Don't disarm kids in a violent world

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Talking about rape makes me uncomfortable. It goes back to a traumatic exposure in my early adulthood when someone I loved very dearly raped a total stranger.

Torn between fraternal affection and the enormity of his crime, I largely cut myself off from him. I became close to a group of women who worked with rape victims; I became sensitive to the prevalence of gender-based violence; I helped facilitate illegal abortions for those in need of them – rape victims or not.

More crucially, I have raised and am raising my daughters with the clear understanding that their bodies belong to them and them alone. I'm harshly intolerant of any banter on the part of any person, man or woman, who dares to suggest that any woman has been "asking for it".

None of those opinions have changed or are ever likely to change.

However, what has prompted today's thought process on my part was a question raised by a woman colleague on a social network recently.

She asked: "Is rape becoming the new race card? A totem that enables the waiving of logic, truth, evidence and facts?"

It was a point that immediately resonated.

See, one of the other reasons why I don't readily proffer any insight into the topic is that there is this propensity on the part of a whole range of women and men to immediately shut me down. The argument: "You're a man. You've never been raped. You don't know what you're talking about."

This argument is, of course, utterly ridiculous. It's as ridiculous as those who argued during apartheid that white people were incapable of understanding the plight of the rest of us. As an extreme example, I've never been a victim of a nuclear blast, but can speak with authority on its effects.

Nevertheless, the "you don't have the right to offer an opinion" viewpoint has the immediate effect of shutting down reasonable debate.

It's very much like daring to question the validity of climate change statistics; or supporting the late Manto Tshabalala-Msimang's belief that good nutritional habits were a prerequisite to administration of antiretroviral drugs. "Sexist testosterone-fuelled misogynist proponent of patriarchal rape culture!" has become the new "Denialist!"

And all that is needed to become a recipient of that particular vituperation is to dare to question any person who claims to have been raped and therefore assumes that this grants her viewpoint greater validity that yours.

Meanwhile, a strident cacophony of background noise drowns out reasonable conversation. "Stop rape now! We are the rape capital of the world! Take the pledge to not rape! Father a Nation. This is not what Mandela fought for! End rape culture. Every two minutes, someone in this country is raped."

Here's what I think about rape: it is endemic to every species, and it is never going to go away entirely.

The best we can do – as we do with murder, and robbery, and assault and other things that we generally would not like to happen to those who are dear to us – is to enact laws and create environments where compliance with civilised norms is encouraged while perpetrators are swiftly brought to book.

It's like a close friend of mine who works in the security industry says: "Ten percent of people will always be honest. Ten percent of people will always be dishonest. We need to sway the 80 percent in the middle in the direction of honesty."

You might think that this is common sense, but the rape culture lobby says otherwise.

Rape culture is a concept first used in the 1970s. Those who coined the term suggest that my view – that sexual violence is the norm for every species – is wrong. They suggest instead that we should be a culture where people are taught not to rape instead of a culture where people are taught how not to be raped.

Around 200 BC, the Indian emperor Ashoka Maurya became so distraught at the violence perpetrated in his path to power that he beat his swords into ploughshares and embraced the passive non-violence of Buddhism and got the people to do the same. Unfortunately, he forgot to tell the rest of the world. So 700 years later, Arab conquerors rode into a disarmed pacifist India and raped and pillaged and assimilated their sorry behinds for the next several hundred years until the British arrived with guns and did something similar.

My point being that telling people to not rape or to stop rape is in the same category as "don't do drugs". It's stupid. And not teaching our children how not to be raped is disarming them in a violent world.

What we can do as a species is recognise the conditions that encourage rape and ringfence them.

My starting point is simple: Economic emancipation for women is the single thing that can prevent their being trapped by economic dependence upon their rapist. (Which woman will put her rapist in jail if she and her children will starve as a result?)

Economic emancipation starts with equal education and equal opportunity. That's what I believe in. That's what I practise.

I'll leave you with the words of my aforementioned colleague: "Rape shouldn't be used as an emotional 'get out of jail free' card, like race is being used to manipulate public discourse. Rape deserves respect - and this means bringing our full rational, critical, logical (& emotional) resources into the public discourse."