The short version: wearing black does as much to stop rape as growing a moustache cures cancer or changing your Facebook profile picture does to combat poaching.
The long version: Rape is wrong regardless of any context. The question is how to combat it effectively and while I don’t have a quick answer to that, I do know the answer is not another useless media campaign.
And yet, we still have these stupid campaigns like “honk your horn for 60 seconds to stop rape”, “play a beep on the radio every 4 minutes to raise awareness of rape” and the latest one “wear black to raise awareness of rape”. It’s not difficult to see why these are popular though. It gives people a chance to claim that moral highground and feel like they’re “doing something” without doing anything at all.
“Real Men Don’t Rape” is my favourite because it clears me as a man from having to do anything. By mere virtue of the fact that I’m not raping anyone, I have done my bit to support to the cause. Yay me.
These campaigns are for those armchair activists who make up the majority of the people who get behind these ludicrous “initiatives”. The ones who like to be seen doing something but don’t really want to get involved (they wait to see which trend to follow instead of acting proactively). Getting involved is messy so the next best thing is “raising awareness”.
We need to raise awareness about rape? Why? We don’t need to be told rape is wrong…like we don’t need to be told child abuse is wrong or murder is wrong or stealing is wrong. In most countries, these acts have already been considered to be harmful to society and thus have been criminalised, with punishments in place if you choose to commit those crimes…regardless of your own ideas about those issues. So no, we don’t need to be made aware that rape is wrong. Anyway, awareness campaigns are truly the opiate of the slacktivist. They require the least amount of disruption to one’s day (even listening for the beep counts as doing something, right?), while being incredibly visible, oh-so-trendy and governed by a finite lifespan. Go check the Twitter feeds of those folks who came out loud and proud last Friday with the #StopRape “Radio beep every 4 minutes” campaign and see how much that carried through their feeds until today. Even the radio stations behind the campaign dropped it. And that’s the best bit about these campaigns, because the slacktivist is told what to do, so it doesn’t need to think for itself.
We don’t need that. What we need is action.
Social issue awareness campaigns that lack proper cohesive action on the ground achieve absolutely nothing.
Wait. I think that’s worth repeating: Social issue awareness campaigns that lack proper cohesive action on the ground achieve absolutely nothing.
Remember “We are the world”? It was a great song, written to help raise awareness of and bring relief to those suffering from malnutrition and famine in Africa. Since its release in 1985, the project has raised over $63 million for humanitarian causes. The long term initiative included efforts in birth control and food production. From the African fund, over 70 recovery and development projects were launched in seven African nations – including aid in agriculture, fishing, water management, manufacturing and reforestation in countries such as Mozambique, Senegal, Chad, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Mali. Result.
Remember how everyone was all #Kony2012 last year? You DO remember that, right? It was the one with Ugandan warlord, Joseph Kony, who was filling the ranks of his army with child-soldiers and someone came out with an awareness campaign to “help” those “invisible children” and get Kony arrested by the end of 2012. Well guess what? Kony’s still in charge of his army and last I checked, #Kony2013 wasn’t trending. All that hashtagging and handwringing and moral outrage and absolutely zero material change. And that’s what’s needed: material change.
What do I mean by material change? Here’s an example: many rape victims don’t come forward to report the crime because it is just too traumatic to recall. What we need is to make it law that every police station has a 24 hour rape unit in-house, comprising of detectives, counsellors and surgeons who have been trained to handle these cases with the sensitivity and urgency they demand. That’s a material change. It will take work to effect it though. You would have to go out and petition your local political representative. Put the pressure on them to act decisively and push this through into actual policy, backed by law, to ensure that there’s accountability and punishment for non-compliance. Now this idea won’t stop rape today – and it won’t stop rape on its own. There is a chance though that if these units are in place and more rapists are brought to justice faster and punished to the fullest extent of the law, we may actually see a decrease in the crime. If nothing else, the survivors will see justice being served.
So I urge you: please start finding ways to make a real change. One law firm tweeted that they would be handling all rape cases pro bono. That’s a real, useful change. And if you can’t think of a way to make a change, then donate generously to those people who are on the ground making a change. Set aside a sum that you can afford each month and give.
I just want to add one last point closing: I would like to think that the armchair activists are the way they are because they don’t know any better. I would like to think that if someone with an actual plan stood up and said, “We need to do more than just trend a hashtag!” that the slacktivists would actually roll up their sleeves and get stuck in. So what we need is real leadership on this issue, accountable leadership that will show the rest of us how we can actually make the changes we so desperately need in our society. Until then, there will be no change and things will have to get a lot worse before they get better.