On Friday 19 August 2016, news broke out that, prophet and leader of a Pentecostal church, Prophetic Healing Deliverance, Walter Magaya had been charged with the rape of a young woman in at his June 2015 residence.
By end of day Saturday, the remand sheet with details on the case had gone viral on social media. The trial in the ‘court’ of public opinion was in full throttle.
This case has placed the spotlight on the challenges that still remain in the judicial processes of handling a court case and in our different mentalities as members of a larger society.
No Guarantee of the Victim’s Right to Privacy
It is yet to be known as to who leaked the remand sheet. However, the alleged survivor’s identity, place of residence, details of her boyfriend and where she learnt were revealed to the public. Without overlooking the fact that the case is yet to go to trial, surely it should have been handled better from the beginning,
Reporting a rape case is already a gruelling experience. One can only imagine how much worse the woman felt when her rights to privacy and anonymity were violated. She has to deal with public judgement in addition to the court case itself. Some media publications such as the Financial Gazette and Newsday followed suit in showing the lack of ethics and professionalism and published her identity.
The reason why the identities of rape survivors are kept private is so as to protect the allegedly abused from further victimisation. To expose a rape survivor whether or not the case has been concluded in the courts, is simply punitive and disclosing these details only serves to deter people from stepping up. Rape survivors are still being stigmatised and it is understandable that they would want to deal with the traumatic experience away from the public glare.
The Stigma Associated with Rape
In our society, many still feel that rape is a form of dishonour and humiliation. A rape case is sensitive enough and survivors should be able to deal it privately. In this case, the woman in question has had her name exposed and she will now be publicly identified through her ordeal.
In the ‘court; of public opinion in a patriarchal society like our own, women have often not been treated kindly. A woman’s sexual history and even the manner of her dress has often been insensitively called on as basis of justifying to some extent what could have happened to her. A case in point, is the feature on the alleged sexual history of our former vice president.
Victim blaming remains so prevalent; “don’t wear this, don’t go there, if you do you are asking for it” and in this case, it has already been made evident. Questions have been raised on social media “Why did she accept the money?” “Why did she go to his house?” “Why did she take a year to report the case?” Questions which in some way seem to look to shift blame to the survivor. These questions do not address the key fact about the probability of non-consensual sex having happened.
Our understanding of sexual consent is still begging for improvement. Contrary to some beliefs, her reasons for accepting the money or going into Magaya’s house or delaying to report the case do not have a bearing on whether consent was granted. The unfortunate thing is that we are questioning the motivations of the accuser and not those of the accused. Allegations against her have already been made. Such treatment of an individual who has stepped up to report rape can only lead to deterring others who may also want to speak out and perpetuate rape culture.
We are also in a society where victims are still at risk of being painted as spiteful liars especially in a case where a high profile and powerful man is the accused. It is difficult to prove rape beyond reasonable doubt, especially when the accused is an influential public figure such as Walter Magaya.
Consider who the public will be sympathetic to: a “religious cleric “who commands the support and adoration of hoards of men and women, or a university student who we knew close to nothing about until she reported a rape case. Magaya sympathisers have already come to his defence citing that Magaya had already prophesised this “devil’s plot”. Conspiracy theorists are even speculating that this accusation is politically motivated as Magaya was increasingly becoming vocal with regards to Zimbabwe’s leadership matters. Before the trial has even begun, the scales of justice are Magaya’s favour.
Another reason that deters the reporting of a rape case is that the judicial process is gruelling and it often causes more pain and suffering to those involved. The trial may be drawn out; taking years until resolution. The legal expenses are also very exorbitant. A precise example of these challenges is Munyaradzi Kereke’s rape case which was only resolved after six years and multiple appeals and obstacles.
Let’s Take Rape for What it is
Whether Magaya is guilty of rape or not, as a society we need a change in our mentalities surrounding women’s sexual rights and autonomy.
Constant coverage of accused persons by mainstream media in a way that sanitises what they are being with charged undermines the case of the survivor in every way. The Herald’s depiction of Magaya in a story which talks about the welcome he received at his church after his bail hearing seems to imply that the case against him holds no water, especially with the mention that Minister of Women’s Affairs Gender and Community Development was also part of the crowd.
Our society in general needs to be sensitised about what constitutes as sexual consent. Rape can never be blamed on the survivor. Our judicial process should also be improved to a point where survivors can feel safe enough to report rape without worrying about their identities being exposed or the case not being taken seriously. Hopefully the courts will handle this case and all other rape cases with the sensitivity they deserve.
Main image taken from www.womenundersiegeproject.org