Rape is not only a crime, but a culture that continues to exist through society’s knowing or unknowing perpetuation of it. However, when it comes to addressing the very real topic of rape itself, it is seen as taboo. Perdeby sat down with two UP student activists, Caroline Letsoalo, a second-year LLB student, and Refiloe Mofokeng, a third-year BA Law student, to discuss rape, rape culture, consent, and activism.

Rape To Letsoalo, rape is “the lack of consent in a performance of sexual intercourse” – a succinct version of rape’s ever-evolving definition by Dictionary.com includes “any other sexual penetration of the vagina, anus, or mouth of another person, with or without force, by a sex organ, other body part, or foreign object, without the consent of the victim”. A crime that has recently come to light is “stealthing”, which Mofokeng explains as “the removal of a condom during sexual intercourse”. This amounts to rape if the consenting partner did not consent to having unprotected sex.

Culture According to Letsoalo and Mofokeng, rape culture is particularly evident in UP residences where it has been ingrained over time and thus remains hidden in that it is not seen as rape culture. This is through the upkeep of traditions such as sleeping, which requires students from men’s resses to serenade students from women’s resses, who are expected to weave through the men and strike enticing poses. Mofokeng adds that it is not only men’s residences that perpetuate this culture, but also women’s residences for accepting it through their willingness to ‘play along’. Rape culture remains evident in social spheres. Letsoalo explained that when she attended the TuksRag event this year there were no female security guards to perform searches on female attendees, and the women’s toilets were ‘guarded’ by male bouncers. The experience called to mind for Letsoalo the 2016 #AreWeSafe campaign on campus, as she questioned her safety in the presence and at the hands of male security guards.

Consent Letsoalo and Mofokeng speculate that what prevents rape victims from reporting rapes and getting help is institutional and bureaucratic culture, which dictates that a hierarchy of channels must be navigated in order to receive assistance. Consent is never implied. The concept of implied consent often directly results in victim-blaming, whereby the victim is accused of implying their consent through, for example, the way they are dressed, their acceptance of a drink at a bar, or allowing foreplay. Mofokeng explains that misconceptions continue to exist because the idea that “one thing leads to another” is so entrenched in our thinking.

Activism While they both acknowledge that a world without rape is only a dream, Letsoalo and Mofokeng agree that the normalisation of rape in society should be replaced with the normalisation of available help for rape victims – through advertising, through discourse, and through appropriate provision in our constitution. Both students emphasise that knowledge should not be monopolised, that we should not allow our activism to reach a point and then come to a standstill. Letsoalo and Mofokeng believe that this “difficult dialogue” should take place in order to resolve deep-rooted conceptions of rape, rape culture, and consent.

Infographic: Michal-Maré Linden

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