by Justice Marwisa
Sexual abuse has become pandemic, not only in Zimbabwe, but the rest of the world. Each country has its own appalling tally.
- India has a population of approximately 1.2 billion; a rape occurs every 20 minutes.
- In Denmark one in five women has experienced a sexual assault.
- In England and Wales, 85,000 women are raped annually.
- In Zimbabwe, a woman is raped every 90 minutes.
I believe sexual abuse is an evil that requires concerted effort from everyone to ensure it is eradicated. A sexually abused woman is someone’s mother, wife, daughter, sister or aunt and that ‘someone’ might, in fact, be you in the near future.
The trauma of sexually abused women
A while back, I watched Colleen Magobeya’s documentary, Tears from Inside, which reveals touching stories from women sexually abused women. The trauma involves physical pain, emotional pain, hallucinations, loss of health, poor self-image, loss of sexual appetite, discrimination, stigma, fear of men and society, divorce and suicidal tendencies. A medical doctor, Dr Frances Lovemore, who works with victims of trauma, confirmed at a workshop I attended that sexually abused women endure painful experiences. It therefore should go without mentioning that every effort must be made to end such atrocities against women in modern societies.
Why sexual abuse has continued and is increasing in modern society
While some arguments have been put across that sexual abuse occurs primarily in poverty- or conflict – stricken areas, statistics show, as per the figures above, that considerable sexual abuse also takes place in affluent nations like Denmark, England and Wales. Barring psychological problems in perpetrators who carry out these heinous acts, a good question we need to wrestle with is, “Why do men continue to sexually abuse women?”
I believe there are two important issues that need to be examined- firstly, the role played by traditional and cultural beliefs and secondly, the role played by the justice system.
i. The role played by traditional and cultural beliefs
One of the major problems regarding sexual abuse is culture and traditional beliefs which cause men to have two worldviews:
- Women are inferior to men and are therefore objects for men’s pleasure.
- Women are property, owned by men, especially in communities where men pay the lobola/bride price.
Such worldviews can be seen, for example, in Udwin’s film India’s Daughter, produced after a 23 year old medical school female graduate, Jyoti Singh, was gang raped about two years ago by six men in India and subsequently died thirteen days later. In that movie, one man says, “We have the best culture. In our culture, there is no place for a woman.” What is shocking is that the man who says these words was M.L. Sharma, the defense lawyer for the men convicted of Jyoti’s rape and murder. Commenting on how culture and traditional beliefs can be so warped, Israeli-born Udwin, 57, says, “I began this film with a narrow focus asking, ‘Why do men rape?’ I discovered that the disease is a lack of respect for gender. It’s not just about a few rotten apples, it’s the barrel itself that is rotten.” She goes further to say that after interviewing the men who raped the student, she was more disturbed by their mindset than the rape itself. Therefore, to address issues of sexual abuse facing women, it would be important to address culture and traditional beliefs.
ii. The role played by the justice system
The justice system plays a crucial role in ensuring laws are set and enforced to protect vulnerable groups in the society. When it comes to sexual abuse, it appears that not enough is being done to curb this problem. The justice systems in most countries seem inadequate to deal effectively with perpetrators of rape. At the same workshop on Gender Abuse (referred to above), Honourable Member of Parliament, Jessie Majome, revealed that in Zimbabwe, most perpetrators of rape are given sentences similar to those given to people who steal cattle, even though the law allows for a custodial sentence of up to life in prison. As far as Hon. Majome could remember, no one had been given a life sentence for rape, despite the fact that it is such a traumatic experience for rape victims.
It appears the law is not tough enough and the law enforcement not properly executed to be a deterrent to would be abusers.
Curbing Sexual Abuse in Modern Society
The role of man in stopping rape can never be over-emphasized. I have two suggestions:
i. Men should become culture changers
Since society is still predominantly paternalistic in nature, it is the men who have the capacity to change the culture that tends to look at women as inferior and objects of men. Men in most societies are the custodians of tradition and cultures and can therefore lobby for a change. Men should advocate for women to be identified as being equal to men, equal in value and importance. This change in culture can be effective only if the whole value system of men changes and becomes driven by the principles of loving God and loving others (Matthew 22:37) as well as the principle of doing unto others as you would want them to do unto you (Matthew 7:12).
This is where the Church can play a significant role. Preachers and Teachers can teach correct values as they expound Scripture, for example by looking at Jesus’ attitude to women. Studies can be devised and taught that would focus on this problem attitude, that exists as much in the church as elsewhere. Along with the teaching, the example of Christian men’s’ attitude towards women should be an example to the society in which the church exists.
ii. Men should be protectors of women:
- Demonstrating a Different Mindset: Christians being transformed by the renewing of their minds (Romans 12:2) should be at the forefront in setting the example of showing respect towards women. If God sees us as equal in value, that is how we men, should be treating our women folk. This attitude will then be reflected in our marriages especially, but also in all cross-gender relationships at work, church, social settings or in the privacy of our homes. It will affect how fathers treat their daughters, wives and women in general.
- Men should advocate for stiffer laws: Stiffer laws can be a deterrent to would-be abusers. Along with this, men should advocate for proper enforcement of the laws. Adequate resources, including courts specifically set up to deal with sexual abuse, should be established. Special investigation units for sexual offenders and victims of sexual abuse could also be set up.
- It is my belief that measures like these, if implemented, can reduce significantly the prevalence of sexual abuse.
I end by offering my heartfelt sympathy to all victims of sexual abuse who lead traumatised lives after the painful experiences they endured. I apologise, on behalf of men, for the sin of omission, by not being at the forefront in advocating change in the traditions and cultures that, in many ways, gave excuses for men to abuse women.