Facing up to an abhorrent attitude towards rape
Recently a shocking audio recording went viral in East Africa and elsewhere. It is a private conversation between a woman and her partner. She is tired. He is determined to have sex. It is not only the man’s attitude that has caused an outrage.
If the tacky tweets Kenyans are spreading on Twitter are anything to go by, a woman’s body is an object solely for a man’s enjoyment. Her refusal is nothing but a coded message that really means: “More please.”
Recently Kenyan Tweets reached a new low when they ridiculed a woman who repeatedly told her sexual partner (she pronounced his name “Mollis”) to let up, because she was tired. This unsettling intimate experience was leaked online as an audio recording. Many on the internet seemed to find the woman’s predicament funny. The recording trended on Twitter for several days.
The woman’s pleas according to some sick sentiments online, were a testimony to Mollis’ prowess. And to add to this shameful turn of events, women were calling into radio stations asking for the man’s number. Their reasons? The lady on the tape apparently couldn’t handle him and… .
This overt glorification of an aggressive man is troubling. The message it sends? A woman’s boundary is worth ignoring if it gets in the way of a man’s pleasure.
“For all moaning ladies, hands up who doesn’t wish to date a #mollis. No one? Okay Thank you,” wrote one Twitter follower. Another blog wrote that Mollis had “earned the respect of all men.”
Some claimed that the clip was hilarious because of how the woman pronounced her sexual partner’s name. A condescending humour that looks down on people’s indigenous accents in Kenya.
So, instead of being supportive, her pleas to have him stop invited ridicule from the public. Others doubted the authenticity of the tape and shrugged the scandal away. The rest of us wondered: Why is the real issue not about what constitutes rape and about the blatant dismissal of a woman’s protest?
We all heard the woman appeal to her partner, and the man’s silence as the bed creaked while the tone of her voice changed until she sounded like she was on the verge of tears.
Rape Under Reported
Rape is the most highly under reported crime in Kenya. It is estimated that only 1 out of 20 women in Kenya will report a rape and only 1 in 6 will seek medical assistance, according to the Crime Scene Investigation Nairobi Task Group.
Our indifference to rape is well documented and a deeply disturbing trend that surfaces in various ways. In 2013 three men raped a 16-year-old and as punishment, the police initially asked the suspects to cut grass. After a public outcry and a trial, the men were sentenced to 16 years in jail. But it seems that in Kenya rape cases are treated lightly until there is public anger or an international backlash.
The situation is so problematic, that even law enforcement officials tell women that, “In Kenya, no one wins rape cases.” There’s an attitude that sexual violence against women is not worthy of justice, and that a woman’s presence – especially on the basis of her clothing and initial consent – gives her attackers permission to violate her.
By ridiculing and shaming women who are exposed online, or who are willing to come out and testify, we are communicating to all women that they are not valued and their experiences will not be taken seriously.
Just this month, a former Big Brother Africa contestant, Ann Mbaru, spoke up about a near rape incident with a taxi-driver who fondled her breasts and told her to shut up. While she did not go into more detail about the ordeal, for obvious reasons, some Kenyans on Twitter dismissed her by implying that she is an attention-seeker, or an “Instagram hawker” as one social media user stated.
It’s clear our national attitude on rape is problematic and the judicial system flawed when it comes to matters of sexual crimes. We need to look only at the lack of representation in law making spaces, in the police force and in the media to see that the third estate in Kenya needs to include more women who can advocate for changes in policy.
But Kenyans on social media are not all bad. They have pressured CNN into apologising over offensive remarks, and lobbied other Kenyans to raise funds for cancer victims to the tune of KES 6.1 million. On matters of sexual violence though, some of these same individuals turn into juvenile Twitter thugs spreading shocking messages. The disconnect is disappointing considering the power they wield.
To those people who say the Mollis incident is a “non-issue”, I ask whether it would be so funny to hear your sister or friend spoken about in the media, online and in bars? A well-known communications company, Zuku, even chose to capitalise on the trend by making a catch phrase of the situation to sell an internet package deal.
Rape culture in Kenya is something we don’t take seriously. But what I find especially disturbing is the hypocrisy we display as a nation. Women are tired of being ridiculed. We want our boundaries respected and for the public, especially men, to remember that we have the right to change our minds.
And as this recent round of Twitter shamefulness has shown it is not only men who are the problem when it comes to disrespecting women.
Josephine Opar is a Kenyan-born freelance journalist who has written for The Guardian UK, The Christian Science Monitor, Indiewire and the Urban Perspective (UP) Magazine since graduating in 2013 with a Journalism degree from the United States International University-Africa. Some of the topics she covered as a staff writer at UP Magazine include the flawed legal aid system in Kenya, and how some organisations such as the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA-Kenya) are educating women about their rights. She covered a story for Indiewire, in New York, about a documentary, Sewing Hope, detailing the work of TIME Magazine’s Most Influential Person honoree (Rose Nyirumbe), who rehabilitates former female child soldiers in Uganda some of whom bore their captors’ children.