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The answer is, yes. However complexities start to arise when we consider what to do about sexual assault by someone you’re in a relationship with.

As a constitutional democracy whose fresh history of subjugation and oppression of one group by another, and that upholds the rule of law, we should make it much easy for victims to report rape crimes than it currently is the case.

South Africa got a glimpse of how defence lawyers treat rape victims through the current case of the State vs Timothy Omotoso during the cross-examination of Cheryl Zondi who alleges repeated rape and human trafficking by the controversial Nigerian pastor, Timothy Omotoso. As this is conducted in an open court, many people had no idea how crude and anti-victim the system really is. In fact, many still contend that they would find it very difficult to report rape incidents on them as the system is highly discouraging.

Furthermore, we have such a victim blaming culture in which we make the assumption that if something bad happens to you it is somehow your own fault. This is particularly true for the way we blame women.

“She shouldn’t have gone to that party”, “What did she expect wearing like that”, “She asked for it by allowing him to pay for her drinks”, or “It’s her own fault for drinking so much.”

Blaming the victim is by far the most common reaction people generally have when a victim tells others that she was sexually assaulted and is, by far, the most damaging. The idea is that the victim “put herself in that position” or was “asking for it.” Not only does the victim not receive the comfort and support she needs, she is also further shamed by being blamed for her own victimization.

Sexual abuse in a relationship is an ever-present reality. It is something that many people struggle to come forward about for the following reasons, and others:

  • They’re afraid no one will believe them since they’re already in a relationship with the rapist.
  • They’re ashamed because sexual assault is, by its very nature, humiliating and dehumanizing. As a victim, you feel invaded and defiled while simultaneously experiencing the indignity of being helpless and at the mercy of the over-powering rapist.
  • They don’t realise how wrong it is when it happens, and often second-guess themselves. The rapist will also make it seem like she was a willing participant.
  • They’re afraid of retaliation by the perpetrator. Many victims fear that if they report the incident to authorities, their perpetrator will retaliate in some way. Most victims know that very few rapists are caught, and even fewer are convicted and serve jail time.
  • They don’t trust that the legal system will work for them. They will be shamed, scorned and made to relive the incident in court while they’re expected to be less emotional and more factual.

Considering the above and many other reasons, it’s easy for victims to feel disempowered.

However rape can, and does, occur in relationships. No matter how many times you have sex with your boyfriend, when he forces you to do it against your will or without your consent, it is rape. The lack of consent is the essential element and need not involve violence.

Here’s what we suggest you do:

Face the truth

For many victims it’s easier to think of the incident as some sort of “rape lite” than to deal with the mess that is being in love with the rapist. It’s easier to invalidate her own experience than to accept it, which will allow her to properly deal with it. Do not be in denial about it. You have been raped by someone you loved.

Remember it’s not your fault

You are not responsible for what he did to you. You never led him on. He, by his own will and failure to control his lust, imposed himself on you without your consent. It’s all on him.

Stay in contact with friends and family

In situations of abuse, your boyfriend might try to isolate you from people, especially your family and friends. By doing that, he is able to control you by keeping you away from people who care and that can support you.

Get counselling

It can be extremely hard to open up about rape, but keeping quiet allows the boyfriend to continue his abusive behaviour. You might feel embarrassed or ashamed, or feel afraid of betraying him. But he betrayed your love and trust. Opening up about it can help start the process of either helping you out of the situation or helping you heal from the situation. Speak to a counsellor or a trained professional.

Lastly, we need to help women understand that they need to stop blaming themselves for rape. This belief has been ingrained in women’s psyches for decades and is based on the nonsensical idea that:

  1. Women are responsible for men’s unacceptable behaviour, and
  2. It is a woman’s job to never arouse a man unless she wants to follow through by having sex with him.

This arcane belief needs to be unearthed and exposed as the lie that it is. No one is responsible for a man’s behaviour but the man himself.

Here are a few places you can contact:

POWA (People Opposing Women Abuse): 011 642 4345/6

Stop Gender Violence helpline: 0800-150-150

LifeLine South Africa: 0861-322-322

SAPS Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences: 012 393 2014

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