Sexual Violence = Silence
19 April 2013. Wits University. I arrived a few minutes early for my philosophy tutorial this morning. Standing in the hallway, I noticed that some of my tut-mates were waiting solemnly, with gaffer-tape covering their mouths. I wasn’t too surprised. Mention had been made (in passing) last night about the silent campaign on a late night radio talk show that kept me company as I studied. Moreover, the three-word equation printed on their purple T-shirts explained the situation: “SEXUAL VIOLENCE = SILENCE”.
I made a deliberate effort to take as little notice as possible. Besides, I thought, these kind of campaigns are becoming the norm in our beautiful country. Plus, these guys would probably remove their tape during the tut anyway.
As we walked in, taking our usual seats, I began to realise that my temporarily mute peers were taking their demonstration quite seriously. Come to think of it, they were mainly those people who made it a habit to contributing often and meaningfully to class discussions.
As we began to go about the tut as usual – silent students included – the question that came to mind (and not only to mine) was if they would chip in at all. They did. All of them relying on others to read the expressions they had jotted down on paper. Despite their efforts, their contributions weren’t nearly as meaningful and frequent as usual. Though most of the campaigners were subdued, there was one woman whose muted frustration came across loud and clear through her being more physically animated than usual. The tut wasn’t the same. Those of us who usually didn’t get to say much spoke a little bit more, the tutor had to ask a lot more ‘yes or no’ questions, and there were some funnily awkward moments; but it just wasn’t as much fun.
Then it hit me. Our small class had become an example of South African society; we the students, its members; and the campaigners, victims of sexual violence.
If this is the real impact of sexual violence on society; if – like in the tutorial – it robs people ofa voice with which to express themselves in everyday life; then this problem is a lot worse than many of us realise. It is bad enough that justice is prevented by a victim’s inability to speak out about their experiences and prevent it from happening to someone else. That is an injustice to the victims (past, present, and future), as well as to perpetrators who will never have to learn to deal with their negativity in positive ways. The fact, however, that these victims are being robbed of the opportunity to participate with their full potential in building society; that is a grave injustice to the nation.
We are at a critical stage in the development of our nation – we have been for nearly two decades – and anything that takes us a step back has to be dealt with now. In order for us to form a national identity and continue building the new Mzansi Afrika, we need the positive contribution of every man, woman, and child.
It is really not okay that some are being forced into silence. We could be losing future leaders, businesspeople, academics, sportspeople, artistes, and role models in general without even knowing it.
Here is the real challenge. We need to encourage and educate each other to build a society that deals with negativity in a positive way. We need to educate ourselves about the things that might cause us to want to resort to sexual violence. We need to give each other opportunities as family, friends, and community members to speak and be listened to (one-on-one and in private, if need be) when we feel something is wrong, without being condemned. More than that, if we focus on establishing the kind of society that puts positive values at its core, we should find that the mechanisms for prevention will be there for us to us.
I am by no means an expert in this field, so here are a few links that I hope will be able to help*:
For those who have been affected by sexual violence –
For The kinds of discussions we should be having:
*Postscript: For the attention this protest has been getting, I’m really unimpressed by the lack of links and contact details that have been put up. It shouldn’t be this difficult to find a website or contact that will point someone in a helpful direction!