2019 is slowly drawing its curtain, allow me share a few reflections on rape and the rape culture before the curtain finally falls. we need to change our ways and not cross over with some bad manners for both oursakes and for those around us. In any rape situation, please Be gentle with survivors. They are not your enemy. Your enemy is the culture that dismisses the way a woman’s agency has been eroded for years and blames her for her own rape. Consent is a far more complex issue, especially for women, than just saying “no.” There is no such thing as a “perfect victim.” There are just victims – and we need their voices now more than ever. My appeal to you as you read is that you dismantle the misleading notion of ‘a perfect victim.” Society has damaging expectations of what a ‘perfect’ victim should act like prior to, during and after an assault, feeding into this victim-blaming notion that had the survivor done all the ‘right’ things, he or she would have been able to somehow ‘prevent’ the assault. Underlying these expectations is the idea that a less than perfect victim is somehow culpable for the crime committed against him or her. Perfect victims are depicted as people who always say no assertively (and that the no is always magically respected by the predator in this decision, apparently). They never go home with strangers, never drink alcohol, always report the crime right away to the police (despite the fact that there is an incredible amount of victim-blaming in law enforcement, possibility of re-traumatization if the case goes to trial and numerous factors that go into whether or not someone chooses to report). Perfect victims are portrayed as those who never wear short skirts or revealing clothing. They never feel ambivalence towards their rapists. They do not post provocative selfies or engage in sexual behavior. They never walk home at night, never party until dawn, never flirt with the perpetrator prior to the rape and so on.

soul murder 1

Here’s the thing about perfect victims: they don’t exist, and they shouldn’t have to in order for rape to be taken seriously. A friend of mine (I will call her Jane) went to visit one of her childhood friends (I will call him Carl) a few weeks ago. Carl had just returned to Uganda for the Christmas break; everyone was looking forward to seeing him. He called and requested to see Jane and she promised to see him on an agreed evening at their family home. She got to his home with so much excitement, these two had been friends for over 20 years, same schools, same neighborhood games, there was so much to catch up on. Amid the long conversation, Carl made a couple of attempts to touch Jane but she dismissed it as something her mind was making up. In her words, “Penny I thought I was being ridiculous, I mean Carl is like my brother – maybe I was over reading into his actions” This battle in her mind went on for about three more minutes she became more and more uncomfortable, decided to get up and leave. Carl got angry and that turned into aggression in a short span of time. Carl pinned Jane to the couch with his fingers tightly wrapped upon her mouth and his elbow harshly pressing against her chest and neck. His other arm was at this point taking off his pants. He quickly inserted his dick inside her in spite of her desperate pleas and screams for him to be reasonable and to stop. She fought until she froze. Her soul was murdered by the rape right there in that moment. Research has shown that in response to the trauma of an assault or rape, victims tend to ‘freeze’ rather than fight or flee. It’s called “tonic immobility.” Carl left the country and Jane id dealing with the trauma of this unfortunate incident. Some people have said she took herself there and so good for her. Others have said she made the story up. Others have labelled her unladylike – but all these do not take away Jane’s experience.

I have been compelled to share Jane’s story with her consent so that we might all learn something. That someone out there will join the fight for rape free environments and put an end to rape cultures. That someone will find recognition and know that their story/Experience is valid. Many people say very hurtful things both out of ignorance and spite and this must stop! There are many people who wonder why survivors are only now beginning to speak out about their rape or assault. It’s not because they’re lying or exaggerating. It’s because they’ve been gas-lighted for decades about what actually constitutes rape; it’s because they’ve been taught they are to blame for failing to protect themselves; it’s because they’ve been fed myths about how rape is only committed by strangers, not people we trust; it’s because they’ve been told that rape always has to be aggressive and violent to count as rape or assault. That is why when they finally do speak out, it’s after they have a sliver of recognition, usually from reading the stories of other survivors, that what they went through was valid, or that it may be safer for them to finally speak now that others are also sharing their experiences. Or at least, it should. Is it any wonder that the #MeToo movement has revealed so many stories? These are the stories that have been buried for what seem like a lifetime. The space to speak about them has only recently been created. If you are one such person, use the space to heal and find validation.

Many people are quick to ask victims why they didn’t run or get out or do something to stop the rape but telling victims to simply “get out” of the situation is not helpful nor is it realistic. There are many circumstances where the body is immobilized from leaving the situation and the victim doesn’t feel safe enough to leave. There is also another type of response to this type of trauma called “fawn” – in which the victim seeks to gain the favor of her assailant by complying with his demands or acting in a servile way; this is done to survive. When we place the onus of the rape on the victim, we completely dismiss the effects of trauma and mitigating circumstances where leaving is simply not a possibility and, in some cases, may actually place the victim in more danger. Victim-shaming and blaming causes victims to incessantly doubt their own instincts and experiences. Many survivors of rape and assault choose not to report these crimes to the police – usually because they know the amount of victim-shaming that is already present in society. Law enforcement has a history of blaming the victim and considering how rapists are rarely held accountable for their crimes, it’s no wonder that some victims would prefer to avoid the potentially re-traumatizing experience of a trial that may not result in justice.

For victim-blamers who claim that women should just learn how to say ‘no’ in the face of an attack, here is a simple reminder: there are many ways women say no but that doesn’t mean the perpetrator won’t continue. Flirting or even going home with someone does not mean you agree to have sex with them. Nor does the mere act of speaking out about sexual coercion infantilize women or make them ‘play the role’ of a victim. Victim-hood is not an act – it is a lived experience that takes a legitimate toll on someone’s physical and emotional well-being. Rape is equivalent to soul murder. As you make resolutions for a new year, plan to educate yourself about how you are going to treat people with more understanding and from a place of knowledge. Join Femme Forte to create safe spaces and be a safe space for someone this coming year.
Happy Holidays

Comments (17)

  1. This is really sad. I am still trying to understand how a man keeps his “excitement” levels high amidst such resistance? Anyway. Thanks for the info.

    • Hey AK, I want to attempt to answer your question.

      I think in some ways, it ties into the regressive social construct of “men should be hard and in charge take what they want”.
      Also many rapists in Uganda many times seem like normal people until the story shows up, leaders of the community at some point, employees with white collar jobs, personalities of some sort, students or student leaders, just like perpetrators gender based violence.
      I think also the fact that many times every one (family members, work environments, the police) have normalised the incidents of rape with the reaction of “we will investigate” after which the case is put on the shelf”, everyone forgets, the victim has to pick up the pieces, the perpetrator is back to his “normal routine – possibly work and causing some more havoc to unsuspecting women.

  2. Thanks Penny for this master piece
    I have been handling SGBV matters as defense counsel, and my observation is that the system is not favourable for the victims. I mean all stakeholders: Judicial Officers, DPP, Dedense Counsel, Victim protectors and shelters all need education and overhaul to have the voices of the victims heard and seen.
    We need a mindset paradigm shift for all stakeholders.
    A Happy New Year.

  3. Thanks Penelope for sharing. This is why my heart and passion is for empowering ladies. In 2004 i was almost raped by a cousin that my dad had entrusted me to when i got to Kampala. Thankfully, i had been empowered and trained to fight. I survived it. A second attempt was by a friend and this compelled me to start empowering Girls. Out of the so many Girls i empower and talk too every year have been sexually abused by relatives tight buddies and househelps. The so many boys tell me their first sexual encounter was with a maid. This calls upon parents to pay more attention to their children, protect them and also give them survival skills. So much work to do in 2020. 2019 left me with so many stories that can’t allow me to chill.

  4. Thanks Penny for this great piece,it speaks volumes from the women and girls that often suffer in silence. Seeking support and services remains a huge challenge in our society. Some are stigmatised by their own relatives and friends which explains whyt majority do not speak out but some that have challenges this need continuous support. Thanks

  5. Sad. Sad, Sad that people will look to blame the victim and not the rapist. It is a “culture” and in there lies the stronghold. “Culture” has made certain things embarrassing for women especially, to talk about. You will be asked, “who will marry you after knowing you were raped?” And for some because you were once raped, guys think they can hit on you because you have no value after all – The stigma “culture” brings. How does a woman found in her home and raped by robbers bring this onto herself, how exactly was she supposed to defend herself?
    Great article.

  6. Thank you Penny for sharing & dispelling the myth of the perfect victim & encouraging us to have empathy & sympathy for rape victims.

  7. This article is heart wrenching.
    It was published 5 days ago, long before the twitter explosion, a confirmation that rape in Uganda is scaringly familiar, too many similar stories of shut-down victims whose perpetrators are husbands, friends, employers or colleagues, family members…..so sad.

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