Violins (not violence) to shatter the silence

07 May 2019 | Columns

Justicia Shipena

I’ve been one of those girls who go to parties that bump aggressive, derogatory music and I sing along. I’ve been silenced by sexist comments on the rare occasion when people bring up sexual assault. I know I am not alone and I think it’s time we stopped, but how am I to forgive myself for doing nothing in the face of trauma, and is silence not an act violence too? These silenced occasions are the reason we as girls don’t stand up. Of course we want to stand up, but if we do, whose coffee table silence will these boys rest their feet on? What if someone takes our spot while we stand? What if everyone notices we have been sitting this whole time?

It thrives in the environment we have created, where it slinks around corners at parties and hides in the shadows in parking lots. As children, women are taught to be scared, but you never know exactly what it is you are running from.

Pay attention to your surroundings. Watch your drink. Never walk alone. Carry pepper spray. Be polite to the guy that calls you a b***h, because you didn’t say “thank you” following his catcall. Walk to your car with your keys between your knuckles. Make sure no one follows you are home. None of these things prevent sexual assault, but rather than our culture fixing the issue, girls are taught that they have the ability to prevent it from happening.

The silence that surrounds sexual assault enables it to continue. It is estimated that one in three women are survivors of sexual violence, as well as one in six males. At school, on university premises and the streets, you walk right by these people, completely oblivious. As young individuals, we need to take responsibility for our silence. No one is talking about it and I think it’s time we did.

The neutrality associated with Namibia’s dominant male culture fuels sexism with the common belief that ‘boys will be boys’. This attempt to rationalise brutish acts is a symptom of a much larger problem: The abhorrent minimisation and normalisation of rape in our society.

A girl once told me about when she was drugged during her first year of university, she was blindsided. She had done everything right, and yet, it still happened to her.

My fake sense of control and safety was ripped out from under me, and I was forced to understand that there was nothing I could have done to prevent it.

I was the one who said this happens to other people, but never me or someone I know. Don’t be that person. This affects everyone.

Pay attention to your body. Know that it isn’t normal after your first or second drink to go from being completely sober to out of control in what seems like five minutes. Don’t stay quiet. Find your friends. Don’t be ashamed to call out for help.

As a journalist I am expected to network with various people, and in this vein, a young girl I spoke to after a gender-based violence event said she once forgave a predator because she was afraid to start drama in their friendship group. Two weeks later he assaulted someone else; to date she is still carrying the guilt.

As a woman, you are taught from a young age that it’s on you. Only you can prevent this from happening to you and if you don’t, then you did something wrong. But why can’t we teach our boys not to do it?

We are too focused on the girl child and we forget to educate the boy child on this issue. It is always about teaching girls how not to get raped, but we don’t teach boys to not rape. I think sexual consent is something we are still struggling to understand.

Another girl spoke of how she was catcalled by a man in a mall and no one around her said anything, so she didn’t say anything because she didn’t want to make a scene.

“I still wake up in hot sweats haunted by images of the hurt of girls he assaulted after I didn’t report it,” she said.

It's been said that the experience of reporting sexual assault can be just as, if not more traumatising, than what the person just went through. In some regard this rings true and there is a reason that many cases go unreported. The amount of slut-shaming and humiliation that follows is enough to shatter the remaining self-dignity of any survivor.

In other words, the person that committed this unthinkable act is still out there, free to harm whomever they please.

Our justice system doesn’t always take these cases of ‘minor’ rape cases seriously. The police seem uninterested in solving these crimes, leaving many questions unanswered and survivors without any peace of mind.

We, as females, accept the state of constant fear as just another component of being a girl. We text each other when we get home safely and it does not occur to us that not all of our guy friends have to do the same.

We are surrounded by boys who hang up naked posters and fantasise about choking us, and gleefully watch movies in which women get murdered.

We are the daughters of men who pointed at the news and the missing girls. They begged us to be careful, to be safe. Then told our brothers to go out and play.

I conclude by saying: Let us not take away someone’s freedom in their own skin.

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