Written by Carys Sutherland

When we look at the current state of violence against women in South Africa, our initial response is to look for someone to blame. We often end up blaming the police or the courts alone, for doing their jobs poorly. The police and the court are responsible for our safety but they are not responsible for our cultural norms. The roots of the problem do not lie with the police, they lie amongst us, in our everyday lives and thoughts. To find the reason for the terrible state of violence against women and children, we must take a look at ourselves. The fact that 54% of men in South Africa have participated in violence against women and 38% have committed rape is a solemn reflection on ourselves and the societal norms we live by and exercise.

I am not accusing us of being in support of rape or violence against women but I am imageaccusing us of something deeper and more entrenched in our society. This is the concept of “Rape Culture”. There are four tiers to this culture. The highest tier is Explicit Violence. This is the tier in which rape, gang rape, murder, molestation and/or violence is committed. The tier below that – Removal of Autonomy – robs women and children of their freedom of self-rule by the acts of sexual coercion, threatening, safe word violations, groping or covert condom removal. Degradation is the next tier – the level that excuses things like cat-calling, non-consensual photos, stalking/following, unsolicited “dick pics” and “revenge porn”. The last tier – the one at the bottom of everything – is the one that all the other levels depend on. This tier is called Normalisation. This is the layer of culture that reinforces all the tiers above it.

We provide excuses for the behaviour of some men when we say things like “boys will be boys” or “women should stay home” or when we blame the rape victim by saying things like “why was she there in the first place”, “she shouldn’t have gotten drunk”, “she shouldn’t have been wearing those clothes” or “she was asking for it” – nobody wants to get raped. Nobody should get raped. Normalisation allows people to make rape jokes and excuses by calling this immorality “locker room banter”. It teaches children and women to “not get raped” instead of teaching men to “not rape at all.”

Normalisation excuses degradation. Degradation excuses the Removal of Autonomy. Removal of Autonomy excuses Explicit Violence. Those who exercise Explicit Violence towards women or children will almost certainly come from a culture that engages in Normalisation.

If we stop normalising this culture of society and start condemning it, all the other levels will begin to break down. The issue of rape is not simply an issue of security. The rate of rape cases that occur in our country reflect how toxic our society is towards women and children. So yes, this is an issue of policing but also an issue that is unconsciously excused by society.

To eradicate rape one must first condemn the acts of Normalisation, Degradation and the Removal of Autonomy in society. If we want a safer future for women and children and a decrease in the rate of rape cases, we must address rape culture in our homes, our schools, our jobs, with our friends and most importantly, with ourselves. The high amount of rape and violence against women and children reveals the culture that we live in and it is imperative that we make efforts to combat the toxic culture that justifies it.

Edited by TSA