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Focus on victims more than rapists

Reducing the Dros and Cosby rape cases to anything other than rape, be it race, gender or station in life, blinds us from the primary duty we have to the victims. By focussing on such polemics we fail in an essential aspect of justice: the respect, protection and compassion due to all victims and survivors of rape and sexual assault, irrespective of who they may be, says Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya.

Who is the victim of rape or sexual assault, what is their background, race, sex? To whom is justice due?

These questions only arise in the light of the reluctance and, sometimes, absolute refusal to accept the conviction and jailing of famous American TV personality Bill Cosby, and the excitement expressed when it was revealed that the man who allegedly raped a six-year-old child in a restaurant toilet is white.

These questions have once again emerged, now that the US Senate has confirmed Brett Kavanaugh's appointment to the Supreme Court. This in spite of the fact that he is facing accusations of sexual assault, allegedly of a young woman, Christine Blasey Ford, in the 1980s when they were both in high school.

In the Cosby case, there is a narrative that because other alleged or known sex predators have not been charged, imprisoned or punished in any other way Cosby’s jailing must therefore be unjust.

Some further the line of argument that Cosby is the victim of a conspiracy against black people in general and successful black people in particular. The alleged proof for this is that black Cosby has been jailed for 3-10 years while others with similar convictions have got off scot-free and escaped imprisonment because they are white. Worse still, one of those who escaped conviction is now a US Supreme Court judge.

This line of thought, suggesting that justice is only served when all perpetrators of a like crime have been caught and even received the same sentence, ignores those who have suffered at the hands of the perpetrators, the victims. It makes them irrelevant to the justice equation. It is all about the perpetrator and who else is a perpetrator.

There can be no denying that selective prosecution is in itself a form of injustice. That, however, does not absolve the one being charged, even selectively, of the offences of which they are accused.

Justice cannot be served by allowing one bad guy to go because you have already let the rest of the bad guys off the hook. Justice demands that you search for all those whom you believe are equally guilty of the offence and punish them accordingly.

That said, to fixate on the race, prominence, popularity or station in life of the accused, robs those who allegedly suffer rape or assault of their place of prominence in the justice equation.

A skewed focus on the perpetrators detracts us from the central concern. The violent violation of a woman, little girl or even a man, by someone who deemed themselves entitled to their bodies, claiming them for his/her own. It is to make little or nothing of the feelings of the more than sixty women who accused the much-loved Cosby of rape by drugging them and then sexually assaulting them.

To limit one’s scope to Cosby’s age and health, to the exclusion of the nature and gravity of the crime as well as the interest of society, is to seek a more preferable 'injustice' to the one that Cosby’s fans claim already exists.

Similarly, to celebrate that the Dros accused is white is to show complete disregard for the trauma that the child and her family are probably going through since that fateful day.

It denies rape victims and survivors society’s compassion.

It is undoubtedly important that questions are asked about other alleged perpetrators, and that pressure is placed and maintained on the State to ensure that all perpetrators ultimately get their day in court and receive the punishment commensurate with their crime.

However this should be done for the benefit of, and with utmost respect to, the victims of their crimes and not for the partisan satisfaction of those who hold one ideology or another, feminism included.

Unfortunately, there are enough incidents and opportunities throughout the world to talk about race, racism, gender and class. The Cosby and Dros cases shouldn't be reduced to this. These should raise conversations and provoke disgust and outrage about the most violent expression of toxic masculinity and dehumanisation of women and girls.

To make them about our own politics, be these of gender, class, race, heteronormativity and so on, is to privilege our own ideas. Ideas that we have over the feelings and the very humanity of those who must live every day with the reality of having been violated. It is to forget who is the true victim of the crime.

The question that should occupy us when pondering matters of justice in cases of rape should be whether the survivors and victims – and some don't survive – have been placed at the centre of proceedings, from the moment the crime is reported to the thud of the gavel announcing judgment on the accused.

Justice must serve to restore, insofar as it can, the humanity of those whom rape and sexual assault sought to dehumanise. Justice cannot and must not pander to our ideological preferences, regardless of how strongly we feel about these ideas or of those accused of the crimes.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.