Our di­vide and rule rape cul­ture

Turn­ing a blind eye to what hap­pens be­hind bars does us no favours in the bat­tle to end sex­ual vi­o­lence in SA

The Star Late Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - Doreen Gaura is the pro­gramme of­fi­cer at Just De­ten­tion In­ter­na­tional-South Africa, a hu­man and health rights NGO that works to elim­i­nate sex­ual vi­o­lence in places of de­ten­tion DOREEN GAURA

WE LIVE in a so­ci­ety that si­mul­ta­ne­ously con­dones and re­jects rape. Our col­lec­tive con­scious­ness is aware of the stag­ger­ingly high statis­tics of rape in the coun­try and while at cer­tain times of the year a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of so­ci­ety en­gages with the is­sue, most times it is, at best, swept un­der the rug, and at worst, de­fended and jus­ti­fied by many.

Rape and gen­der-based vi­o­lence (GBV) is by no means a new phe­nom­e­non. De­spite ex­ten­sive work over the years by pas­sion­ate, ded­i­cated and ac­com­plished ac­tivists, schol­ars and in­sti­tu­tions, the vi­o­lence en­acted by men against women, chil­dren and even other men re­mains high, not only in South Africa but glob­ally.

In the con­text of con­tin­ued pa­tri­archy, it is no sur­prise that sex­ual vi­o­lence is tac­itly ac­cepted by so­ci­ety, es­pe­cially when it is ex­erted upon cer­tain bod­ies and groups of peo­ple.

African-Amer­i­can fem­i­nist scholar Glo­ria Jean Watkins, bet­ter known by her pen name “bell hooks”, de­scribed pa­tri­archy as a sys­tem that “in­sists that males are in­her­ently dom­i­nat­ing, su­pe­rior to every­thing and every­one deemed weak, es­pe­cially fe­males, and en­dowed with the right to dom­i­nate and rule over the weak and to main­tain that dom­i­nance through var­i­ous forms of psy­cho­log­i­cal ter­ror­ism and vi­o­lence”.

One group of peo­ple whose abuse is ig­nored is those who are in­car­cer­ated. The para­dox of the plight of this group, in par­tic­u­lar those clas­si­fied as male, is that while they might in­habit bod­ies that we may in­cor­rectly as­sume award them pro­tec­tion from sex­ual vi­o­lence, their iden­tity and po­si­tion­ing as “of­fend­ers” leads many to see their sex­ual vi­o­la­tion as not only ac­cept­able, but also jus­ti­fi­able. Per­va­sive vi­o­lent crime, high lev­els of un­ad­dressed trauma, racial and so­cio-eco­nomic inequal­ity as well as the “tough-on-crime” stance by polic­ing lead­er­ship fuel such views.

Such ap­a­thy to­wards pris­oner rape, and dis­crim­i­na­tion against its sur­vivors se­verely vi­o­lates their hu­man rights, the con­sti­tu­tion, laws and poli­cies. It also un­der­mines the broader fight against GBV and pa­tri­archy. No mat­ter what crime some­one has com­mit­ted, or is ac­cused of com­mit­ting, rape is not, and should never be, part of the penalty. Sex­ual vi­o­lence against in­mates only serves to re­in­force the op­pres­sion and vi­o­lence that af­fects us all. It also con­sti­tutes a pub­lic health cri­sis that has dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences for sur­vivors and for the com­mu­ni­ties from which in­mates orig­i­nate and to which they usu­ally re­turn.

What hap­pens in pri­son has a pro­found im­pact on all of us. Yet too of­ten, the lives of pris­on­ers and the ways that th­ese in­sti­tu­tions in­cu­bate vi­o­lence, are in­vis­i­ble to us. Close to 160 000 peo­ple are in­car­cer­ated in the coun­try’s 243 cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties, and about 60 000 peo­ple are re­leased an­nu­ally.

It is there­fore vi­tal that sex­ual vi­o­lence in pris­ons is in­cluded in broader con­ver­sa­tions about GBV. In­deed, even that oc­cur­ring in “all-male” fa­cil­i­ties is un­der­pinned by the same pa­tri­ar­chal prin­ci­ples that in­form rape in broader so­ci­ety, mak­ing re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of in­mates and trans­for­ma­tion of our so­ci­ety next to im­pos­si­ble.

While mas­culin­ity is un­der­stood to be the axis of pa­tri­archy, it is im­por­tant to re­alise that much like with fem­i­nin­ity, there isn’t only one type of mas­culin­ity but rather, mul­ti­ple mas­culin­i­ties. Th­ese mas­culin­i­ties are or­gan­ised hi­er­ar­chi­cally with a dom­i­nant/hege­monic mascu- lin­ity at its apex. Fur­ther, even within this par­a­digm, there are what Unisa’s Kopano Ratele has called “mar­ginal hege­monies or hege­monies with marginal­ity”. This ef­fec­tively com­pli­cates even fur­ther un­der­stand­ings of how pa­tri­archy re­pro­duces and pre­serves it­self thereby man­i­fest­ing in var­i­ous con­texts, even those de­void of women, its “tra­di­tional” tar­gets, and ex­clu­sively com­pris­ing of men , those per­ceived to be its ben­e­fi­cia­ries.

Struc­tures, sys­tems and cul­tures that or­gan­ise peo­ple form in pris­ons like in any other com­mu­nity. In male pris­ons, th­ese di­vide in­mates into cat­e­gories of “men” and “women”, mim­ick­ing com­mu­ni­ties out­side.

The in­mates clas­si­fied as “women” are reg­u­larly forced into this po­si­tion specif­i­cally to make them the sex­ual prop­erty of “men”. They are also of­ten re­ferred to as “wives” or “wyfies” in the con­text of forced part­ner­ships known as pri­son “mar­riages”. Ad­di­tion­ally, those most likely to fall prey to pri­son rape and im­posed gen­der iden­tity re­as­sign­ment have vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties that are per­ceived to have qual­i­ties that ap­prox­i­mate fem­i­nin­ity, such as younger in­mates; those con­sid­ered good look­ing, LGBTIQ in­mates, those con­victed of non-vi­o­lent or weapon­less crimes; first-timers, those who’ve been raped in the past or are un­will­ing or afraid to use vi­o­lence.

The toxic no­tions of mas­culin­ity that fa­cil­i­tate rape in pris­ons such as the sub­or­di­na­tion of women, chil­dren and marginalised mas­culin­i­ties not only re­pro­duce those that ex­ist out­side of pri­son but also help sus­tain them. Ad­dress­ing pris­oner rape is there­fore a vi­tal com­po­nent in the fight to dis­man­tle misog­y­nist and ho­mo­pho­bic views and mis­con­cep­tions so per­va­sive in pris­ons and so­ci­ety. The same rape cul­ture that ex­ists in our com­mu­ni­ties that acts as a bar­rier to sur­vivors re­port­ing abuse and seek­ing help, also ex­ists in pris­ons.

It is only by ac­knowl­edg­ing all of this that the broader fight against GBV can be ad­vanced.

We can in­crease the chances of re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing pris­on­ers and trans­form­ing so­ci­ety by low­er­ing rates of sex­ual abuse be­hind bars and shift­ing at­ti­tudes that con­done pris­oner rape and re­in­force a per­va­sive rape cul­ture and misog­yny.


MAS­CULIN­ITY RULES: In­mates in male pris­ons clas­si­fied as ‘women’ are reg­u­larly made the prop­erty of ‘men’, and are also re­ferred to as ‘wyfies’, writes the au­thor.

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