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Rape and Regret in South Africa
June 26, 2009 2:36 PM   Subscribe

Man Who Committed Rape Asks for Victim's Forgiveness Decades Later

Dumisani Rebombo and his friend raped a young girl in their village in South Africa when they were teenagers. Years later, he returned to the same village to find the woman he attacked and begged for her forgiveness.

A story showing the brutal personal side to the rape culture in South Africa.
posted by thisperon (43 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow. He could have lived the rest of his life without being prosecuted, was motivated to do this by nothing other than his own conscience, and is prepared to go to prison for it? I can't say that fixes much, but that's still pretty unprecedented to say the least.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:44 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I thought it was a much needed glimpse about how rape actually affects people, as opposed to hearing statistics.

I feel very sad for all involved. I think we humans have a long way to go before we become we become halfway decent creatures, much less "good" ones.
posted by thisperon at 2:46 PM on June 26, 2009


The best thing would be if he just didn't do it. Having done it, the bravery of standing up and saying so, and saying that it was wrong and that his society needs to change, is admirable.

I had a girlfriend whose experiences of abuse caused her to relive them, so intense at times that she would accuse me of rape, before I helped her calm down and realize that she was in a different situation. That situation was so incredibly harrowing, and haunts me so much, that I cannot fathom the trauma of actually experiencing rape, or the immense heaviness of being guilty of it.
posted by idiopath at 2:47 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


The best thing would be if he just didn't do it. Having done it, the bravery of standing up and saying so, and saying that it was wrong and that his society needs to change, is admirable.

I agree that he's brave, and I admire him for that. However, simply saying "societal problems led to this horrific act I committed, and those problems need to be fixed" is as empty as saying nothing at all. Unless he's actively working to bring about change, rather than just saying that change, in the abstract, is necessary, he's having no real impact on anything but his own conscience.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:04 PM on June 26, 2009


Mudpuppie, did you read the article?
posted by sixswitch at 3:06 PM on June 26, 2009 [7 favorites]


Whoops, early post—it sounds as though he's working with boys, and men, on this issue, and that this is a way to forward that work.

"I left that room with a new burden - to do something about rape in my community and my country."
posted by sixswitch at 3:07 PM on June 26, 2009


I suppose his visiting the woman might have given her some satisfaction, but this ultimately seems like a selfish act.

The fact that he is now working to help prevent rape is a positive outcome at least.
posted by orme at 3:10 PM on June 26, 2009


I agree that he's brave, and I admire him for that. However, simply saying "societal problems led to this horrific act I committed, and those problems need to be fixed" is as empty as saying nothing at all. Unless he's actively working to bring about change, rather than just saying that change, in the abstract, is necessary, he's having no real impact on anything but his own conscience.

He works for an NGO with unemployed mothers, part of which is dealing with the abuse these women suffer from men. That's what drove him to apologize for the rape he committed. I think he's truly sorry and wants to help change society - and that counts for something.

When I was reading the article I initially wanted to hear the woman's view and what the rape meant to her. But then I realized that it's a male experience as well, and they need to talk about it as much as women do.
posted by Sova at 3:12 PM on June 26, 2009


I read it. And he says:
I think that we raise boys in the wrong way, but later on in their lives we want to see them as different men who care and love.

My advice to young men who feel under pressure to rape, is to surround yourselves with good friends.

Learn to talk to someone about what is going on inside.

For with this, one can teach the young men to have other means of solving conflict.
Which is great. I guess my question is, is he doing more than telling the BBC what advice he'd give to boys in South Africa? Because it's not clear to me from the article whether he's actually working with these populations, or saying that these populations need to be worked with. (And that lack of clarity could be a symptom of being stuck in an office on a Friday afternoon when I'd rather be outside.)
posted by mudpuppie at 3:12 PM on June 26, 2009


A story showing the brutal personal side to the rape culture in South Africa.

That reminds me of a certain book.
posted by ifjuly at 3:19 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


From the article:
The following day, when we went for our soccer practice, this incident was reported to all the other football players.

On hearing the news, they sang and clapped as if we had done something right.

This helped to stop the jeering somewhat and I was allowed to associate with the other boys.
Yep, the power of social norms. Not just in South Africa, not just among jocks.

Video of Rembobo talking about his work on prevention of rape and the spread of HIV.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:20 PM on June 26, 2009


Rebombo.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:21 PM on June 26, 2009


He also says:
I left that room with a new burden - to do something about rape in my community and my country.
I think given his experience with NGOs he might actually own up to that statement. All eyes will be on him now, to be sure. But you're right - without pro-action it's just words.

I still wouldn't call what he did "brave" or "admirable" in the senses of those words that I know them, but it's at least slightly better than going to the grave with his secret, as he could have done.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:21 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm glad he's purged his soul and found personal salvation. What a nice happy ending for him. There doesn't seem to be such a happy ending for her however. I can't help feeling she's been used to help him yet again - before for acceptance from his peers, and now for peace with himself.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:28 PM on June 26, 2009 [13 favorites]


Rebombo has pretty much given his entire life over to the problem of eradicating the rape culture. He pretty much gave his life over to the woman he victimized, and she responded (I think quite sensibly) by letting him continue in the work he's doing rather than idle away uselessly in jail. Unlike many rapists he was motivated more by peer pressure and fear than rage and violence, felt bad about his act immediately, never repeated it, and ultimately came to the point of being defined by it so thoroughly that he has risked making himself a pariah so as to set an example for others.

If that's not good enough for you you do not believe atonement is possible and splooged yourself reading the Larry Niven story about the organ transplant life extension future where you get the death penalty (by total body donation) for speeding.
posted by localroger at 3:34 PM on June 26, 2009 [8 favorites]


I think given his experience with NGOs he might actually own up to that statement.

I really hope so, because I think he has a very important message. And let's hope that just one of him will be more effective at getting that message across than all of the thousands and thousands of victims who have spoken out about the experience and its aftermath. Here's the best messenger ever -- much better than any feminist, however even-tempered and measured and un-strident -- to say that stopping rape is up to men.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:35 PM on June 26, 2009


probably splooged yourself. Wouldn't want to be too judgemental.
posted by localroger at 3:36 PM on June 26, 2009


Rebombo has pretty much given his entire life over to the problem of eradicating the rape culture.

That right there? That would have been an excellent piece of information to have been included in this post. Can you provide some more information? I'd like to read more about the actual work he's done.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:38 PM on June 26, 2009


He's Senior Program Officer for EngenderHealth's Men As Partners program in South Africa (under Related Links sidebar on the right, under Technical Resources, there are a couple of pdfs that don't necessarily have to do with Rebombo but look interesting after a quick skim: Lessons Learned From Engaging Men, and Reaching Men To End Gender-Based Violence).

Not specific to Rebombo either, but EngenderHealth has a video page featuring South African boys'/men's voices telling their stories.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:51 PM on June 26, 2009


mudpuppie, it is very clear from TFA. Perhaps you missed the tagline...

Dumisani Rebombo is a community development worker and public speaker, working for the Olive Leaf Foundation, in JohannesburgDumisani Rebombo is a community development worker and public speaker, working for the Olive Leaf Foundation, in Johannesburg

Got that? This is what he DOES. He doesn't design bridges, put out fires, race cars, flip burgers, push paper around while wearing a suit. His job, a job which he takes home to enough of a degree that he was willing to risk jail to apologize to his victim, is making the lives of women better. There is no hint that he does much of anything else.

For those who think he can't possibly atone without going to jail, the person he raped would appear to disagree. If you don't think that's good enough, why do you think this woman's judgement was so defective?
posted by localroger at 3:52 PM on June 26, 2009 [9 favorites]


Some google hits for the name
Dumisani Rebombo
Dumisani Rebombo
In all of these, he is talking about the need to change rape culture, and the responsibility of men to end rape. It seems to be pretty much his life's work.
posted by idiopath at 3:55 PM on June 26, 2009


For those who think he can't possibly atone without going to jail, the person he raped would appear to disagree. If you don't think that's good enough, why do you think this woman's judgement was so defective?

Just who are you railing at? There's not a single commenter in this thread who's said he deserves to be in jail, hands-down, no discussion. Maybe stop with the sputtering and the accusations of spooge and start reading what people have actually said.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:00 PM on June 26, 2009


If seems that for some of you, I could have written this post differently to prevent confusion (Rebombo changes life around due to a crime he committed when he was a teen), and I apologize I didn't think of that at the time.
posted by thisperon at 4:00 PM on June 26, 2009


cybercoitus interruptus, thanks for the links.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:02 PM on June 26, 2009


thisperson, I think some people just figured reading the article was irrelevant.

For me, this was especially important:

He also asked me if I was ready to go to jail. He said: "What if the woman went to the authorities?"

My answer was: "If I go to jail, that would be justice for that woman."


I understand why people would worry that he was using his victim again by apologizing. But sometimes, being able to forgive an attacker is a crucial part of healing. The victim deserves to have the opportunity to forgive.
posted by shetterly at 4:08 PM on June 26, 2009


mudpuppie, it is very clear from TFA. Perhaps you missed the tagline...

"Dumisani Rebombo is a community development worker and public speaker, working for the Olive Leaf Foundation, in Johannesburg"

Got that? This is what he DOES. He doesn't design bridges, put out fires, race cars, flip burgers, push paper around while wearing a suit. His job, a job which he takes home to enough of a degree that he was willing to risk jail to apologize to his victim, is making the lives of women better. There is no hint that he does much of anything else.


...In mudpuppie's defense, though, nowhere in the tagline you quote does it expressly state what the Olive Leaf Foundation actually does, and nowhere in the tagline does it expressly state that Rebombo works specifically against rape. It only says he is a community development worker, which is a bit vague. So I can see where mudpuppie and others may have missed that detail.

Now then -- those who are worried about how the victim may have taken this have a stronger argument; I actually would have also appreciated hearing her reaction to this. But, I also suspect that if she had been traumatized by revisiting the experience, or if she had felt exploited, she might very well have responded to his overture with a hearty "fuck YOU", and we wouldn't have been hearing about the incident in the first place.

Still curious to hear her own reaction, though.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:24 PM on June 26, 2009


EmpressCallipygos, if he's not lying, the reason you haven't heard her rection is here:

Worse still, she was not ready to tell her husband of what had happened.

Finally, she said that she forgave me, and thought that I had meant well with all that I had said.

I left that room with a new burden - to do something about rape in my community and my country.


Maybe she'll be ready to tell her side someday.
posted by shetterly at 4:46 PM on June 26, 2009


Remember that post awhile back about the guy who spent his entire life being an enormous racist asshole, committing assaults on minorities and whatnot, and got old and decided that Jesus didn't like him very much, so he was going around trying to get people to forgive him so he could go to Heaven? Remember the people who stridently insisted that what he was doing was admirable in some way?

Fuck that. This is what atonement looks like.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:53 PM on June 26, 2009 [7 favorites]


What Pope Guilty said.
posted by localroger at 5:35 PM on June 26, 2009


If that's not good enough for you you do not believe atonement is possible and splooged yourself reading the Larry Niven story about the organ transplant life extension future where you get the death penalty (by total body donation) for speeding might have stronger sentiments about the consquences of rape for the rape survivor than localroger does.

I'm not prepared to pronounce unilaterally on the value of this man's redemption; that's a big question, and one I'll be turning over in my head for some time. If I were in that woman's shoes, being asked for forgiveness (and, crucially, an informal amnesty) by the man who raped me, I'm not sure I would make the same choice.

or if she had felt exploited, she might very well have responded to his overture with a hearty "fuck YOU", and we wouldn't have been hearing about the incident in the first place.

Since a common reaction to sexual violence is complete silence, it's quite possible that a rape survivor's "fuck YOU" would not be loud, that it would never be a blip in the media.
posted by Elsa at 5:47 PM on June 26, 2009


Elsa: The victim spoke. She was offered the chance to turn him in and pursue a conviction which he said he would not resist. She was unshocked enough by the whole thing to spend several hours talking to him and reveal that she had been raped twice more, a detail you might withhold from someone who had violated you who might you know get off on it or something.

She decided not to turn him in. He reacted by redoubling his efforts to prevent more instances.

I would not presume to have better sentiments than the actual survivor of the rape. But then I'm just a man, so maybe I'm not capable of understanding when a woman is acting irrationally. Oh wait...
posted by localroger at 6:11 PM on June 26, 2009


[KEYBOARD CAT LEANS FOWARD, POISED ABOVE THE KEYBOARD]
posted by Justinian at 6:21 PM on June 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


localroger, I saw that in the reporting; my response to EmpressCallipygos is general, not specific. Please note that I spoke of "a" rape survivor, meaning a hypothetical rape survivor in a similar situation.

I have not accused anyone of being irrational, or of being vengeful, or of refusing to recognize other's choices. I'm not, for example, posting florid accusations against those whose opinions differ, stating that they lapse into sexual ecstacy over Draconian fantasies and dystopian fiction. A person would have to be completely insane to do that.

In your own words: "oh, wait..."

As I said quite clearly in my earlier post, I'm intrigued by the ethical and moral value of this situation. I think it's complex. Perhaps you do not. If that's the case, we differ. That's all.

Good day, sir.
posted by Elsa at 6:50 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Since a common reaction to sexual violence is complete silence, it's quite possible that a rape survivor's "fuck YOU" would not be loud, that it would never be a blip in the media.

I'm not sure I'm parsing this sentence correctly...you're saying that since a common reaction to violence is silence, but then you're saying that someone to do something UNCOMMON would NOT be newsworthy. Am I misunderstanding you somewhere? If so, where?...Because it would seem to me that if someone had an unusual reaction to something, that that WOULD make news.

I think everyone reacts to any kind of incident of crime, let alone a sexual one, differently. The closest I've been to this kind of violation was a very disturbingly explicit and threatening obscene phone call -- which was damn scary, but I was later proud of the fact that I reacted not by holing up, but by inwardly getting good and pissed off and thinking "oh HELL no you're not getting away with this", and involving police and getting phone records and tracking down where the asshole got my number and confirming he wouldn't call me again. (I couldn't get the guy arrested, because he was calling from across ten state lines and he'd only called the once; but I've got my detective's number on speed-dial if he ever calls again.) I've chosen to believe this bodes well for my reacting similarly if I ever am unlucky enough to face a more severe violation. But at the same time, I also know it's equally possible I will NOT react this way -- there's no way of knowing how I will react until it happens to me.

Just like there is no way of knowing how ANY woman would react, because there is no one way TO react. One woman's reaction differing from another's isn't necessarily about her being exploited, or re-victimized, or in denial, or anything like that -- yes, sometimes it can be, but sometimes...it's not. The commenters above who said that they thought Rebombo's actions were "selfish" because he was "forcing her to confront him again", with the implication that he should have just avoided her permanently -- honestly, I would personally find that kind of overture healing, and the idea that a sincere apology from someone who had done me wrong would be harmful to ME sounds like jabberwocky. But -- that's me. Other women feel differently, and wouldn't ever want to see the guy again. And that's valid too.

In this particular instance, it sounds like the woman who survived Rebombo's attack is satisfied with the turn of events, so I am too. I'd still be curious to hear her perspective in her own words; thanks for the recap, shetterly, yet I note that we still only get what others say that she said, and I'd still be interested in her own words. But I also know I may never get it, and it sounds like everyone's good with how things resolved, so yay.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:43 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is something about publicizing it that makes the whole thing feel self-aggrandizing. I too wish we could hear her side of things but I certainly understand why that won't be happening. If I were here I would hesitate, too, and I don't have a husband at stake.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:29 PM on June 26, 2009


small_ruminant, I'm inclined to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, because he had to know that by speaking up, there would be people who would never forgive him. Silence was his safest choice.
posted by shetterly at 10:10 PM on June 26, 2009


It seems to me, that by making a media spectacle of his seeking forgiveness, he is not aggrandizing himself - if anything he is sullying his reputation; rather, he is calling attention to his work, which is about preventing exactly these sorts of incidents.
posted by idiopath at 2:16 AM on June 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Elsa, you're right, we differ because I do not think this is complex. I think it is inspiring, one of the purest examples of genuine atonement I've ever seen. It's also a warning that the cost of atonement can pretty much be your entire life. That's not really a very complex thing, but it's a hard thing for most people to accept.

I realize this morning that I was reacting more to the comments beneath the story than to comments here, but it is a fact that there is a streak of meanness running through modern culture which simply doesn't believe in forgiveness, and Rebombo's actions impress me even more because it seems he was aware of this when he decided to wear the scarlet R.
posted by localroger at 7:21 AM on June 27, 2009


No Future Without Forgiveness
posted by Roach at 9:20 AM on June 27, 2009


The Forgiveness Project (mind-blowing)
posted by Roach at 9:26 AM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Whatever the process or the outcome, Rebombo publicly admitted that he was a rapist and did the only positive thing he could. That took guts.
posted by futureisunwritten at 10:32 AM on June 27, 2009


I'm not sure I'm parsing this sentence correctly...you're saying that since a common reaction to violence is silence, but then you're saying that someone to do something UNCOMMON would NOT be newsworthy.

No, either you (as you say) aren't parsing that correctly or I wasn't clear. I'm saying: silence, which is a common response to sexual violence, is, y'know, silent. Invisible. It isn't visible to the media; it doesn't get reported.

To flesh that out a little:

A common response to sexual violence is complete or near-complete silence, and a survivor might maintain that silence long after the rape. (Obviously different people react differently, and silence is by no means a universal response.)

Since silence is such a common response, it seems to me entirely plausible that a (hypothetical) survivor of sexual assault, when asked to revisit the subject and face her rapist years later, might simply want the subject (and the rapist) to vanish from her doorstep. That silence or near-silence would be invisible in the media machine; we would never hear of it, at least not from the survivor.

I grant your premise that a (hypothetical) survivor of sexual assault might speak out, and speak out loudly; I'm just suggesting that the loud "fuck YOU" you describe might not be as likely as one would think.

Indeed, the rape survivor in question here is not speaking out; we have Dumisani Rebombo's own word that she wants it kept quiet, so her husband doesn't hear her story from an outside source.
posted by Elsa at 12:17 PM on June 27, 2009


Whatever the process or the outcome, Rebombo publicly admitted that he was a rapist and did the only positive thing he could. That took guts.

I concur.
posted by Elsa at 12:18 PM on June 27, 2009


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