8 April 2011
Rape Crisis Statement on the #itsnotrapeif Twitter phenomenon
We heard via the online grapevine about a revolting Twitter hashtag topic – #itsnotrapeif – and due to some masochistic compulsion we clicked on it to see what people were saying. This tag is devastating for the rights of survivors, and fuels myths that survivors of rape deserved what they got.
Rape in South Africa is a crime that is affecting hundreds of thousands of women, girls, boys and men. This is no joke. It is a crime that is clearly defined in law as:
Any person who unlawfully and intentionally commits and act of sexual penetration with a complainant, without the consent of the complainant, is guilty of the offence of rape.
Consent cannot be given if you are forced by violence or the threat of violence to yourself, to a loved one or to your property. Consent cannot be given if you are drunk, drugged, asleep or unconscious. Consent cannot be given if you are younger than 12 years old or mentally challenged. Consent cannot be given if you are forced to ‘consent’ by someone in a position of authority over you. For example if you are forced to consent to sex with your boss, your teacher, or your president, because you think that not having sex will affect your position at work, your learning institution, or your status as a citizen. Consent cannot be given if you have been deceived by someone in authority, or a professional, that tells you that you need to submit to a sexual act for your physical, emotional or spiritual health.
Penetration, according to our law, does not only mean penetration by a penis. Penetration covers the penetration of the genital organs of one person into or beyond the genital organs, anus or mouth of another person; the penetration of any other part of the body of one person, or any object, including any part of the body of an animal, into or beyond the genital organs or anus of another person; or the genital organs of an animal, into or beyond the mouth of another person.
It is rape when consent was not given.
A lubricated vagina does not mean that a woman consents to sex. Having a lubricated vagina is not an invitation to penetrate it. An orgasm does not mean consent. An orgasm is a physical response to stimulation of genital organs. An orgasm is not a crime. Rape is. Not wearing any underwear does not mean that a woman consents to sex. Not wearing any underwear is not a crime, rape is. Being drunk or stoned does not mean consent to sex. In fact, being drunk or stoned prevents you from giving consent. Sending someone naked photos of yourself does not mean consent to sex. Taking off your own clothes does not equal consent. If you are afraid for your life, or afraid of violence, and take of your clothes because you think it would be safest thing to do in the situation, you have not given your consent. You have been forced. The sexual positions that are taken up in a rape do not mean consent. Submitting to a particular sexual position after being forced into sex is not evidence of anything. Being a lesbian does not mean consent to sex. Being a lesbian does not mean you need to be shown what you are missing. Sexual orientation is not a sexual invitation. Being a wife, or a husband, or a daughter, or a son, does not mean consent. Rape happens in marriage, domestic partnerships, between ex-partners and between family members.
Think of the way we treat hijacking victims, encourage them not to resist for their own safety, and do not blame them for being hijacked. We do not suggest that if they did not fight the attacker that they deserved it, or consented to it. This is the way rape survivors should be treated. They must act in the way that they believe to be the best for their own safety. This does not mean that they consent to sex. It is only myths and stereotypes about rape that tell us the survivor could have prevented a rape.
Myths and stereotypes are commonly believed stories and ideas that serve a purpose for those who create them and believe them. They are not facts. People believe these myths for a number of reasons. Sometimes we believe myths because we rely on them to support political beliefs that keep women in their place. For example, if you believe that a wife should submit to her husband, you may also believe the myth that she cannot say no in sex. This belief keeps her in her place. Sometimes we believe myths because they psychologically protect us from admitting or accepting the unbearable truth about the scale of rape in South Africa. It’s easy when we hear all of the figures about rape to feel immobilised by the sheer scale, and to have no idea what to do. A myth then is like a cast on a broken arm, allowing it to heal undisturbed for a while.
At Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust we see a number of clients who struggle to believe or admit that what happened to them was rape. Myths support this belief. When you are in denial about what happened to you, you can protect yourself from some of the powerful feelings linked to admitting rape. You allow yourself not to feel ashamed, humiliated, betrayed, sorrow, guilt or the true force of the injustice of what happened to you. Being ready to question these myths, and being ready to admit that what happened was rape, requires courage and strength.
If you are ready to break free of the myths we encourage you to do so. When you have a choice to challenge and expose them, do so. To those survivors who have been subjected to the myth that rape can only happen a particular way, we say to you that you know what happened to you, and you are the most accurate predictor of your own safety. If you need any further support or advice please visit our website http://www.rapecrisis.org.za, or our mobisite on your phone rapecrisis.mobi.
For further information please contact Jennifer Thorpe, Helette Gelderblom or Kathleen Dey of the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust on 021 447 1467.