I was born and raised in South Africa, the rape capital of the world. That’s what the world calls us these days. The world is appalled by the statistics, “how do they live like that” they ask. “How do we live like this,” I wonder too. Were we not the amazing rainbow nation, the people of Mandela who stunned the world with our near- smooth transition to democracy? The country of the great diamond rush and gold rush?
To be honest, I don’t know how we got here either. One moment I was having the time of my life as a child in school: learning, laughing, loving, living…and then as I grew, there were more reports and more headlines. Women being raped. Elderly women being raped. Toddlers being raped. Infants. It was a disease. It did not discriminate: a vagina was just that: it did not belong to anyone, there was no soul to it, no life that breathed, lived, cried and felt, as did the perpetrator. Did he believe he was entitled to it- forceful sex that not only scarred the body, but the mind and the heart? Did he believe he could just take from an innocent person? Have his way? Force? Steal? Rape?
Headline after headline, I watched and listened not paralysed by the horror, but burning. I burned with the desire to stop it, prevent it. I asked myself so many questions: who is this man, he who can, like a thief in the night, take someone’s life for a mere opening in their body which regardless of age will give him the pleasure and satisfaction he wants? What is his name? What is his story? How old is he? Who and where are his parents? What were his hopes and dreams…his aspirations? What pains him? What makes him cry? What frustrates him? What music does he enjoy? What food does he enjoy? Who does he look up to?
What made him do it? How can I help him? How can we help him?
See, in my head this man is not a grown man yet. I see him as a mere six year old and I’m trying to follow him throughout his day, maybe week, months, years. I’m trying to track his experiences as a young man, the event(s) in his life that molded this heart that could rip through a seventeen year old’s abdomen open and leave her bleeding, guts sprawled as though she were simply carrion for the vultures to feast on.
I’m looking for this boy. I search for him desperately when I walk in the streets, past a school, in a park, at church…The problem is that I can’t see him- no one can. Not his mother, his friends, not even the girl he fancies…maybe especially the girl he fancies.
This is the problem: when he has fully morphed into this monster and is mature enough to move in for the kill, no one can see him as this monster. His sweet face is the reason- the innocent smile which has masked for years the pain of neglect from his mother, the pain of rejection from his crush, the pain of being cheated on by his girlfriend, the pain of witnessing his father abuse his mother, the pain of being abused by a family friend, the pain of struggling to fit in, the pain of self-pity and insecurity, the pain of witnessing a friend being murdered by a rival gang, the pain of not being able to provide for his family, the pain of watching his sister be the golden child, the pain of his wife’s suicide, the pain of not being able to afford Nike Air Forces like his friend… This pain is masked nearly as well as the friendly, clown-paint masked Wayne Gacy’s twisted fantasies.
I mulled over the different occupations I could pursue that could help me get through to these men and bring them to justice. Forensic genetics to bring his DNA samples to the court, toxicology to know if the influence of any substances was present, anthropology to identify the buried skeletal remains of his victims, psychology to answer all the questions aforementioned, criminal profiling to keep those like him out of our communities and identify them before they cause further damage. For years I drifted about hopelessly in the forensic science field until my job shadowing at the Johannesburg Forensic Pathology Services. It was when I walked through the passage where autopsies were carried out in certain rooms that I crumbled. Seeing the skeletal remains of a thirteen year old girl, her flesh, hair, smile, dreams, likes and dislikes reduced to the brittle, black bones in a plastic bag- bits of burned denim sticking to her pelvic bone, I knew that I could not.
The best that I could do is to raise my son with love, care and constant reminding to respect and honour women. To teach my little boy to respect all life and never see someone as lesser than he is because we are all wonderfully and beautifully crafted by one Creator. I want him to be sure of no one else’s morals but his own. I want him to be the kind of man to speak to a woman respectfully and ask that she puts on something a little less revealing in future if it bothers him so much. I want him to defend women in situations where men feel the need to “teach them a lesson” for whatever their crime may be. If we all worked tirelessly at creating this kind of generation of men (every man and woman in every household), we would have so much fewer rape stories to worry about.
If only we could all work together to minimise our role in turning our sons and brothers and boyfriends and uncles and husbands and neighbours and cousins and friends into rapists. It is possible.