why most victims choose to seal their mouths and uneasily bear the agony of depression and trauma.
We have exaggerated our lack of empathy and compassion. It cost nothing to empathize with someone in a desperate condition. Uttering nice words to a person in distress could do much to enliven them. We mustn’t only empathize with friends or those who share blood ties with us. Trauma knows no race, kinship nor gender. The height of our insensitivity sucks. It’s never too late to make a positive move.
I’m not in any way advocating for further rape cases to occur for us to prove our empathy unlike with the previous cases that couldn’t pull the least care and affinity from most of us.
First published on 11th October 2020