“He told me not be so naive”. Those are Lupita Nyong’o’s words captured in an op-ed for the New York Times in October. Lupita was retelling a sexual harassment episode at the hands of Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Lupita broke her silence after 7 years, joining a long list of Hollywood actresses who exposed the movie producer’s predatory sexual behaviour. That was just the beginning. The Harvey Weinstein case exposed crocodiles lurking underneath calm waters.
Words: Biko Zulu
When I think of Josaya Wasonga I think of a lone and embattled wolf separated from the pack. We worked together for the same publisher in the late 2000s. We were both features writer’s; him for Twende Magazine and me for Adam. He spoke very little. He was always a furtive figure, like a modern-day Zorro, going about the office with little detection and noise. He seemed to walk through walls. His writing – unsurprisingly – was in contrast to the man. It was bright, loud, vivid in description and often laced with strings and strands of wonderful imagery and large looming storeyed columns of metaphors and a hybrid turn of phrase. Of course I greatly admired and respected his writing. I still do. The funniest I ever read was a travel log of him running over someone’s chicken in Luhya-land and the ensuing conversation with the irked villagers who had gathered around their beloved dead chicken in the middle of the road. Traffic was halted until that chicken was accorded the appropriate justice. The story – told with a beautiful tongue-in-cheek was hysterical and in complete departure from the silent man who sat not many desks away from mine. His humour would spring from nowhere in his pieces like a predatory cat in waiting.
The Imenti Central MP Gideon Mwiti was accused and subsequently charged with raping and physically abusing a married woman in his private office. The MP pleaded ‘not guilty’ to the charge and is currently a free man after paying a cash bail of kshs 100,000. The outrage was muted and by the time the EACC ( Ethics And Anti-Corruption Commission) list of shame occupied the news headlines a few days later, many had moved on. The initial police response was routine. They placed the matter under investigation. In Kenya, high rollers are asked to step aside to pave way for investigations and matters are only escalated when the directive is from Statehouse. Common folk are arrested upon suspicion and held in custody for further interrogation before getting summarily charged in court. Generally, rick folk in Kenya are innocent until proven innocent by the courts. The hoi polloi are profiled as guilty suspects, encouraged to respect the process and appeal for their innocence after allowing the courts to mete out a sentence.
As has become custom in rape cases, the burden of proof lies solely with the victim and her version was challenged. The victim’s Good Wife moral credentials were placed under scrutiny and she did not check all the boxes. A woman subjected to rape must put together a compelling argument to legitimize her claim. Without concrete evidence, a torn skirt, preferably bloodied and witnesses with recording devices, it is down to her word against his. The official narrative around this particular rape incident was summed up by Minority Leader Francis Nyenze, quoted in a local daily saying “If you are a married person, you cannot stay with a man until midnight and say that you are being raped”. Othaya MP Mary Wambui apportioned blame by adding, “Female leaders have always been entertaining men who are not their husbands or boyfriends, indulging in alcohol until very weird hours of the night”.
It is ludicrous that a married woman, sexually assaulted by man is presumed to have walked into harm’s way with her eyes wide open. The lame attempt to portray keeping the company of a man after dark as consent for sex is pitiful. In this form of skewed thinking, all men are horny creatures who must not be tempted with sexual overtures. God forbid you laugh at his jokes and accept his offer of drinks. A woman who does that, is enabling her assault.
Over the years, I have noticed a growing casualness with how our society views rape. Any woman claiming rape is dismissed as a sensationalist and attention getter. A minor might earn the empathy card but grown women have to bear the stigma alone. Before a woman can pass as a genuine victim, she has to go through a rigorous checklist. What was the length of her skirt? Did she bear any cleavage? How late did she stay in this man’s company? Was alcohol partaken? Why didn’t she report to the police immediately, shout for help through an open window or at least had the sense to conduct a secret recording. Somewhere in the back of the questioners mind, male and female, is the foregone conclusion that the’ slut’ had it coming. She was definitely asking for it with heels that high.
When we remain silent, we condone rape. There is a need for more men to actively speak up against rape. Not for some self-centered reason such as “It could also happen to my mother, sister or daughter”. But because it is criminal behaviour. Period. Rape is not limited to women and it equally traumatizing when the victim is a man. We are society on the verge of legitimizing rape in the same blasé manner we treat corruption. Like corruption in Kenya, we ignorantly feed the beast that will in turn devour our children.