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'It Didn't Look Like Rape'

But what does rape ‘look like’?

As I drove to work this morning, there was an interesting conversation happening on 5FM. Sol Phenduka, a member of the ‘Fresh at 5’ breakfast show team, was discussing the recent allegations that came out of the Big Brother Mzansi house that one of the female contestants, Bexx, had allegedly been raped by fellow contestant Adams. According to IOL, Bexx and Adams were reportedly seen flirting and kissing during a party at the house and went to bed together. At this point the Big Brother feed moved away from the two housemates. The next day, Adams allegedly boasted about having sex with Bexx, reportedly telling male housemates, ‘I dipped her but I don’t think she remembers because she passed out.’ Meanwhile, Bexx reportedly told female housemates that she did not have consensual sex with Adams.

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In his report of the incident, Sol (who was a housemate in 2014’s Big Brother Mzansi) said that Big Brother probably did not intervene in the incident because ‘it did not look like rape’. Here is where I needed to take a pause. ‘It did not look like rape’? As newsreader Carmen Reddy rightly interjected, what does rape look like? Perhaps this alleged rape wasn’t violent. It wasn’t allegedly committed by a stranger. It didn’t happen in a dark alley and the alleged victim did not cry out or fight back. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t rape.

According to the South African Sexual Offences Act, ‘any person (“A”) who unlawfully and intentionally commits an act of sexual penetration with a complainant (“B”), without the consent of B, is guilty of the offence of rape’.

Unlawfully. Intentionally. Without consent.

Related: UK Schools to Teach Children about Consent Before Age 11

Based on Bexx’s allegations and Adams’s acknowledgement that she had passed out, it appears that Adams’s actions were intentional and that Bexx did not give her consent. By this deduction, the producers of the show – which is recorded 24 hours a day – should have intervened. Both housemates have left the house and, according to Mzansi Magic, are receiving counselling. Both were previously involved in an incident where Adams and fellow housemate K2 had grabbed Bexx and kissed her while groping her butt (Adams received his first warning and Bexx was left distraught). The matter is still under investigation, and Mzansi Magic has acknowledged that there was a case of ‘sexual misconduct’.

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Allowing these sorts of stereotypes to slip by unchecked is how rape culture is perpetuated. Survivors of sexual violence feel like their stories aren’t legitimate, that because their attacks don’t ‘look’ or ‘sound’ like rape, they are unable to report the crimes committed against them. Statements such as ‘it did not look like rape’ silence survivors and perpetuate an unspeakable taboo around sexual violence. In a country with an incredibly high rate of sexual crimes, this kind of behaviour on television emphasises how pressing the problem is. And it takes speaking up, as Carmen did, to remind us that we still have a long way to go.

Related: UN’s Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka Says We Will Wait Decades for Gender Equality

This article was originally published on Marieclaire.co.za

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