By Olamide Olowoniyi
The world has not seen everything Khensani Maseko had to give, at 23, the vivacious law student and beauty queen was only getting started. So, when the news of her death filtered through news websites, twitter timelines and Instagram updates, one cannot begin to imagine the pain, shock and confusion her family, friends and loved onesfelt. Khensani, a student at Rhodes university, took her own life, having suffered depression after she was raped by her boyfriend. When a young woman decides to take her own life to escape the trauma of something evil that was done to her while the perpetrator walks free, we need to ask some very hard questions. We need to find out what we are doing wrong, we need to check a culture that shifts the focus from the rapist to the victim, a culture that provides an enabling environment for a rapist to thrive while his or her victim barely hangs on to life.
Wikipedia defines rape culture as a sociological concept where rape is pervasive and normalised due to societal attitudes. These societal attitudes the victims of rape face, not only creates an atmosphere that feeds rape but a ripple effect of slut shaming, victim blaming, sexual objectification,and sometimes refusing to acknowledge the harm caused by some forms of sexual violence. The combination of all or some these things could result in a death like Khensani’s.
How a society reacts towards rape victims and perpetrators is a key factor in determining how the victim heals and how the rapist is punished. According to several reports, Khensani had been raped in May, she reported to the University authority in July and was taken home by her parents after the university invited them to discuss the issue. All the while, the alleged rapist was walking free, in fact, it was not until her death, that the school moved to suspend him. Too little, too late. This is not the first time Rhodes University has been in the spotlight for enabling rape culture. Only two years ago, students at the university were demanding suspension and investigation of certain individualsconnected with rape allegations within the school. The school reportedly did nothing about these allegations.
The high rate of rape in many African societies is tied to their traditional and cultural systems. From the belief in many rape myths, to gender inequality and sometimes confusion on what is societally and legally acceptable as rape. Some of the reactions that followed the announcement of Khensani’s death of social media show that many young people are still confused on what rape is. A twitter user in response to the #RIPKHENSANI tweeted: ‘But she can’t be affected to a point of committing suicide if she was raped by her boyfriend because she’s probably had sex with him before and she loves him?? Something is not adding up.’ This thought process is true for many others who cannot understand that consent can still be withdrawn even between partners. Sometimes the legal system is not very helpful, In Nigeria, marital rape is not an actual offence.
Leading up to her very tragic death, it was almost like Khensani was writing us what seemed like a suicide note or a call for help. On her last Instagram post, she wrote, ‘no one deserves to be raped’, even to her death, lady justice as she is fondly called protested rape. What must have led her to the point where she made the decision to end her life is something we may never understand, were the signs there? What did we all miss? She tweeted just days before her death; ‘when people ask for help, help them’. The National women’s study reported that 31% of all rape victims developed PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) sometime during their lifetime and more than 11% still have PTSD today. Another study published in psychological medicine reported that 40% of the women surveyed with mental illness had suffered rape or attempted rape in adulthood and 53% of this population had attempted suicide.
Suicide has been described as the most common leading cause of death in young people with a major cause being mental illness most especially depression. There is evidently a strong link between depression and suicide and women are twice more likely to experience depression than men, but men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women. In many African communities, depression and suicide is still seen as satanic, spiritual or just not taken as seriously until actual death occurs. The only way to prevent suicide is an active and successful treatment.
Khensani’s death has sparked a lot of conversation about rape culture, depression and suicide and while it is sad that it usually takes extreme situations like these to kick startthese conversations. It must not stop as conversations, we must look inward and start walking the talk.It is important to keep emphasising that rape survivors are not alone, that journey has already begun with organizations like the Mirabel centre, Women at Risk International Foundation (WARIF), Stand to End Rape(STER) etc. These organizations provide legal and counselling services for victims of rape and sexual assault. We must continue to push for more rape and crisis centres across various African communities, so survivors can receive all the help they need.
The death of one so young is incredibly sad, Khensani’s death is the result of a society that has failed to protect its survivors. For every victim, for every survivor, you are not alone, there is always a community of people pulling for you. Rest, Khensani, Rest.
Should you want to report a case, you can get in contact with us on 08095967000 & 08130320270 or via our email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and we will provide you with highly confidential and professional services.
Photocred: Odishatv Bureau