On the 13th of September, I woke up at 7:30,put off my alarm, went back to sleep ,eventually woke up at 8:30 am,(my normal morning routine and I still don’t know why I bother setting my alarm anyway),and checked Facebook. There was a flood of posts from different Sierra Leoneans, both in the diaspora and at home, concerning the arrest and dismissal of the Deputy Minister of Education, Mahmoud Tarawallie, over an alleged rape case involving a university student. A summary of the details are as follows: Mahmoud Tarawallie, was allegedly the boyfriend of this lady’s best friend ,but had been making sexual advances on her. On Monday ,September 9th,Mahmoud Tarawallie had invited her to his office ,asking her to bring her travel documents and CV ,with the promise that he would be able to grant her a scholarship to study overseas. She went to his office and was there till 3pm when she became apprehensive and requested to go home. The Dep.Minister offered to take her home, but took her to a hotel instead, led her to a guest room and started touching her, against her will. She initially fought him off, but tired and exhausted, gave up and he raped her. After the event, she then went to a nearby police station and reported the matter. When the Minister was apprehended and questioned, he mentioned that the bruises and wounds on the girl’s body was as a result of her hitting the wall during a scuffle involving money which the girl had asked for , and he had refused to give her. Those are the details of the case, to my knowledge.
As soon as I learnt about this story, a familiar bile rose up to my throat, and I was dreading to hear what my fellow Sierra Leoneans had made of this case. I love my country very much and I love Sierra Leoneans as a people, but if there is ever a group of tremendously judgmental human beings packed into one country-it is Sierra Leoneans. However, as I browsed through many Sierra Leonean websites and forums, a great number of people were genuinely angry at the minister, vehemently crying out against the crime of rape, saying how brutal it was and that women were human beings too, and no one had any right to be violent towards them. I was proud and happy to see how the mentality towards rape was changing. People are more sensitive about victim blaming and it seems that both the long struggle of gender activism, and campaigns to end violence against women in Sierra Leone, are slowly reaping benefits.
There is a problem. A new problem. One that will prove to be much bigger in the grand scheme of things, and that is still tied to victim blame. As there is now a sense of wholly agreeing that rape is a grave crime and that no one has the right to inflict violence on women or demand sex by force, there is a little monster growing, rearing up its head slowly but surely, in the conversation about rape as a crime. This monster is “rape crime measurement“. A measure of how offensive of a crime rape actually is, based on these same factors that people use for victim blaming in rape cases.
In case you are now half way through this article and you are confused as to what exactly constitutes a rape case ,let me help out. The definition of rape seems to vary from country to country, but according to the The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime defines it as “sexual intercourse without valid consent“, and the World Health Organization defined it in 2002 as “physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration – even if slight – of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object”. We can all thus agree that “invalid consent” and “coerced penetration” are central features of rape.
Let me then move on to provide two examples: A 5-year-old girl is lured to a room, by an older man in his 20s, and he penetrates her. She does not fight back, she has little or no idea of what is going on, but she loses her virginity and innocence at a tender age. Whether the process involved consent or not, it is statutory rape of a minor and I can hear you all crying out in anger”RAPIST! Criminal! He deserves to be punished!”. Of course he deserves punishment, he had sex with a minor, a 5-year-old. His crime is very grave and he should be tried and sent to jail. We can all agree on that, right? Another scenario: a 30-year-old woman enters a bedroom with a 40-year-old man. There are no details of the background leading to this meeting. He asks for sex.She might have considered it at first, but somewhere during foreplay, she changes her mind and refuses to continue having sex with him. He, sexually frustrated, goes ahead and forcefully penetrates her, either with his penis or an instrument or another part of his body. Why are you all silent? Where did the same anger you had for the 5-year-old child go? Do I hear you asking why she followed him to the room in the first place; did your eyes linger for a bit on the age of the woman? Did you feel a slight sympathy for the man because the woman “led him on”? More importantly, did you MEASURE the crime? Yes, yes, I know you agree that rape is bad in all forms and people should be punished for raping others, but how often do we measure how bad the crime of rape is on a case-by-case situation? Did you measure how SERIOUS and offensive the crime was because the woman was older, and “should have known what she was getting into” and should have been more “responsible”?
The title of this article was brought about by a comment made by a colleague, when the person agreed that yes, the Minister was very wrong in using his power to lure the woman for sex, and in eventually raping her, but suddenly literally jumped when I revealed the age of the victim. ‘She is 26?That changes everything!”, he yelled. What “changed everything” was the fact that she walked into the situation with her eyes wide open, with the blatant possibility that she could be asked to have sex. According to my colleague,even though that does not validate the actions of the Minister, but in a way, the gravity of his crime was somehow diminished, by fact that this woman was an adult, and should have been “more responsible” .
The danger of this monster-“rape crime measurement” is that, yes, it acknowledges that rape, in all forms is very wrong, but MEASURES the gravity of the crime, focusing on the context(s). The problem here, is that people will righteously denounce and decry rape, calling it out as an evil in society. However, when a) the background of the victim b) the age, and c)the context/circumstances under which the crime happened is revealed, the measure of the crime is somehow diminished due to the factors related to the victim.
What needs to be understood and accepted, is that rape, in whatever form, whatever context, is still a serious crime , and we should remove measurement of the gravity of rape out of every situation. The rape of a prostitute is no different from the rape of a child. The rape of a married woman by her husband is no different from the rape of a high school student by her teacher . The rape of a man/boy by a woman is no different from the rape of woman/girl by a man. Rape is Rape and the gravity of it should be considered the same across all contexts. Yes, the victim in Mahmoud Tarawallie’s case is 26 years old, not 5 ,12 or 16 years old.Why should that “change everything”?