Two weeks ago, a young woman named Karabo Mokoena went missing. Her father and friends took to social media to beg people to look out for her, to help them find her. Yesterday morning, her father broke the devastating news that his daughter was dead. Murdered - it seems, by her boyfriend.
My heart goes out to Tshepo Mokoena, a parent who’s had to utter the words that so many parents fear. I can’t imagine what he’s going through.
Almost as soon as the news broke, social media began flooding with expressions of shock, sympathy, and renewed cries for women to keep safe.
Keep safe. Be careful. It’s a dangerous world for a woman. Make sure you’re looking after yourself. Make sure you’re protecting yourself.
I understand the sentiment. When faced with a tragedy, all we want in the world is to find a way to convince ourselves that this same tragedy will never happen to us, or to our loved ones. We create these little rules. If we follow them, we’ll be protected.
But there’s a problem: Reacting to news that a woman was murdered by reminding other women to “keep safe” carries with it a subtext that the woman who was murdered wasn’t keeping safe, and that’s why she died. In other words, she brought it on herself somehow.
Karabo was killed by her boyfriend. Not some stranger in a dark alley. Not some enemy she’d been warned against. Her murderer was man that she was close with, who was supposed to love her and who she was supposed to trust. And this isn’t a rare occurance. As most women know, we’re statistically more likely to be murdered by someone we know than by a stranger.
When people keep telling women to “stay safe”, I can’t help but wonder what they feel that Karabo should have done differently to “be careful”? Not have a boyfriend? Not have a social life? Not leave the house at all?
A few days ago, I read about a child who was raped by her own father and brother. Her brother spent an hour in custody. Her father hasn’t even been arrested yet. She’s having panic attacks and is suffering from night terrors, and her rapists have gotten away with it. She’s nine years old.
What could she have done to “stay safe”? How could she have been more “careful”?
The worst is, when I googled to get the link to the article I read, hundreds of similar stories came up.
You hear about women and girls raped and murdered at home, at school, at work, by parents, boyfriends, peers. How were any of them supposed to "stay safe"?
We live in a society that, time and time again, places almost all responsibility on victims to not be victims, while victimisers learn that society is trying to be understanding of them. Society will look for excuses for them, that many times they can get away with it.
The problem is not women who aren't careful enough about "staying safe". The problem is that there is no safety for us.
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