“He hits me several times, broke my finger and choked me till I was gasping for air; then he finally had mercy on me and said, ‘I will teach you how to respect a man’.”
– A survivor
Sexual assault is a canker that cannot be ignored in our society. Over the years, the issue has raised concerns both locally and globally. In every corner where humans live, sexual assault is a thing that is sure to happen and to anyone. According to the UN, sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favours and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Unwelcome does not mean involuntarily. A victim may consent to certain conduct and actively participate even when it is offensive. As sexual conduct is unwelcome when the person subjected to it considers it unwelcome. Sexual assault includes rape, harassment, cyberstalking
With rape and sexual assault being the most common form of sexual violence, The Domestic Violence & Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) reports 6 women are likely to be raped every week and only one man is likely to be raped every year. This data covers 2011 to 2016 and it shows explicitly that more females suffer sexual violence. In 2012 9 women were raped within every month on average. The reality is staggering More than 6 women were raped every week in 2015 alone. Between 2011 to 2016 30,408 assault cases were reported. In these cases, it was realized that the perpetrators where mostly close friends or family relatives with the victims. Only a few had strangers as perpetrators. Despite the numbers crunching on the reported cases of sexual assault, most victims or survivors don’t report cases of sexual assault and this is because of victim blaming and other factors which are called rape culture.
Rape culture is social behaviour that allows violence – here implies collusion of all individual acting within that society. Therefore, a society that has rape culture is a culture whose individuals and systems allow for sexual violence to thrive; whether overtly or covertly. An example of a sign of rape culture is a society where rape, sexual assault and violence are excused, normalized and trivialized or made into jokes, or excused by parents when their child reports Uncle Kofi has been touching her, we send the message that sexual violence is not top on our list of social no-no’s. We don’t think it’s a big deal that you violated someone’s body.” What do you think would be the consequent reaction?
What rape culture looks like:
- A mother beats her daughter for being raped
- The man behind you in a queue who uses the hustle and bustle of a chaotic queue to push his lower body up against your buttocks
- A male artiste who openly declares he will have sex with a lesbian artiste because she is a female and female bodies are made for sex knowing very well the said artist is a lesbian.
- A young girl burnt to death for reporting sexual harassment.
- Blaming the victim
“My partner’s frequent check-ins during sex is something I encourage we all do”
-a consent advocate
Frequently checking in during sexual activity can be called consent. What is consent? Consent is a clear “yes” to sexual activity. It has to be mutual, verbal and given without manipulation, head game, coercion and threats. Not saying “no” does not mean consent has been given. Sexual activity without consent is rape.
What giving consent means:
- knowing exactly what and how much you are engaging and agreeing to
- deciding freely and voluntarily to participate
- expressing intent to participate
- consent is ongoing, it can be taken at any time
What isn’t consent?
- just because we kissed
- just because we like each other
- just because you have had sex before
- just because you are drunk
- just because you went on a date
- just because he/she is a sex worker
NO DOESN’T MEAN YES! ONLY “YES” MEANS “YES”
Prevention, Safety tips and Support
We can take active actions or play roles to prevent sexual assault happening to us or others. Even though prevention and safety tips does not prevent the situation from happening, strategies exist to reduce the risks and give us the confidence to step in to prevent sexual assault. An excellent strategy is teaching the culture of consent, as described above.
Bystander intervention is recognizing a situation as harmful and employing the necessary steps to positively influence the outcome. Creating safe spaces for humans to live in has become and should be, imperative to be able to combat sexual assault. Some of the steps to intervene include noticing an event, interpreting it as problematic (you have to trust your guts on this!), assume responsibility and take the necessary steps. Here are some tips this and other interventions has helped prevent sexual violence and violence in general. There are strategies we can adhere to and can help reduce sexual assault. Some of the steps you can take are what is popularly known as the 4D
- Direct: events where the bystander intervenes directly.
- Distract: the bystander distracts either party so the victim can leave the scene
- Delegate: if the bystander feels the situation is overwhelming or doesn’t know what to do. She/he can ask for assistance from others
- Delay intervention is checking in later to give in support
What an intervention looks like: “my ex-boyfriend came up from behind me when I was stashing groceries into the trunk of my car. This lady honked her car behind me and that startled him. Knowing he was being watched he quickly made a dash to leave the car park. The lady waited until I drove out of the car park before she did. I noticed she followed me a mile more to be sure I am safe.”
Sexual assault survivors deal with lots of silencing from guilt, shame, emotional trauma, families, the legal systems and institutions. One of the best ways to assist them is by allowing them to be heard. It may be difficult to know if someone is experiencing sexual violence because not all scars can be seen as such if anyone opens up to you about an assault or a possible assault, one of the surest ways of offering support is to always believe the survivor openly and vocally, always.
You should let the survivor know:
- It is not their fault. Never allow her to blame him/herself even if they were drunk or did not fight back.
- You will support them by listening to them.
- Ask what they need instead of telling them how to handle themselves
- Tell them it’s okay to talk about it as long as she/he needs to. Also, tell him/her it is okay if she/he doesn’t want to talk about it.
What supporting a survivor should not look like?
- Do not blame the survivor
- Do not ask questions or for details of the assault. Let the survivor open up about it
- If you are going to discuss anything that might touch on the assault, warn them ahead of time and make the environment as comfortable as it must be to avoid triggers.
With the recent rapes, gang rapes, sexual harassments, the defilements, the deaths of victims as a result of rape looming our spaces in society, our society and constitution reminding us that men cannot be raped, the mental breakdowns as a result of rape on the victim and survivors and men been fed the idea of entitlement calls strongly for this awareness. This is to say our society has in place oppressive structures against women (mostly) and men. This is why we at Drama Queens are painting a world we want to live in this year: a world free of sexual violence, toxic entitlements and structures that destroy us. How about you join us to create this world? A world centered on a consent culture. A world where each individual is valued and respected irrespective of their gender and sexuality. A world with zero tolerance for sexual violence coupled with a good and effective justice system. This is only possible if you and I come together to fight, fight for freedom, for everyone, for every human being possess dignity. Let us not sit and watch whilst these oppressive structures eat us out. Let us come together and dismantle it. Let’s fight now!