Silence: The Final frontier



Bureaucratization of Rape

The problem with bureaucracy is that they bureaucratize, you cannot blame them entirely, it is how they are designed to operate. So when the emotive subject of rape arises it is met with the usual bureaucratic response, there are relevant channels, use the relevant channels. There is no discussion about how to make the relevant channels better, to question why so few women come forward or to make it more conducive for them. In Pontius Pilate fashion, we saw one official after another wash their hands of this, stating the victims are to blame for not coming forward. The onus is placed entirely on the victim to come forward, if they fail to do so then the suspicion now falls on the victim. Why didn’t you report earlier? Why come forward now? The accused is given the benefit of the doubt, seen as a victim of defamation, they enter a period of Grace where they are untouchable. We have essentially legalized rape, there is a small window for prosecution, which also coincides with the most traumatic part but after that, you’re home free, free to rape again, second accusations are easier to dismiss and it goes on. It momentarily absolves the legal system of blame, but they can do more. It is a lie that they cannot help you if you don’t report within 72 hours. They should say any timeframe is possible to convict. Men are being convicted today of rape during the 1994 genocide, so the idea that there is a 72 hours limit is absurd. What seems to be lacking is political will to confront it.


Lack of empathy

“Report early, report early, report early!!!” that was the refrain, if victims don’t report early then our hands are clean. This is not like someone stealing your chicken, if my chicken is stolen I can run to the police and report it, but rape is an entirely different matter. If a person is hit by a car and is incapacitated, we don’t expect them to run to the police station, we understand they need to deal with their physical injuries before reporting. Trauma is invisible, but it is an inner injury which is often worse than a festering wound. If these victims had open wounds, maybe we’d empathize more. You cannot empathize with what we can’t see and what we have never felt. If a person was in a coma at CHK we would understand their delay, but we cannot see trauma or understand it. We have to amend our laws to have higher conviction rates, to deal with the complexity of this.


Stranger danger

This system and laws on rape are mostly designed to deal with “stranger danger” scenarios, a man jumps out the bush and rapes a woman. That is only 10% or less of cases, 90% are people you know intimately, people close enough to abuse the trust placed in them. In stranger-danger cases forensics is a major tool, a DNA rape kit is taken, it becomes a question of alibis but the DNA proves you were there. That is the simplest type of case, but it doesn’t reflect most cases. A DNA rape kit taken within 24 hrs won’t prove anything if the suspect claims it was consensual, if there is bruising he’ll claim he’s well endowed and likes it rough. It often comes down to a he-say-she-say type of story, with society more likely to believe the man. The moral hazard is placed on the victim “Wajyaga he? Where were u going? Why were you dressed like that?” Add to that the social stigma of bringing shame on your family, fearing no man will want you, these are the things we tell people to silence them.


Parallel lines

The system makes nice parallel lines which we all have to fit in, the problem is many fall between the cracks. We must first say that there is no time limit to come forward. There is no moratorium on rape, testimony must matter, above DNA evidence which can only back testimony. The Police should be better trained in interrogation of suspects or rape and victims. The testimony of a case officer should count as evidence. The suspects should be subpoenaed on video to give a statement and be interrogated with that used as evidence. Nurses and doctors testimony should count towards evidence because it is hard to fake the symptoms of rape to an expert. There needs to be an informal approach, a one-stop rape center sounds like a good idea on paper, but in reality, not so much. It looks good but I wonder how many women walk in there? If we had peer to peer counselors who can talk woman-woman about this, who have been trained in helping women but still have that common touch. A toll-free line is also absurd, in our culture we never speak about our problems to people we don’t know. We need one on one communication to break this silence. All the structures are there, but they are like ice-cold towers distant from us, we need to make them more accessible and human. Move to an informal setting but with all the power of a court, a home, an open air meeting. The first step is empathy, that goes a long way, understanding that there is no easy answer but understanding the victim helps.


Eating Children

The final aspect we have to deal with is the sexual culture of Rwandans, this will take longer but sexual exploitation is a common fact of life. It is expected for older men with money to sleep with younger women with less money. The men are seen as generous, the women are seen as enterprising but there is an understood quid pro quo. I buy you and your friends Amarula and Airtime, you give me some sex. We call it eating children “Kurya Abana” the proponents of this artform are celebrated all over town. We must at least start to frown on this, we cannot see it as a reward for services rendered to the country. This Kurya Abana syndrome is a cover for rape, young women barely 18-19, impressed by rich men in a hotel room, a bevvy of drinks for them and their friends and the wake up in bed with their friend’s dad. So when victim of any rape steps forward it is seen in the context of this eating children, the blame goes to the victims, it gets tangles like spaghetti. The other aspect we have to deal with is how society deals with rape, relatives come to the defence of the accused regardless of guilt, the family is seen as under attack, the reputation must be saved at all costs. In one case I know intimately, his friends and family came to save him but he went on to rape 4 other women. This is the price of defending your friend, more victims, then we sit next to each other at a Serena prayer breakfast. I wondered if we pray to the same God? It is our culture that needs to change, we are too closely connected that a charge against someone close is a charge against you. You defend him because even though he’s a rapist, he’s OURS, nuwiwacu.

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1 Response to Silence: The Final frontier

  1. Frederic Semungambi says:

    Wow!, this writing is very touching. Thanks for being an eye open to us.

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