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Playing the ostrich with rape culture in Ghana

38.2% of Ghanaian girls of ages 15-19 have experienced some form of sexual abuse.  This experience of sexual violence applies to 40.4% of Ghanaian women between the ages of 20-24 and 8.3% of Ghanaian women, aged between ages 25 – 29.

Does rape culture exist in Ghana? Yes; it’s alive and thriving!

Are we willing to admit it? No, we’d rather maintain the façade of friendliness and receive international accolades on the minimal results achieved in mitigating the prevalence of sexual violence.

Rape culture flourishes in an environment where rape is prevalent and sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. We indulge in it when we use misogynistic language, objectify women’s bodies and glamourize sexual violence.

This inadvertently results in a society that disregards women’s rights and safety. Rape culture is so pervasive and normalized that many of us have become desensitized to it and despite the damning statistics to buttress this, many Ghanaians would rather deny it exists.

Sexual violence exists because rape culture allows it. In the “Domestic Violence in Ghana: Incidence, Attitudes, Determinants and Consequences, July 2016” report, sexual violence is defined as:

“…acts of unwanted sexual comments or physical contact, rape by physical force, or otherwise forced sex (for instance by blackmail or threats); denial of using protection during sex; a sexual

partner hiding their HIV status; sexual acts and intercourse that was performed on the basis of feeling there was no option; or penetration with an object against one’s will.

Last year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to two advocates who still fight to mitigate the after-effects of sexual violence around the world – Nadia Murad and Dr. Denis Mukwege. Dr. Mukwege, who has earned the moniker, “the man who mends women”, said, “African societies will never advance unless they address the impact of both toxic masculinity and negative cultural norms on women…”

We have to concede that we are raised in a society that upholds the tenets of patriarchy and inequality. We have to be willing to unlearn, relearn and learn so that we can be a more progressive society. Tradition is no reason to uphold values and beliefs that elevates one gender over the other just by the possession of a sexual organ. If some aspects of culture are oppressive and stifling, why are we so afraid to evaluate them and replace them with better ones?

The upholders of patriarchy are not only men but women who are comfortable with the status quo and would rather not make life better for the next generation. 65.3% of women, as opposed to 56.2% of men, fully agree that women were responsible for rape if they wore revealing clothing. 40.7% of women versus 36.7% of men believe that if a woman wears revealing clothing, it is ok for men to pass sexual comments about her.

Rape culture manifests all day, every day (I’m tempted to say and twice on Sunday but I cannot back that up). The question is, what happens when these sexual violations occur? We blame the victim – you tempted him with your body. We refuse to take rape accusations seriously – are you sure you didn’t want it? We tolerate sexual harassment – why are you throwing a fit? His comment about your breasts means he likes you! We publicly scrutinize a survivor’s dress, mental state, motives, and history – why did you go and visit him wearing that dress? We tolerate sexually explicit jokes – cue the lewd jokes of Comedian Waris and Teacher Kwadwo and their supporters who outrightly supported the actions of these comedians. I don’t believe that we should be defined by the worst thing we’ve ever done, whatever that may be. However, there’s a stark difference between arguing that someone warrants a second chance and insisting we’re altiloquent or that the shame, incited by his/her utterances, makes him/her the victim.

Only 2% – 8% of rape reports are false, but custodians of rape culture never forget to raise it when someone is accused of rape. We conveniently forget that there’s always the possibility that the carjacking, grand theft auto, arson, and armed robbery reports our friends share with us may be false. It’ll be insensitive to question it when someone has their car stolen or their house razed to the ground, but we have no qualms pulling this card when it comes to sexual violence. Are we tacitly implying that a woman’s worth is lower than properties because 2% – 8% of rape reports are false?

When people demand evidence for rape and other forms of sexual violations, I wonder what they expect to see. The contorted face of the rapist as the camera light temporarily blinds him? A fingerprint test to show that we’ve been touched sexually?

A recording of the sexual comments passed? How do we capture the stripping of self-worth and autonomy over one’s body? If we presented before and after photographs of rape survivors and victims of other forms of sexual violence, would it make them more believable? How do you capture the bubbliness, peace of mind, sense of security and happiness that blossomed in you?

After your dignity has been stripped away by your rapist, whose shame is now foisted on you, how do you capture the anguish and the trauma? The suicidal thoughts, depression and the fear that never goes away?

How do you present evidence to a crime (a crime that inherently leaves fragments of tangible evidence) you neither planned nor were prepared for?

In 2011, a friend was returning to our hostel one evening when a car slowed down for someone in the passenger’s seat to whack her buttocks, and they sped off in jest leaving her livid and traumatized.

Till date, you can’t convince her to take a stroll at night alone; she won’t do it. In March 2017, a young woman was driving home when she was stopped by the police at a checkpoint. After some minutes of time-wasting questioning, the officer planted a full kiss on her lips.

The President of the Ghana Bar Association has been accused of rape and other forms of sexual violations: he denied her the use of protection, and she felt she had no other choice. Stories like this usually get buried in the bowels of our justice system with only a sliver of hope for reparations.

To paraphrase the words of Mona Eltahawy in her book, “Headscarves and Hymens”, I ask – why are women alone responsible for sheltering men from the sexual desires women supposedly elicit in men? Why can’t men control themselves? Why, if men are the ones being tempted, are not the ones being policed?

“S3 wotↄn wo yareɛ a, na wonya ano aduro.” This Akan proverb means that you can solve your problem by letting people know about it, but is transliterated to mean that it’s only when you sell your sickness that you find the cure. In other words, you first have to admit you are sick. We can either continue playing the ostrich or prepare for the tsunami the demand for justice will bring.

You are uncomfortable because more survivors are speaking up and demanding an overhaul of the cultural elements that expects them to coddle their abusers and respect their abuser’s reputation. Let’s buckle up; these are only tremors. We cannot forever keep at bay, the justice sexual abuse survivors deserve. Something has got to give; something will give.


By: Dorothy Hammond


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