In Summary

  • Research shows that 12 per cent of the first sexual experience of all Kenyan women aged 15 to 49 is usually forced against their will, and data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics from 2007 to 2012 shows that the reporting of rape has been unchanged over that five-year period.
  • On the other hand, reporting of defilement has risen since the Sexual Offences Bill was enacted in 2006.
  • The rise in defilement reporting is likely a result of the public belief that the system will deal justly and perpetrators will not go free, so why does the same public blame the victim when an assault is reported?

When a woman recently alleged that she had been raped by an MP, the Daily Nation published a front page article on the same.

As expected, the story received a lot of reaction, some of it in the vein of “what was she doing alone with the MP at night?”

On the newspaper’s 'Have Your Say' column the same week, a woman wrote about how she was accused of having “allowed” her primary school teacher to defile her. She was made to feel that it was her fault and was shunned for having being defiled, she wrote.

Blaming the victim for sexual abuse is a common occurrence, a worldwide phenomenon that is not restricted to Kenya.

This is best illustrated by the United Kingdom’s “Rotherham Scandal” of 2014 which revealed that a total of 1,400 girls, some as young as 11 years, were sexually abused between 1997 and 2013.

When the girls reported the abuse, they were not believed; one of them told the BBC that “the police said I was asking for it and that I didn’t do myself any favours by hanging around with these men”.

But, why is it that girls and women are not only not believed, but also blamed for a rape attack? To answer this question, researchers Madeleine van der Bruggen and Amy Grubb studied published research work from 2007 to investigate what attributes of victims and observers led people to blame the victim of rape.

Their review, published in the journal Aggression and Violent Behaviour in 2014, found plenty of similarities to the reasons why women are blamed for rape.

TYPICAL RAPE

Researchers have observed that the better the victim and perpetrator know each other, and the closer the relationship, the more blame is typically assigned to her. PHOTO | FILE

Researchers have observed that the better the victim and perpetrator know each other, and the closer the relationship, the more blame is typically assigned to her. PHOTO | FILE

Women who appear, from injuries to their body, to have vigorously resisted the attacker are blamed less those who did not resist the aggression.

Researchers have observed that the better the victim and perpetrator know each other, and the closer the relationship, the more blame is typically assigned to her.

Women of good reputation, or who have professional jobs, are blamed less than those who are not considered of good repute. The way a woman was dressed at the time of the attack also comes into play in the blame game. Also, women who are considered too trusting or careless — for “being at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person” — are also blamed for the rape.

Those who had taken alcohol before the rape hardly stand a chance when they accuse someone of rape.

However, when it comes to alcohol, there is a double standard. Male perpetrators of rape often use alcohol intoxication as an excuse for their behaviour and are judged more leniently on this basis, whereas women are afforded the opposite response and judged more harshly.

Men are socialised to initiate sex and a woman to be passive. “Good girls do not ask for it”, and so men — cultured to be sexually aggressive — view rape as an extension of the traditional role of men and women.

As a result, people with a more traditional view of gender stereotypes are more likely to blame the victim.

Belief in rape myths also leads to victim blaming. The concept of rape mythology was introduced in the 1970s by the feminist movement.

Rape myths are beliefs that people hold about a “typical rape”, which paints a particular picture of how a victim and a perpetrator behave.

Rape myths are defined as beliefs about sexual aggression, which justify sexual aggressive behaviour. They encompass a range of beliefs that are expressed in three ways: that women always lie about being raped; that they enjoy being raped; and that they are responsible for the rape.

Rape myths also suggest that rape is deviant behaviour of a particular type of person. Phrases that come into play in such myths are; “she asked for it”, “it wasn’t really rape”, “he didn’t mean it”, “she wanted it”, “she liked it”, “rape is a trivial event”, and “rape is a deviant event”.

Women are “asking for it” if they wear certain clothes or are in certain places at certain times, and men who rape “have no control” over their sexual desires and should not be judged too harshly for it, some people say.

TRAUMATISING EXPERIENCE

Rape myths are universal.

Health pyschologist Hannah McGee conducted a study in Ireland, published in 2011, to investigate the concept.

He interviewed 3,120 members of the public to learn about rape myths and found that 40 per cent believed that rape was a result of overwhelming sexual desire. About 30 per cent agreed that a woman wearing tight tops or short skirts was inviting rape.

The sad thing is that rape myths have a high influence on whether perpetrators are jailed or not.

A paper published in the International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice in 2014 showed that rape myths played a big part in convictions of perpetrators in the UK and US.

People expect a woman who has been raped to behave in a certain way, they expect the victim to fight back against the attacker and sustain serious physical injuries in the process. They also expect victims to report the attack immediately and to appear tearful and distressed when doing the reporting.

However, often women are so traumatised after rape that they do not rush to the police station, requiring someone sympathetic to accompany them to the police and hospital. Many victims are also afraid for their lives during an attack and may not fight back.

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GRIM NUMBERS 

50%

A World Health Organisation multi-country study on women’s health and domestic violence against women, published in 2005, gives as an idea of the amount of sexual violence that women experience. A total of 24,000 women across the world were interviewed in the survey, and the results showed a wide range in the frequency of sexual violence directed at women — between one in 20 women and one out of every two have been sexually abused. There is no country, no culture that does not experience a problem with rape, yet it is the most under-reported crime globally. Across the world, women do not report the crime because they fear the degradation that comes with the reporting, the fear that they will not be believed, and that the perpetrator will walk free

35%

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