Sunday, September 20, 2020

Power sex and aggression

Botswana went into a tailspin recently when Gaborone Mayor Kagiso Thutlwe was accused by BMD activist Sesame Nakedi of raping her. The national reaction hacked back to the Hollywood riposte at the rape allegations levelled against veteran actor Bill Cosby film producer Harry Weinstein and movie actor Morgan Freeman. The initial reaction was “lies!”, “he would never!” and “why didn’t she speak out earlier?”.

What do all these rape accused have in common? They are all prominent and somewhat powerful men.

Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at University Of Botswana says men in power are guilty of sexually abusing and harassing women. “To powerful men, sex is almost like an aphrodisiac and patriarchal power comes with entitlement to women’s bodies whether its wives in marriages or co-workers in the same organization. Prominent men tend to feel that sex gives them that power and often times being powerful and unwanted doesn’t go hand in hand with patriarchy hence why these men tend to sexual harass and abuse women under them. “She says rape is an act of disempowerment and whether it happened yesterday or two months back, rape is rape.

The pattern is all too common, a person in position of power acts sexually inappropriate to someone subordinate to them especially one whose career they have considerable influence over.  Instances of women who allege sexual abuse by men in positions of power have been shared or reported enough times to warrant attention.

Kagiso Thutlwe is not the first man in a powerful position to have such allegations made against him. There was Gaborone tycoon, Robert Masitara who was accused of raping a former employee. Sexual violence or sexual assaults usually arise in lop-sided power dynamics where the perpetrator occupies a more powerful or dominant position in relation to the victim, but maybe the most disappointing side in all of this is that it isn’t shocking, it is just swept under a rug and ignored.

Powerful men are notorious for using their positions of power as well as their perks to seduce, coerce, manipulate, and attack mainly because they have what their victims (who are in less powerful positions) want and need – a job, a promotion, a recommendation or simply a place close to the centre of power. They confuse and control by dangling enticements with one hand and wielding threats, implied or explicit, with the other.

In his defence the mayor stated that he only received oral sexual pleasure and did not rape the victim as she claims whereas the friend says it was a threesome. The sexual tryst has shed light into how often times powerful men often mistakenly believe that the women around them are more attracted to them than is actually the case. The average Motswana’s mind is setup to believe that if a man is powerful enough, then he is incapable of abuse or sexual misconduct therefore when a mayor or a respected businessman is accused of rape the first instinct is to jump to the idea that they are not guilty until proven innocent because patriarchy gives powerful men carte blanche to intimidate and dominate.

The victims, whether they stay quiet or speak out, are forced to face this appalling reality, and deal with their own trauma under the shadow of their abuser’s repute and the trial is usually not only in Court, but also in public, in the media and on Facebook and Twitter timelines, it is often times never about the perpetrator but rather who the victim is. Fame and power enable sexual abuse, and prominent men act as if sexual abuse demonstrates fame and power like when Donald Trump boasted about sexually harassing women. “When you’re a star they let you do it,”

Thulaganyo Itumeleng who works at The Botswana Post says victims tend to be shamed in instances like this instead of dealing with their perpetrator. “Most times, power dynamics are not in the favour of women who come forth with allegations of rape against prominent men because they are usually women who hold lower positions in the organization and it’s no different with the Mayor’s rape scandal, people can’t just sweep allegations under the rug and move on anymore, change has to follow, even if it’s a slow process. The safety and respect of women is worth it.”

When people are high in power, they are more likely to see other people as a means to an end – a way to satisfy their own goals. Powerful people also tend to have less empathy for others. So if a high-powered man is especially interested in pursuing sexual encounters, he is likely to see an attractive female subordinate as a possible way to reach that goal. Without strong feelings of empathy, it will be less likely that he will really understand the difficulty of her position or accurately read her feelings toward him. It happens everywhere, church, the entertainment industry, politics and even sporting organizations. Sadly, it is neither shocking nor surprising Powerful men groping, grabbing, preying on and propositioning people is not news to womankind.

Khumo Kenosi, a scholar at Ba Isago says sometimes people get framed by women who want something in return. “For all we know the Mayor was framed by the lady because of anything, a business deal gone badly maybe or just to spite him, why else would she take this long to come forth with the truth, there’s no telling if indeed she was raped” She says we shouldn’t be so quick to judge as maybe the victim is lying.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.