Culture to blame for rising rape cases in Africa

Posted on October 26, 2016 12:40 am

A 2016 Survey on rape cases in Africa released recently was an indication that there are genuine reasons to be concerned about Africans’ attitudes to rape and violence. A surprising proportion of Africans endorse attitudes that minimise and trivialise rape. Many apportion blame to the victim while excusing the actions of perpetrators.The findings reflect heightened concerns over the extent of rape culture widely held societal norms and attitudes that condone, normalise or minimise sexual violence against women in African communities. Such attitudes play a key role in shaping the way that individuals, organisations and communities respond to sexual violence. The results show that African countries, like many other countries, has a real problem.While overall the findings showed stability in many areas, some key attitudes regarding sexual violence had worsened since the survey was last run in 2013.Fewer Africans agreed that women are more likely to be raped by someone they know than a stranger in 2014 at 72% than in 2010 that stood at 61%. More people agree that rape results from men being unable to control their need for sex. Together these findings show a decline in community understandings of the nature and causes of sexual violence.Three in six in African community agreed with the deplorable notion that women say no when they actually mean yes. Three in ten endorsed the view that if a woman doesn’t physically resist, even if protesting verbally, then it isn’t really rape. Slightly more than 20% agreed that if a woman goes to a room alone with a man at a party, it is her fault if she is raped.Perhaps most concerning is that more than two in three Africans holds the attitude that a lot of times women who say they were raped had led the man on and later had regrets.These results reveal a very poor understanding of sexual consent among a sizeable minority of the African community.Younger people aged 17 to 24 generally had poorer attitudes about sexual assault.

This is particularly alarming since this age group is also over-represented among both victims and perpetrators. With as many as two in five women experiencing sexual violence since the age of 12, there can be no doubt that Africa has a long way to go to overcome this problem.Too often when people talk about culture and sexual violence, they think of problems out there in other parts of the globe. It is comforting, perhaps, to criticise other regions for their attitudes towards women and for Africans to tell themselves that women are treated equally and with respect.But rape culture and its impacts are not an African problem and the survey results show that African countries are not immune.In a culture that minimises, trivialises or excuses sexual violence and shifts responsibility away from perpetrators and onto victims, individuals, organisations and communities are less likely to respond. When attitudes condoning sexual violence are common, some African men are more likely to feel it is okay to behave disrespectfully or even violently. As African community, they are less likely to take action to intervene, or to support a victim.African culture fails to take rape seriously, victims feel afraid to seek help. They are unsure of what kind of response they are going to receive from friends, family and institutions like police and courts.But sexual violence and the attitudes that condone it are not character faults in individuals, they are learned. If African countries want to change attitudes they need to change their culture and the influences that shape it. This would normally involve the way Africans raise boys and girls, the way men’s and women’s relationships are shown in media and popular culture, and the position African leaders take on this issue.Much important work remains to be done to tackle, and ultimately prevent, sexual violence in Africa. Africans have to challenge rape culture at its source by addressing gender inequality as well as the attitudes and behaviours that minimise, trivialise or excuse sexual violence.Also, the continent can start with early education with young people, delivering programs that teach respectful relationships and sexual ethics as the basis for consent. Africans themselves can take a stand against gender inequality and its everyday occurrences whether it’s sexism, harassment or violence against women.In addition, organisations and workplaces have an important role in acting on sexual harassment and discrimination.To prevent sexual violence African countries must work together to reject inequality and build an African culture of respect.

Contador Harrison