SA’s silence on October 7th sexual violence reflects our own rape culture: Woode-Smith

October 7th remains etched in history as a day of unspeakable horror, yet its memory fades amidst the deafening silence of denial. Despite the gruesome reality of mass atrocities inflicted upon the people of Israel—horrors of butchery, mutilation, and rape—much of the world averts its gaze, choosing to deny or forget the agony that befell them.

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By Nicholas Woode-Smith*

The brutality of October 7th should be remembered for all times, but much of the world seemed to forget or deny it even happened even days after the event initially shocked the world. Instead of showing solidarity with the people of Israel who had been butchered, mutilated, and raped, international institutions, social media activists and many individuals in the media have been dedicated to a concerted campaign to not just deny that the events of October 7th happened, but that if they did, they were justified.

In no other way has this been more heinous than the SA government’s clear refusal to acknowledge the mass sexual violence that Hamas and its allies perpetrated on Israeli women, children and men. Sexual violence that has been well documented by first responders, eye witnesses, and in forensic reports of many bodies found.

Very few victims of the sexual violence survived, with many wanting to maintain their privacy as many people in the world continue to ridicule them and shame them as liars. Victim shaming them as being deserving of being raped, because they are Jewish. Or denying that it ever happened.

The rarity of victim testimony has been used by rape deniers to push the agenda that no rapes, or very few rapes, actually occurred. But we don’t even need forensic evidence and witnesses to dispute this. Hamas filmed their vile acts and published the footage online. Al Jazeera even accidentally played a split-second clip of an ongoing rape in their documentary, while simultaneously denying that there was any footage of sexual violence in existence.

We cannot forget about the widely disseminated footage of 22-year-old Shani Louk, who was filmed being paraded almost naked through the streets of Gaza, leered at by hateful men, while covered in her own blood. It is beyond obtuse to admit what likely happened to her at the hands of these terrorists.

Obviously, news sites are not going to show footage of sexual assaults on air. Something important to the victims’ dignity, as well as necessary to protect the viewers themselves. Yet it is permissible to flood social media and the news with footage of Gazan suffering, but there does not seem to be space or permission for the recognition of the battered bodies of Israeli victims.

Victims have had their voices stolen: First, by the genocidal hatred of Hamas, and then by the blatant, ideological denial and silence by governments, international institutions and the media. Even women organisations that exist to defend the rights of victims of gender-based violence have been silent, speaking only about the suffering of Gazans, a cause ancillary to their primary mandate.

A group of women in SA has banded together to end the silence, and to demand that the government and the country recognise, empathise, and support not just victims of sexual violence that they find convenient, but all victims of gender-based violence.

The Women’s Action Campaign South Africa (WACSA) has been making waves, conducting surveys to analyse the crisis of gender-based violence infecting this country, and exposing the hypocrisy of our government with its denial and tacit support of the brutality of October 7th.

One of WACSA’s shocking survey results was that 25% of South Africans believe rape can be justifiable, especially in wartime.  40% believe that reports of Hamas raping and murdering Israelis is propaganda. 29% believe that the victims deserved to be raped and killed because they were apparently complicit in Israel’s conflict with Palestine.

These are shockingly high statistics and feed into the greater reason why SA’s government denies that Hamas raped Israelis, and why this country stands as one of the three rape capitals of the world.

WACSA hosted a powerful and insightful webinar on April 15th, addressing the brutality, and the world’s disappointing response.

Webinar host, Annika Larsen stressed that the burden of proof has been raised impossibly high for victims of sexual violence. Especially Israeli victims, who are not believed despite film, witness, and forensic evidence. It should be emphasised that the majority of the victims are not alive to testify or recount the atrocities.

The #MeToo movement advanced recognition of victims and survivors, destigmatising their experiences and shifting society to adopt a victim-centric approach to sexual violence. Yet, this has not been applied to Israeli women. Danielle Ofek founded #MeToo_UnlessYoureAJew to expose this hypocrisy.

“This was a crime against humanity [October 7th] and should be of global concern.”

Rozanne Sacks, co-founder of Koleinu SA (an advocacy organisation for victims of gender-based violence), spoke about SA’s unfortunate culture of sexual violence, providing context to the survey results. Women can’t feel truly safe in this country, as they are viewed as objects by predatory men who use their resentment and desire for power as an excuse to commit evil. SA has developed a culture of victim blaming, shaming and outright denial, which further exacerbates our catastrophic sexual violence.

“SA is plagued by sexual violence and we’ve sadly become quite used to it,” said Annika Larsen.

It is no wonder that a country that experiences so much sexual violence, with a government that does not seem to care, would harbour so many people who think Hamas’ actions were justified, or that the victims are lying. Frankly, we should all be appalled by the refusal of our government and fellow South Africans to show even a tinge of empathy.

What is clear from all this is that Hamas did not only perpetrate (and deny) the mass rape of Israelis on October 7th, they utilised it as a systematic, predetermined and coordinated weapon of war. To humiliate, dehumanise and to dominate. And, ultimately, to commit their goal of genocide.

The SA government, the UN, the media, and women’s organisations locally and abroad need to address any denial and distrust of victims just because they’re Israeli. Hamas committed a vile, unforgivable act. And so far, our government has condoned it.

It is up to us to make sure this changes.

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Nicholas Woode-Smith* is a political analyst, economic historian, and author. He has written extensively on the Israel-Hamas War.

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