The recent outcry over so-called “rape jokes” posted on social media by two employees of FHM have caused an outcry – and rightly so. In a country with some of the highest statistics for rape and abuse of women and children in the world, such comments are completely despicable and unacceptable.
However other recent comments have been reported in the media attributed to a Magistrate in the Krugersdorp made when sentencing a convicted rapist to prison should also raise concern.
During the sentencing, the Magistrate allegedly stated:
“In prison you can rape prisoners if you feel like it; at least you won’t be around little children”.
This comment however has seemingly not caused an outcry amongst the public – and that is exactly the problem with how South African views the issue of rape.
In a country where rape happens to men, women and children, it would appear that the vileness of the act is determined by the social position of the victim, rather than the crime. This is supported by the fact that rape is a crime about power relations and South Africa is a society with substantial power contradictions. Statements like this magistrate’s make it seem almost as if the act itself is seen as the deserved fate of a person who is perceived as being “outside” of society. The comments also seem to condone the rape of prisoners by other prisoners as being acceptable within a prison environment – thereby giving credence to the argument that the outcasts of society are seen as fair prey, and seemingly deserving of their fate. This links to the issue of “corrective rape” so recently highlighted by the assault and murder of Duduzile Zozo, a lesbian in Thokoza, which unfortunately is only one of many such assaults that happen regularly to lesbians in this country. Rape should not be seen as the punishment for perceived outsiders.
Thus for an Officer of the Court to make such remarks to someone about what he can be free to do in prison is totally unacceptable. Not only does it highlight the very real issue of sexual assault and rape happening within the prison system, but it goes some way to giving licence to arguments that the State is not able to keep people safe in prison form such attacks – which is one of the arguments being used by the defence team of Shrein Devani to avoid extradition to South Africa for the alleged murder of his wife!
What kind of message is this to send out? South Africa has very high rates of interpersonal violence and assault, and instead of rape being condemned by society as a whole, it is almost seen as part of common culture and behaviour and only condemned in certain circumstances. The uneven reporting of the two incidents, and the lack of comment on the remarks of the magistrate, underlines exactly this problem and may well be one of the factors that contribute to our high levels of interpersonal assault where victims and the level of their victimhood is judged by their social position rather than the wholesale condemnation of the act of the attacker.