Efforts to change rape culture appear to take one step forward and three steps back. From the reckoning of the #MeToo movement expanding across all industries and institutions to tremors within the world of politics with U.S Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh accused of grave sexual misconduct, there are no territorial borders which confine the sexual exploitation of women and young girls. The proof of the pudding is perhaps more evident right here in our home-country Guyana where rape is trivialized by the term “deflowering” or is downplayed as a “family issue” and not a serious crime. Often, we open the daily newspapers to see horrifying accounts of rape and sexual assault splashed across the pages, some involving minors. As recent as September 19th 2018, a 22-year old taxi driver was charged with raping a 13-year old girl. In this modern age of widespread social media use, we have seen a radical change in the way these issues are ventilated and expressed, particularly in the “court of public opinion”.
While the less formal social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have at times assisted in facilitating constructive dialogue regarding sexual violence, there is also an alarming trend on the rise of using such platforms to disseminate recordings of rape and sexual assault. In August 2018, there was a video of a publicly nude woman, apparently under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, circulating on Facebook and WhatsApp. The men recording the video could be heard ridiculing her and were allegedly responsible for her inebriated condition. More recently, another video making the rounds allegedly involve two men engaging in sexual misconduct with a minor. While some argue that the videos help to identify perpetrators, these videos together with the aforementioned rape culture norms, also expose the victims/survivors to slander and baseless condemnation.
For instance, under the first video mentioned, the writer recalls reading comments berating the young woman for ‘getting’ drunk/drugged and ‘allowing’ the incident to occur: “She look fuh that”. On the second video, the comments went further to accuse the victim, who is allegedly a minor, of seducing older men: “Lil girls want big man”. Similar criticisms were also meted out against the complainants involved in the Coen Jackson case earlier in the year. The writer finds it appropriate at this point to remind persons that a minor cannot legally consent to sex and as such, sexual intercourse with a minor is the very definition of statutory rape. Therefore, regardless of how familiar a minor may be with an older perpetrator, he/she cannot legally consent to sexual intercourse. Additionally, the legally farcical claim that the minor was desirous of engaging in sexual intercourse with the men captured in the video rings all the more hollow when she can be heard shouting “No” and “Stop”.
All of this begs the question: Have we normalize rape and sexual assault to such an extent that we have turned our ammunition on the ones who suffer at the hands of sexual predators, allowing a perverse rape culture to fester and grow? Have we become so inured to instances of rape and sexual assault, that we cast doubt on the pain and suffering of the women and minors in these videos? This delusion constitutes a central tenet of rape culture and is largely responsible for preventing persons from coming forward to seek justice.
Undoubtedly, social media has exacerbated the impact of rape culture as Megan Stubbs-Richardson and other researchers from Mississippi State University observe in their documented research on sexual assault and social media, titled: “Tweeting rape culture”. It was concluded that rape culture on social media has three themes:
1. The virgin-whore binary and victim blaming – following that one’s actions has consequences, shifting the focus away from perpetrators and cultivating the assumption that victims must have done something to cause the attack;
2. Sub-news of the sexual assault – sharing the story and details of the case; and
3. Rape myth debunking and support– Interestingly enough while there is activism and content that encourages support present on social media, victim-blaming content was found more likely to be shared or re-tweeted.These studies have shown that views on rape are socially constructed through gender roles and dating norms that normalize and legitimize sexual violence. It is a product of social, cultural and historical factors which mold individuals’ attitudes toward it. For example, a woman’s clothing may be considered too “inappropriate” and therefore “she is asking for it” or the male perpetrator’s actions may be trivialized with the infamous excuses that “boys will be boys” and “he is a man after all”.
Rape culture makes rape less likely to be reported and is a form of victimization that stigmatizes and blames survivors. This is exacerbated by the communication of negative and aggressive language used primarily to cyberbully victims of sexual violence. We must be careful not to disseminate content which may be harmful to survivors of sexual violence, whether they have come forward or not. Eliana Suarez writes that in order to deconstruct rape culture it involves an understanding of the societal perception of survivors, how it is constructed and how we can redirect the narrative toward “un-learning” gender norms, rape myths and behaviors that contribute to the breeding of sexual predators. The current rape culture is teaching women not to be raped instead of teaching men not to rape. This is inherently what is wrong with our approach in expelling the scourge of sexual violence from our lands. We must teach our brothers and sons to respect a woman’s body and understand the meaning of consent. Notably, the writer does not discount that males are also survivors of sexual violence, but in the recent wave of cases and social media adjudication of women and minors, that was the focus of this piece. No means no.
Heal Guyana is a registered, not-for-profit organisation which functions as a civil society platform that focuses on empowering Guyanese and influencing citizens toward positive behavior change.
The views expressed herein are those of the Author; they do not necessarily reflect the views of Heal Guyana or its Executives.