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Rape is part of the lives of many and too often, victims think that they provoked it. Rape has been used as an ultimate form of violence against those that were physically frail. There is this concept that rape is somehow the victim’s fault. I have heard so many times imams blaming short skirts and skimpy dresses as a cause of rape. Women seem to be objects of desire, they provoke men and must feel ashamed of it. The honour of families depends on the daughter’s behaviour.
Ten years ago, I thought things were going to change in Mauritius. I felt proud of my mum: she was participating in a demonstration against rape. Women answered the call of Sandra O’Reilly, who was gang-raped twice in the same evening in 2002. I don’t know how she lives with her scars, but I was a young journalist at the time and heard so many stories. There were men saying that she should not have gone public, other men saying that she must not ask for justice and then those men saying that there was a problem somewhere. They were all talking, trying to understand, yet unable to change the way they look at women.
Then there was the case of Nadine Dantier, found dead not far from her home in 2003 after being raped. She was barely 20, shy, the kind of girl that made her parents proud. Someone was quickly arrested, but no one knows, to date, what happened.
Marie-Ange Milazar was killed after being gang raped: they raped her, and opened her pregnant belly to take out the child. A sex worker a month away from delivery, Marie-Ange was just another headline.
Joannick Martin, a little seven-year-old, was raped by her uncle.
After Nadine Dantier, there were demonstrations again, by students. I asked a student what would this change in him and his life. I’m not sure he understood the question because he was clearly taken by surprise and remained silent for a spell. Then he talked about protecting his sister but his habits, the way he saw women, these were not questioned.
I remembered myself as a teenager, 15-years-old, dressed conservatively, hijab neatly pinned on my head, always eager to learn, to understand the world. I remember him, the monster, the smell, his hands, the Islamic library door locked and out of my reach. I remember feeling ashamed, feeling soiled. I was not raped, I managed to escape but I never reported him, I didn’t even tell my parents. I told a friend years later and learned that others never managed to escape and, like me, they did not go to the police. Why opt for another humiliation, another rape, exposing your body, your soul, recalling the story, telling it a hundred times? In court, the questions are so humiliating, no wonder most rape cases never make it to a judgment.
But then, anyway I thought, you’ll relive the rape on and on, it will eat you from within and besides, there is no shame in being helpless against a monster. Rape takes away your body, your core self to make you your own enemy. If there should be any shame, it is on the way we constructed our society. A proper woman of Asian descent will marry, be a mother. An unmarried woman should live a cloistered life, be discreet, be good. One that travels, goes around being ‘womanly’ is certainly a whore. When I took off my hijab, I kept getting these comments from well-meaning people, who wanted to know why I did it, as if my choices belonged to them. My participation in the gay pride parade was suddenly looked upon with disgust.
Mauritius is no paradise. To report a rape is to expose yourself to criticism. The question comes back immediately – “are you sure you said no?” – with the thorough phallocentric analysis of your behaviour, the way you dress and who you are factors in before the police officer decides to take your report. He will never understand that somebody just killed you, inside and outside.
The last few years have seen a new phenomenon: little girls very far from puberty are veiled to learn modesty. Apparently, females are not human beings; everything bounds a female to the body, its responsibilities and its duties. A woman that speaks too loudly is making a scene or trying to catch attention. A woman should suffer in silence. And what is there to say about choice? When a girl or a woman is about to choose a job, people tell her she should think about kids to come. When it comes to the choice of a partner, the inequality is so flagrant: a girl cannot sleep around, but a boy should. If a woman is young and single, she is a potential threat, as if women were constantly looking for the attention of men. Rape is the result of our societies looking at human beings as mere objects, and not as people with intelligence, passion or drive.