Yara Blog


THE RAPE CHRONICLES – Rape A Gender Question?


Friday, August 17th, 2012  

There are not many criminal acts as invasive, as degrading and as traumatizing as the act of rape. The victim becomes scarred for life, and many times, ends up with significant psycho-sexual challenges. It was conceived to be so reprehensible in the old days that the Law of Moses in the Old Testament of the Bible stipulated that the rapist be put to death. (Deut.22:25-26).

Rape is simply defined as non-consensual sex. But, in that definition lies the error of simplicity. It certainly raises more questions than it answers. What if the victim “invited” the non-consensual sex, perhaps by her dressing or her attitude? What if she didn’t struggle or cry for help?  What if both parties were drunk? What if the “rapist” heard yes when the victim was really saying no? What if she was not particularly forced, but was only emotionally coerced? Or financially coerced? What if the two parties were already acquainted? What if they already were in an existing relationship, whether familial, friendly or romantic? Who says only women can be raped anyway? Can a man be made to have non-consensual heterosexual sex? Is it physically possible for a woman to rape a man?

Some of the questions are answered by the definition our Criminal Code so elaborately gives the term: Section 357 of the Code provides:

Any person who has unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or a girl without her consent, or with her consent if the consent is obtained by means of threats or intimidation of any kind, or by fear of harm, or by means of false and fraudulent representation as to the nature of the act, or, in the case of a married woman, by personating her husband, is guilty of an offence which is called rape.

Such a rapist is liable upon conviction to be sentenced to imprisonment for life.

By law, therefore, it is clear that only a woman can bring a charge for rape. Nigeria is not alone in this categorization of rape as a crime exclusively against women. In the U.K., as well as some Commonwealth Countries, rape is conceived as gender specific. This does not however mean that men have no remedy where they have been sexually assaulted. For example, the Nigerian Criminal Code creates the crime of Indecent Assault which may be committed by women against men and punishes its commission with three years imprisonment – this may be seen as an appalling case of double standards where men and women are not subjected to the same treatment under the law. It can be rightfully said that this distinction, especially with regard to the term of imprisonment (Life imprisonment for rape convicts and three years for indecent assault convicts) is not only discriminatory to men but is also baseless. For, what is the basis for saying that a woman cannot have sex with a man without his consent? Is it perhaps physically impossible? Or are women generally not inclined to force non-consensual sex on men, and as such, there is no need to provide for it under the law? This gender imbalance is a very curious and ironic state of affairs. First, because it discriminates against men, a situation that is diametrically opposed to the conventional idea of gender discrimination as being against females; second, because, in an ironic turn of events, the notion of rape dates back to a time when the law primarily served to reinforce the idea of women’s subordination to men. Rape laws were originally defined in terms of a property crime whereby it was regarded as an assault to the honour of the woman’s family or on the property of the husband. Therefore, the father or the husband was the aggrieved party and compensation was paid to them. Moreover, the rape laws stemmed from the need for society to protect the right of the victim’s husband or father to determine the circumstances of the female’s loss of virginity and procreation. It was also seen as a case of damage to the woman’s honour than as violence against her person.

Therefore, our Rape Laws may be described as the residue of a by-gone era, an era where women had no individual rights in the proper sense of the word, where a woman’s identity was subsumed into that of her husband or father, and where it was inconceivable for a woman to assume any sexual initiative. Therefore, a woman could simply not rape a man…or so they thought.

Fast forward to another time and place… about 300 years later in Africa’s Nigeria, and our law still reflects what has been termed ‘the ultimate expression of gender conflict’. The changing nature of gender roles and the consequent societal perceptions of crime do not seem to have necessitated change in Nigeria’s legal perception of rape, and this is only a microcosm of a much broader legislative malaise.

To Be Continued…

Bie Jaja

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2 responses to “THE RAPE CHRONICLES – Rape A Gender Question?”

  1. bsoldier89 says:

    Sometimes you can’t just ‘out-talk’ the girls. They have shown sternly in ‘bedroom wars’ and recently;even more frequently, in the marketplace of opinions. Yet in commenting on a piece that says ‘to be continued’, I stand equally guilty of two ‘mortal sins’- of ‘prejudging’ and of ‘chauvinism’ (of the latter, at least, in attempting slightly different sentiments from views expressed by a female on a highly sensitive subject as rape).
    No doubt, rape laws are grossly inadequate, yet societal attitudes and even proactive measures towards changing them are even worse. And it is in ‘mental attitudes’ and ‘proactive measures’ rather than in legal subtleties and ‘anthropological origins’ of rape laws that we should be most concerned with. To be fair a rephrasing of rape laws in gender neutral terms asides a psychological soothing, would clearly go a long way towards pushing back the frontiers of sexual offence. However only as far as Brown V. Board of education went in ending racial discrimination in the U.S – ask the ‘Klu Klux Klan and ask ‘Geogre Zimmerman. Sexual violence would not end in Nigeria when rape laws are phrased in gender neutral terms or the evidentiary rule of corroboration is discarded in relation to the offence of rape. Rather, the beginning of the end starts when every single rape incident is reported to the appropriate authorities and brought to court and when women are unashame to testify against their assaulters- damn whatever a conservative society would make of it.
    it starts when women begin to forcefully insist on their rights in the marketplace, workplace and other sundry places. It starts with a paradigm shift in mental attitudes towards women from men and towards women from among themselves.
    Yet in echoing these sentiments, I am not altogether unaware of the power of the legal framework to enforce morals and change social attitudes. Yet I am also aware that in a society such as ours, letters of the law are most times nothing but mere ‘paper-rules’. Far much energy has been spent on the continuing debate over the phrasing of rape laws and not forgetting the age long ‘He/She debate’, that we might actually be forgiven for having forgotten the actual pressing issues. And in a time when a plethora of problems demand our attention, no harm is done in sometimes reminding us of the proper direction for our canons.

  2. bsoldier89 says:

    Sometimes you can’t just ‘out-talk’ the girls. They have shown sternly in ‘bedroom wars’ and recently; even more frequently. in the marketplace of opinions. Yet in commenting on a piece that says ‘to be continued’ I stand equally guilty of two ‘mortal sins’- of prejudging and of chauvinism( of the latter, at least, attempting a slightly different sentiment on views expressed by a female on a highly sensitive subject as rape).
    No doubt, rape laws are grossly inadequate, yet societal attitudes and even proactive measures towards changing them are even worse. And it is in ‘mental attitudes’ and ‘proactive measures’ rather than in legal subtleties and ‘anthropological origins’ of rape laws that we should be most concerned with. To be fair a rephrasing of rape laws in gender neutral terms asides a psychological soothing, would clearly go a way towards pushing back the frontiers of sexual offence.
    However only as far as Brown V. Board of education went in ending racial discrimination in the U.S – ask the ‘Klu Klux Klan and ask ‘Geogre Zimmerman. Sexual violence would not end in Nigeria when rape laws are phrased in gender neutral terms or the evidentiary rulr of corroboration is discarded in relation to the offence of rape. Rather, the beginning of the end starts when every single rape incident is reported to the appropriate authorities and brought to court and when women are unashame to testify against their assaulters- damn whatever a conservative society would make of it. it starts when women begin to forcefully insist on their rights in the marketplace, workplace and other sundry places.
    It starts with a paradigm shift in mental attitudes towards women from men and towards women from among themselves.
    Yet in echoing these sentiments, I am not altogether unaware of the power of the legal framework to enforce morals and change social attitudes. Yet I am also aware that in a society such as ours, letters of the law are most times nothing but mere ‘paper-rules’. Far much energy has been spent on the continuing debate over the phrasing of rape laws and not forgetting the age long ‘He/She debate’, that we might actually be forgiven for having forgotten the actual pressing issues. And in a time when a plethora of problems demand our attention, no harm is done in sometimes reminding us of the proper direction for our canons.

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