this story first appeared in the New Vision of January 3rd, 2020
Tarana Burke, ‘founder’ of the #MeToo movement
Sometime before 2006, Tarana Burke, who grew up in a poor family in the Bronx, New York, and who was raped and sexually assaulted both as a child and a teenager, met a 13-year-old girl. The teenager confided to Burke that she had been sexually assaulted. Burke would later say that she wished she had simply told the girl, “Me too”.
In 2006 Burke used that phrase on the social media site My Space, and the #MeToo movement was effectively born. Burke explained that #MeToo was to ‘empower women… especially the young and vulnerable, by demonstrating how many women have survived sexual assault and harassment…’
But it would take another 10 years, until October 2017 when the New York Times published accusations from more than a dozen women who went on the record against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, that the #MeToo movement really took off. It is a mystery why it took so long, given that accusations of rape, sexual assault and harassment had been made against Weinstein for years.
But it exploded internationally, and many powerful men not only lost their jobs and positions, many are being investigated and not a few, including Weinstein, are being tried for sexual assault.
A few weeks ago, #MeToo arrived in Kampala in a big way. Okay, it had been around for a few years, but it caught everybody’s attention when women started posting on social media how they had been raped and sexually assaulted by various public figures. While many chose to be anonymous, a few brave ones put their names and faces to it. And faced a furious backlash, mostly from men, but also from some fellow women.
What most of the counter-accusations boiled down to was that the assault accusations could not be true, otherwise why did the victims wait for many years before talking about it? Why didn’t they report to the police? Where is the evidence? It was probably a relationship gone bad, some asserted, and now the women just want to ruin men’s reputations.
What was interesting was that it was a default kind of response – without knowing who the victims were, or the details of the incidents, the counter accusers insisted the claims were not true, and that the victims must be liars.
It says a lot about our society that our instinctive reaction is to either blame the victim, or to reject their claims. Is there a guilty conscience somewhere in our collective psyche? Is there a fear that if we don’t reject these claims outright, our names might show up sooner or later?
Many of the attempted rebuttals insisted that the victims should have reported to the police; the Uganda police? Are you kidding me? There is widespread evidence that the police largely treat cases of sexual assaults as ‘family matters’, which should be solved amongst the people involved. And then again, many of the reported assault cases involved police officers.
And in a society where you can get anybody locked up by just going to the police station and accusing them of something, it says a lot when sexual assault victims are reluctant to go the police. It is a fact that many cases of sexual assaults (including rape) are not reported, mainly because the victims believe they will not get any help, or they will instead be blamed for what happened.
In spite of that, the Uganda Police annual crime report revealed that 13% of women aged 15 to 49 reported experiencing sexual violence. This means that more than 1 million women reported being sexually assaulted every year in Uganda. And those are the ones that had the courage to report.
In the ‘more civilised’ Japanese society, it is estimated that only about 4% of sexual assault cases are ever reported. In our primitive, not-yet-middle-income society, it is probably a lot worse.
And the claim that most accusations are false? The U.S. Department of Justice reports that only around 2-10% rape and sexual assault allegations reported to police are determined to be false after a thorough investigation. And the USA is not a middle-income country.
The question is not whether it is happening, the question is what are we going to do about it? In all the years that Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual assault by countless women, nothing was done. In fact he fought back, tried to pay of media not to publish the claims, hired high-flying lawyers to intimidate many of the accusers, and tried to pay off others. It was not till the New York Times’ expose that criminal investigations were started, and now Weinstein, clean shaven and moving with a walker, is answering for his misdeeds.
What will happen in our comparatively Neanderthal Uganda? Our tax-payers funded fellows in the Department of Ethics and Integrity spend their hours watching pornographic films, and waiting for more female nudes to leak before they issue a statement, and then go back to watching more pornography. They should put all that money and time to better use and investigate cases of sexual assaults.
And to the rest of us? It will not help if we get to middle-income and still treat our female folks as sexual objects. While the Ugandan #MeToo movement should be encouraged to expose more cases of sexual assaults, efforts should also be made to understand that ‘sexual consent’ is not something the European court talks about.
It does not matter if she came to your place at 2am (as Mike Tyson found out and paid for time with time in prison), or if she drinks all your expensive wine and consumes a sh200,000 dinner at the Sheraton. If she is in no shape to consent, and you have sex with her, that is rape. And neither all your nays, and claims that ‘she enjoyed it’, will change an iota of that.