MY DRESSING IS NOT AN INVITE

It is unfortunate that years down the line and with vast development on both policies and laws around sexual gender-based violence, it’s an act that is still justified. Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual penetration or acts carried out against a person without that person’s consent. It is not uncommon that the survivor’s experience is minimized to what they were wearing during the incident or loopholes are pointed out all in an attempt to invalidate this horrific act. This shifts the responsibility to the victim/survivor of the abuse instead of holding the perpetrator accountable. Acknowledging rape in society is a heavy subject that is dealt with, with a lot of stigmas. It is easier to justify it than to tackle the main issue behind it; abusers and perpetrators exist among us, they are our loved ones, our neighbors, our family, and friends. It is a bitter pill to swallow.

Elsie Akoth, an International Relations and Psychologist student and human rights activist has been vocal about surviving her sexual assaults on social media, doing interviews about it, and organizing peaceful marches that advocate for justice for survivors. In her case, authorities and organizations that deal with such cases were involved and helpful, however, this is usually not the case in many instances. The majority of the survivors do not have access to these facilities as most systems are not reliable. Elsie’s voice on social media created a ripple effect for other survivors to speak up about their own struggles and experiences under the hands of perpetrators. While social media activism works and applies pressure on the system, it often comes with a lot of backlash for the survivors. Most people are branded as attention seekers when speaking out about the injustices they go through. It is even worse for the male survivors who are not able to speak up because of societal expectations on what it means to be a ‘strong man. Invalidating the fact that boys and men can be survivors of sexual assault too.

Rape survivors deal with many challenges as they try to put pieces of their lives back together, with new bold scars. It affects different aspects of their lives, especially socially and romantically. Most survivors develop anxiety, trust issues, and general PTSD (Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder) from the incident. The stigma around rape amplifies these challenges. The majority of the cases involve the perpetrator being a closely related person to the survivor, and healing becomes a challenge. Getting justice they deserve is a major struggle, as only 37% of rape cases are prosecuted and only 18% are convicted. (07_Rape_Prosecution.pdf, n.d.)

There are ways to cope with sexual assault and rape specifically, and although it may take a while to heal, it eases the burden on the survivor. Going for therapy and having a good support system around helps a great deal. “Acceptance is the beginning of healing; it does not necessarily mean forgiving the perpetrator,” Elsie explains. Monitoring the survivors’ environment is also crucial in order not to be subjected to triggers that would delay or destabilize their healing journey.

Survivors are encouraged to reach out to organizations that fight for human rights and to get professional help. Examples of these organizations are Wangu Kanja Foundation which helps survivors seeking justice and Hisia Psychologist for their mental wellbeing. It is important for the survivors to know they are not alone, and that there is hope in overcoming the situation no matter how hard it may seem at the time.

Nothing justifies rape and other sexual assaults. No matter what the circumstances around it are, it is wrong and never the survivor’s fault. Consent and sex education are an integral part of ensuring sexual assault cases reduce, in ongoing romantic relationships as well. While there are indeed cases of false and malicious accusations, the majority of the accused are often guilty. Believing a survivor’s story may save countless other people from being sexually assaulted especially by the same perpetrator. A dress, alcohol, a date, or even a relationship is not consent. Consent may also be withdrawn during the act. All these do not justify rape. A maybe is not an invite just as a short dress isn’t.

Article by Annabelle Wafula