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Taking responsibility for gender-based violence

A few years ago I was woken up by my sister at my grandparents' home to the news that a woman had been gang raped in an empty garage in the cul-de-sac where the house was situated. The woman somehow managed to escape from the group of men and called out to the houses in the cul-de-sac for help, and ours was the first to respond. She was allowed inside and as she tried to recover from the ordeal in the lounge with the help of some of my family members, others took to the kitchen and began to gossip over what she had been doing out in the early hours of the morning, and also questioned her dress sense.

The fact that the rape survivor was being questioned for her behaviour and choice of clothing, rather than the behaviour of the rapists, made me realise there was a broader societal and systemic prejudice against women. By doing that, my family members placed blame on the woman for her assault.

This response from them wasn't necessarily a callous one, but rather reflected a broader attitude held by society of victim blaming. People at large still hold very dear the notion of victim blaming through slut shaming. This indicates that by and large women in general society do not own their own bodies and therefore deserve what they get when violence is used against them.

The recent viral video of a woman walking through the streets of New York being subjected to all types of harassment further illustrates just how entitled men feel towards a woman's body. The video's broader controversy aside, it quite clearly indicates just how perverse the accepted norms and values are of many men today.

The online reaction to the video has been even more reflective of the ways in which this societal disease is encouraged. Now the comment section is its own special place where all forms of bigotry thrive, encouraged by the veil of anonymity most users employ.

And it's for reasons such as this that most rape cases go unreported. The popular statistics stand at only one in nine rape cases being reported to the police. This was revealed in a report carried out by the Medical Research Council in 2002. Carrie Shelver from the 1 in 9 campaign last year highlighted a Gender Links report carried out in 2011 that revealed that statistics could actually be closer to only one in 25 cases of rape being reported to the police. This is all due to the stigmatisation of rape survivors and the secondary and tertiary victimisation from law enforcement and societal shunning.

Most men try to play down the female experience and vulnerability and are arrogant in the security that they are not vulnerable to violence or abuse due to their gender. It's very disconcerting how many men defend other men who make unwanted advances on women and how much further abuse victims of abuse people receive. It's revealing of something far more macabre. At its base it's a superiority complex allowed to thrive in a society that still aims to denigrate women to a position of subservience.

So on the eve of the 16 days of activism I find myself asking the question, how much progress has society really made towards egalitarianism?

Phumlani Pikoli is an online producer at Eyewitness News based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter

@scoutgumbee