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SENEGAL: The State must go beyond the criminalization of rape and pedophilia

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Aminata Libain Mbengue

Since January 2020, rape and pedophilia have become crimes in Senegal, which means that they are finally recognized for what they have always been: psychic murders. But this criminalization of rape and pedophilia is not enough! By Aminata Libain Mbengue is a clinical and feminist psychologist.

Opening locations for victims is as crucial as acknowledging the seriousness of these acts. Sexual violence at any age shatters our integrity. Rebuilding is a necessary step.

We may never know the extent of sexual violence, but we are surrounded by victims. We need places where we can take responsibility for treating victims of sexual violence, and this is an absolute emergency.

Justice does not cure trauma. While the law makes it possible to qualify and name the facts, it does not take into account the reality of victims in a social environment marked by a “rape culture”. These preconceived notions are “confusing”. Rape is not sexuality, it is breaking into the body and mind of the other. Rape is not “too full of uncontrollable impulses”, it is a domination, a possession of women’s bodies. And because of all the patriarchal burdens, the majority of victims of sexual violence will not engage in a very often re-traumatizing judicial process.

It is inconceivable that women, who want to leave a toxic home, are blocked with their executioners because alternative accommodation does not exist. Justice does not cure trauma

How many victims of silent sexual violence are there? Because a liberated word is always accompanied by reprisals. How many think what they’ve been through is an isolated fact? How many victims of domestic violence continue to suffer because these acts are trivialized, because they are under psychological control and/or economic dependence?

It is inconceivable that women, who want to leave a toxic home, are blocked with their executioners because alternative accommodation does not exist. Even if not all the victims are going to file a complaint, all of them need treatment. Senegal must have reception and accommodation centres where victims can receive medical and psychological care in order to rebuild.

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As everywhere, violence against women has increased during this Covid-19 pandemic. Women’s rights associations have all received more calls and requests than usual. These associations do remarkable work on the ground, they face the distress of women every day, but they feel helpless and abandoned. It is the responsibility of the State to take care of the victims because the repercussions of this violence on life are considerable.

The resulting post-traumatic stress disorder deteriorates mental and physical health over many years. Early management improves women’s quality of life. These specific treatments reduce dissociative behaviours: risky behaviours, depressive or anxious episodes.

Victims need a place to land, to put words, to decolonize traumatic memory. Of course, today, the voices are rising more and more against the violence suffered by women, but we will not succeed without an effective national support system.

To support the victims, a telephone support line is needed in all major cities in Senegal, and is available 7 days a week and 24 hours a day. The financial burden of care must not rest on the victims, because it is an additional cost that makes many women victims give up.

Violence against Senegalese women is not inevitable; denouncing them is not enough, concrete actions are needed: educate on consent, deconstruct sexist prejudices, guarantee access to justice, training law enforcement agencies to listen to victims and supporting associations financially.

[1] Rape culture is the set of beliefs and prejudices we have about the behaviour of perpetrators and victims of sexual violence. Example: “rapists are sick,” “how were you dressed? Why didn’t you scream?”

Aminata Libain Mbengue is a clinical and feminist psychologist.