Source: Ground up
During the Khayelitsha Commission, community witnesses, academics and police officers related stories of appalling violence, particularly sexual violence. The picture painted is in danger of creating the impression that Khayelitsha is bad, that something is wrong with the community, that it is unsalvageable.

Khayelitsha has a one of the highest rates of sexual assault, rape and violence in South Africa. Khayelitsha has serious issues with crime and policing, though its police are not the worst in the country or the province. Lingelethu-West is ranked 100 out of 149 stations in the Western Cape. Khayelitsha's murder rate is high, but not the highest in the country or even the province. The same is true for rates of rape and sexual violence.

Dr Floretta Boonzaier, whose research interests at the University of Cape Town include the social psychology of gender-based violence and intimate partner violence, holds the view that the problem of sexual violence in townships such as Khayelitsha does not exist in a vacuum. The problem is across South Africa.

Boonzaier says it should be viewed as a symptom of inequality, of sexism and the oppression of women and LGBTI persons, not as an isolated and irregular social phenomenon, as is often portrayed in the media.

Gender activists speak of heteronormativity (a society which expects people to be heterosexual and adhere to specific roles). In a heteronormative space, those who fit the 'norm' take a dominant social position. In South Africa, any departure from that norm is disciplined or even punished. An example is 'corrective' or 'curative' rape.

It is convenient to see the offenders ("the men of Khayelitsha") as 'sick' or 'bad'. Boonzaier thinks this perception is untrue. Gender-based expectations, behaviour, and sexist beliefs are held across South Africa, across educational, class, wealth, status, rural and urban divides.

In 2013, Brittany Everitt-Penhale, under the supervision of Boonzaier, conducted focus-group research with university students at UCT. Although the students viewed rape and sexual violence as problems that affected the poor, the students held and expressed the same sexist and oppressive beliefs about women and rape.

Everitt-Penhale's research shows that problematic gender discourses are propagated at university by 'educated' and 'respectful' men.

The study cites the practice of blaming victims for being raped.

"In certain groups a large proportion of time was spent discussing women's behaviour and its relationship to the rape ... [with views such as] women's clothing can cause rape and that by drinking women provide men with the 'opportunity' to rape them."

"Such reasoning rests upon the widely supported notion that men are unable to control their sexual urges – a belief which allows men to be perceived as not fully accountable for their sexual aggression – placing the responsibility upon women to avoid 'getting themselves raped'."

But attitudes to sexual offenders is also problematic.

Jillian Butterworth, a clinical psychologist who works with victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse and sexual trauma, says, "Many people suggest we should cut off their penises. Have you ever thought about what the world would actually look like if we did that?"... "At least a quarter of the male population in this country would have their penises removed. Would the people who say that be so bold if they realised it was their brothers? Their fathers? Their uncles? And their close friends?"

The people who commit rape and sexual violence are not 'out there', they are amongst us.


Photo by Lindeka Qampi


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