Why don’t abuse victims matter to us?
The patriarchy divides and conquers, and this undermines the courage of women
Friday. The scene: Port Elizabeth Magistrates’ Court.
Inside, televangelist Timothy Omotoso is appearing on charges of human trafficking after a number of women made allegations that the pastor had sexually abused them.
But the real scene to watch is outside, where two groups are gathered. One is demanding that Omotoso should not get bail because of the alleged crimes he committed.
The other, made up mainly of women and members of his church, has come to defend the pastor.
The posters they hoist say it all: “Let them talk daddy, they know nothing”; “Tim Omotoso my father”; “Omotoso Nation Aisijiki”. This jarring show of support for the oppressor by the oppressed has played itself out before.
During the rape trail of then ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma, ANC women led the march outside the court. They labelled the woman who laid the charges insulting names. Her suffering was reduced to nothing and her life ruined.
The supporters said the rape case was a sideshow, orchestrated by those who did not want Zuma to ascend the presidency of the ANC – and the country.
Zuma was later acquitted of the rape charge, while the victim went into exile. She later returned home. She died last year. Even in death, she is still only remembered as the woman who accused Zuma of rape, and not even by her real name.
While the merits of Omotoso’s case are still to be heard, crime statistics show that women in South Africa are not safe, even at home.
One in four women is a victim of abuse. Most are abused by those who profess to love and protect them.
So, while the women outside the Port Elizabeth court have the right to show support for their “father”, we need to ponder why there are no men and women outside court with slogans of support for his alleged victims.
And the women who show up to support the accused are the cheerleaders of patriarchy, believing that, by supporting it, they can escape the worst of it. It is unlikely they can. We all need to ask why we are not outside supporting the victims of abuse, who have had the courage to fight back. In our apathy, we compound their victimhood.
In opposing woman abuse, we must recognise how the patriarchy divides and conquers, and how this undermines the courage of many women, who become reluctant to come forward. This is how rape and sexual assault remain underreported.
Every high-profile case of a powerful man that comes to court reinforces how much needs to be done to shift society’s support to the brave ones who speak out.