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Vavi scandal a huge dent in fight against rape

I can't help but remember the day that the story broke and my immediate reaction. I read the story with a sense of incredulity and disbelief and I remember thinking "There is no way he could have done this, this woman must be up to something". In the days that followed I began to chastise myself for having the same reaction I had scorned in many a conversation about the rampant scourge of rape in this country - that is to believe that the man is incapable of such an act and the woman is malicious. I must admit that when the details of the R2 million extortion attempt surfaced my conscience was soothed by this "evidence" that now "proved" that my initial assessment of the situation was correct and there was in fact no rape. But does it really?

The details of the sex scandal involving Mr Vavi revealed in me prevailing notions around rape that I am uncomfortable with and that have, in my opinion done a great deal of damage to the fight against rape. It has not been proved conclusively whether or not there was a rape, but the fact that there was a widely publicised allegation means that this case will affect the discourse around rape in this country.

Regardless of what happened in that office that day and the subsequent political furore, the biggest losers that I see in this whole saga are the thousands of rape victims that live in a country that is already hostile to women and children, and will now have to deal with being raped in an environment where rape is further trivialised by being used as a weapon to fight political battles.

Statistics say that 1 in 2 women will be sexually assaulted at some time in their lives and only 1 in 9 rapes are reported. If the woman who accused Vavi was telling the truth, then she stood and up and spoke for 8 other women who were too afraid to speak for themselves. If she was raped, her reporting the crime carried the silent voices of 8 other women who had been brutalised. In a world where every second woman in the space you are in now will be raped, what she did is a brave and commendable thing, yet she has faced a barrage of condemnation that will further discourage women from reporting rape.

If Mr Vavi's version of the events is in fact true, and there was no rape, that would put him in the 2% of men that have been falsely accused of rape. That nasty 2% that in this country is used to excuse victim blaming, used to justify why rape victims often find themselves having to prove rape before they get access to their sexual rights which are meant to ensure medical care, access to the justice system and support from those around them. That 2% that has had many men confidently tell me that "many women have consensual sex then allege rape when they change their minds after the fact because they have been scorned". Anti-rape activist Thandokuhle Mngqibisa believes that this 2% should be a footnote as opposed to a discussion point in the greater discourse around rape. She says that this 2% is so negligible that we should always by default believe that the woman alleging rape, has in fact been raped.

Vavi Scandal: Choose 898 women over 2 men (by Dr Thandokuhle Mngqibisa - rape activist)

This battle we're fighting is more damaging than we want to know. The occupation of this country by violence, dysfunction & hatred is insidious to the point of undetectable. This Vavi "scandal" (as some would call it - because rape isn't a violent crime. It's a hush-hush, polite, not-to-be-spoken-about-in-mixed-company "scandal") is a great reminder of how dramatically we fall short of doing enough to change our status quo.

Our language is rife with victim-blaming and we tend to put the victim on trial long before we take the rapist to task. When this Vavi "scandal" is discussed, many intelligent people still ask questions like "what kind of rape victim tries to extort her rapist?" and "what kind of victim takes so long to report her ordeal?, well, quite frankly, normal function doesn't always return to someone who has been raped as quickly and as conveniently as society would like. There is no appropriate response to rape. Some cry. Others don't. To assess the accuracy of a complaint of rape by looking at the victim's shock response is a very profound short-falling.

Let me crunch the numbers for you: of 900 occurrences of rape, 100 are reported. Of that 100, 1,9% are unfounded accusations, so 2. As an objective foot-soldier in the war against rape, I know that there will be collateral damage. I would rather have 2 innocent men be that collateral damage than to let 898 innocent women who have been raped be that damage. Every time you support a rape-accused, there's a 98% chance that you're supporting a rapist. Those odds don't sit well with me. But because men are gods and women are expendable, we would rather spend our indignation saving 2 innocent men than saving 898 innocent women who have been raped.

Rape is, by its very nature, exceptionally difficult to prove. Vaginal tearing doesn't prove force anymore. Now we must prove we didn't sustain those injuries during rough intimate play. Skewed text messages and other agreeable interactions are easy to produce. And these, essentially, anecdotal pieces of information become the backbone of entire rape cases (in court and in the media). The legal system fails. But we, as society, don't have to follow suit.

Silence, mistreatment and being vilified forces victims into hiding. Rapists function on the knowledge that victims will never be completely embraced or believed. They thrive on this. It lets them rape again. We, as society, allow rapists to be seen as victims. All our equivocations, our accepting only legal convictions; our sitting on the fence is our way of keeping a distance. We tell victims they aren't welcome. We sacrifice them because we are waiting for someone else to fix the problem, and then we throw our hands in the air with exasperation and wonder why this is happening. We allow it. That's why it is happening. So let's choose 898 over 2. Let's change the culture.

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