Why the #DrosRape shouldn't shock us

A protester places a placard demanding tougher rape laws and better police protection for women, outside the Parliament in New Delhi, India. Picture: Saurabh Das/AP

A protester places a placard demanding tougher rape laws and better police protection for women, outside the Parliament in New Delhi, India. Picture: Saurabh Das/AP

Published Oct 2, 2018


The rape of a six-year-old girl by a man in the toilet of the Dros restaurant in Pretoria has produced widespread shock waves across South Africa. The shock seems to be related to the fact that the victim was a child. As Deborah Posel argued more than 10 years ago, the rape of babies and children who are regarded as “morally innocent and defenseless” has become “a national obsession, and the focus of overt public anguish and political alarm”.

Responses to the rape of the six-year-old demonstrate that most South African regard child rape as a distinct category of violation; the most abhorrent act that someone can commit. This is reflected in Facebook comments:

* This is so sick if I was personally there I would have chopped his private parts out no doubt about that then he wouldn’t hurt another child ever again.

* His soul is black pitch black… Leave our innocent child alone.

* Love for the death penalty to come back for fuckkers who hurt kids and animals...

Of course the violation of a child is unacceptable. This is because, as Pumla Gqola says, “rape is always unacceptable”. This is one of the contradictions at the heart of our rape culture: that some people deserve to be raped and others don’t. It should not take the rape of a child in a bathroom at a restaurant for us to be appalled by rape. We should always be appalled.

The fact that we are angry and horrified about the little girl’s rape does not protect others who are raped. In fact, when the physically violent rapes of “morally innocent” victims becomes the standard by which we measure rape, the grip of rape culture tightens. The children (and adults) who are raped in their homes by people they know are left out and silenced. Those whose rapes do not leave them covered in blood, bruises and broken bones are ignored.

We are shocked that the rapist denied the rape, despite being caught covered in blood and locked in a toilet cubicle with the child. He said that he was just helping the child, not raping her. We should not be shocked. Every day men get away with rape. They become presidents. They are nominated as Justices of the Supreme Court. They are not held accountable. In this context, why are we surprised that a man thinks he can rape a child in the bathroom and get away with it?

Part of the shock also seems to be related to the fact that the rapist is white. A number of racists perspectives have been posted on social media. 

@Kim_Seymours It makes me sick that dogs like you roam around freely. You deserve nothing but to be in shackles and locked in prison for life. It is things like you who call themseleves people who are ruining this country and any chance of reconciliation! #Dros #NicholasNinow pic.twitter.com/VztQBQIeA3

— Mikhulu (@_Mikhulu_) September 27, 2018

The idea that rape is part of “black culture” but not part of “white culture” disguises the harm caused by white men. The legacy of colonialism and apartheid in our country is the legacy of white men’s violence, including the mass rape of black women and murder of black men. By perpetuating the stereotype of the “black rapist” white men have distracted us from the violence that they commit. While black men are regarded as “inherently violent”, when white men commit violence, it is often seen as an exception.

@FLWhitehorn, whose tweets are protected, tweeted: "For all we know the man had some mental breakdown. Ridiculous that he was assaulted."

As we have seen in the cases of Oscar Pistorius and Brock Turner, the American swimmer, white men receive less severe sentences for committing acts of violence, compared to black men. This normalises white men’s violence and makes it harder for victims of this violence to come forward. This allows white men’s violence to continue. It is possible that the Dros rapist thought he was more likely to get away with the rape because he is white.

We are all shocked about what happened to a six-year-old girl at the Dros restaurant on the 22nd of September, but we shouldn’t be. What happened to her is a product of rape culture. It is a product of a society in which men feel entitled to the bodies of girls, women and people of other genders. It is a product of racism, which dismisses violence perpetrated by white men. It is a product of our failure to act in all instances of rape. 

We should offer support to the six-year old and her family, we should be angry at the man who raped her and we should demand justice and punishment. But we should not do these things in isolation. We should offer support to all survivors. We should hold all perpetrators accountable, regardless of their race. We should make all rape unacceptable.

* Rebecca Helman is a PhD Candidate at UNISA and a Researcher at UNISA's Institute for Social and Health Sciences and the South African Medical Research Council-UNISA's Violence, Injury and Peace Research Unit. Rebecca writes in her personal capacity.

** Read more of Rebecca Helman's writing here.

*** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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