You ever get tired of repeating yourself? You ever just get bone weary of saying the same thing over, and over and over again? You ever wish that you could find the words to make the carrousel of madness come to a grinding halt? That must be it; maybe it’s the way we’ve been saying it. All us feminists, and human rights activists and people with common sense and decency…perhaps our semantics just don’t connect or compute with the rest of them. And by ‘them’, I mean Otiko Afisa Djaba and her merry band of patriarchal, rape culture supporters attempting to defend the woman’s most recent contribution to the debasement of the Ghanaian mind.
Otiko Djaba is a Ghanaian politician and minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection. Speaking at the 90th anniversary and Speech and Prize giving Day of the Krobo Girls Presbyterian Senior High School in the Eastern region, she concluded her soliloquy with the following admonishment for the impressionable students, saying:
“In conclusion, I want to say to you, be bold, be confident, be respectful. If you wear a short dress, it’s fashionable but know that it can attract somebody who would want to rape or defile you. You must be responsible for the choices you make”.
These are the words of the minister for social protection.
I can’t spend too much time on this, because everything that has been said on the matter on the supposed (bogus) relationship between rape and sartorial choices has been said an infinite number of times before. If you’ve read a book, read the news, watched Lifetime for any significant period of time – or hell – watched National Geographic, you will walk away with the understanding that the only responsible party in the act of rape is the person(s) perpetuating the crime. The rapist. Not the victim…the rapist.
Women like Mrs. Djaba are particularly dangerous in an environment governed by rape culture. She is a traitor to justice, although she probably believes her admonishments will positive long-term consequences. Quite the contrary. In putting the blame on girls who wear short skirts for their violent sexual assault, she gives would be rapists a free pass to use what they consider “provocative dress” as an excuse for their vile actions. Over the course of the 20th century, we saw and heard horror stories about women who were made to relive the incident of their attack on the witness stand.
“What were you wearing?”
“How much did you have to drink?”
“Were you flirting with him?”
“What did you think would happen if you were working at those late hours of the night?”
The treatment rape victims are subject has contributed to the dismal numbers of reported rape. Adding to how few convictions follow a trial, there is a sense among survivors that the follow up trauma is just not worth it. Otiko ‘Swagger Mama’ Djaba’s advice only adds rocket fuel to a freight train that’s long been running over rape survivor’s lives and teaches women and girls to blame themselves before such a possible attack happens.
Her statement, aside from being absolutely ludicrous, is completely false. Hemlines are not a factor in the propagating of sexual assault. If that were the case, there would be no cis/hetero male victims of rape…and yet the CDC reports that 1 in 71 men are the victims of rape. (I searched for statistics on male victims of rape in Ghana and found none.) What length were the skirts these male victims were wearing at the time of their assault? And what about the women who rape men? It would shock her and her supporters to know that this is a real phenomenon that stretches back centuries. I don’t blame her for her ignorance. Patriarchal systems have made it almost impossible to have a real conversation about sexual assaults on male bodies. Some aid organizations in Africa won’t even give funding to help victims of sexual assault if the reported statistics include men. Men in these situations are punished twice. Furthermore, it perpetuates a culture of silence that can only lead to greater frequency of rape, molestation and assault.
It might behoove Mrs. Djaba to take some extended courses in gender studies if this is the ministry she means to lead. Rape is a scourge on the Ghanaian populace, and it cuts across age and social status. Rapists are found in the slums of Agbogbloshie as well as the highest and most prestigious positions in the land. There is no way to “spot a rapist”. They are teachers, pastors, husbands, fathers, brothers and neighbors. They are not boogey men lurking in the dark. Most rape survivors are attacked by people they know, trust and/or are familiar with. That information needs to be a part of the national conversation and any ‘advice’ well-meaning but ill-informed people need to give. The circumstances under which people find themselves victims of rape are varied and complex, nevertheless they all have one thing in common: The motives and the intent of the rapist, those being to exert dominance, power and to fulfill a selfish and perverse sexual desire.
But lets talk about the boogey man, and what so many people think he/she looks like or where he lurks:
The rapist, identified as Amir A, 20, violently sexually assaulted the boy in the changing room of Theresienbad pool in Austria claiming it was a ‘sexual emergency’ because he had not had sex for four months. This kid was swimming at the pool – a supposedly safe space – and had his body invaded in the most cruel and vile manner because this 20 year old man could not control his urges.
While on Hajj, my friend’s cousin was walking back to her camp after completing her prayers. A man was following her, which was not out of the ordinary. There were thousands of people there and there is rarely an opportunity for privacy.
When they reached an alleyway the unknown man grabbed her, pulled her into the darkness, forced her face against the wall of a building and began to rub himself against her backside, stopping only until he had ejaculated through his clothing and onto her prayer clothes. He ran off immediately afterward. She was also in a supposed “safe space”: a pilgrimage to Mecca, where you would think that everyone’s mind was on Allah and dutifully fulfilling a pillar of faith. How could she know – or even fathom – that her fellow Muslim brother would have such vile thoughts on his mind at such a sacred time?
I myself have written about my molestation at the hands of my now deceased uncle. I was 8 years old, barely pre-pubescent with a dry jheri curl. At the time he cornered me I had gone to my room to go and get a toy with my sister. After he stuck his tongue in my mouth, he turned to my sister to perform the same lewd act on her. Fortunately, my sister’s flight instincts have also been keen and on point. After she witnessed what he did to me, she ran out of the room. I on the other hand had not been so fortunate. I ‘let’ him do it, because it had already been drilled into me that adults were right and you always obey your elders. My reward for that obedience was enduring a sick feeling any time his name was mentioned and footing the bill for his funeral. Is the boogey man supposed to be your father’s blood brother? Convention says no.
At what point do we begin to counsel men and women about self control, rather than legislating bans on miniskirts, or forcing girls to cut their hair so as not to appear so ‘grown’, or ironing breasts of pre-teen girls in the hopes that a flat, disfigured chest will deter any unwanted attention? When will girls have the opportunity to experience the same freedom in their bodies that boys do?
The irony of Otiko placing the blame for sexual assault on victims is not lost on many. This is a woman who sports a half shaven head, and who had to endure all kinds of denigration during her vetting process because of it. People said she did not represent Ghanaian culture, that she looked like a hooligan and loose woman who didn’t have common sense or morals. Those of us who defended her did so because we know that it’s not what’s on a woman’s head that makes her effective at her duties; it’s what’s in it. She was a symbol of the new, liberated Ghanaian woman who could defy convention and STILL earn the respect of the office she inhabited. These young, hopeful girls nicknamed her ‘Swagger Mama’, a moniker she apparently takes great delight in. She was cool, funky and confident and many high school age girls looked up to her. They still do.
So for her – Otiko Djaba in particular – to champion the most baseless tenant of rape culture and all its hypocrisy is not just shocking: it’s disappointing. And until Otiko does an about face on this issue, the woman herself will wind down the same path as her predecessor…as an utter disappointment herself.
But as always, I’m here with solutions. Perhaps this chart will help all involved and clear up any confusion.
It ought to be clear, but today is Sunday and I know that in a Church Near You, a ‘man of God’ is preaching about how provocative dress makes men rape, so we’ll have to have this same conversation in the near future.*Blank stare*
Heaven save my son and brothers from such men who would instill and nurture such a demonic and weak spirit in them.