Risk and Reputation

Esther A. Armah

Accuse a powerful man of rape in Ghana and what happens?

You are playing with fire. You risk destroying the reputation of that man. You are a liar. You are pushing an agenda. You are an ‘ashawo’, a prostitute who is angry because a powerful man didn’t give you money. You are guilty, not them. You are destroying a man’s marriage. What about his family – look what you are doing to them! Why didn’t you speak at the time? All this time has passed. Why now?  You should keep silent.

This is what Kuukuwa Andam is facing. The Canada based Ghanaian lawyer and teacher has accused two powerful Ghanaian men of rape via Facebook post. She named them, detailed the alleged rape incidents and is pursuing justice in a Washington DC court against one of the men.

The two men accused are Ghana’s Bar Association President, Tony Forson and Former Acting Deputy Director of Legal Aid Ghana, Selasi Kofi Fumey.

The Facebook posts were widely shared and have gone viral. They have ignited headlines, and a social media frenzy.

Selasi Fumey has, so far, stayed silent. Tony Forson says he didn’t do it. In a statement he released via his lawyer he says:-

“Mr. Forson sincerely and emphatically denies that he has committed any such offence. He maintains that the allegations are palpably false and in due course he will be vindicated.”

With a potentially pending case, there will be a legal reckoning in the case of Mr. Forson. Ms. Andam explains that she is not in Ghana and therefore cannot make a DOVVSU complaint against Mr. Fumey.

As the legal wheels grind and take their course, this becomes a moment to pause, reflect and explore a number of crucial issues.

The court of public opinion does not play by the rules of those courts where lawyers make arguments, present evidence and a verdict is reached after careful deliberation weighing evidence and testimony. The court of public opinion throws out perspective, opinion and accusation as if it were evidence. It dismisses survivors as liars and defends alleged perpetrators as reputable men whose reputation is being unfairly tarnished.

Social media allows survivors to own and control their voice, choose their words and walk in their own power. It also serves as a support space; one that creates community, advocacy and, when organized, can initiate action. It also equips those who sit on thrones in the court of public opinion playing judge and executioner towards those survivors.

In sexual violence accusations here in Ghana, we practice what I call ‘Emotional Patriarchy’. That is when we centre, privilege and prioritize the feelings, needs, hurts, pain and sadness of a man over everyone else. It is when we act to defend and protect a man despite what he may have done or been accused of doing; and despite the impact of his actions. This is part of a structure that protects powerful, predatory men and reduces victims of violence who choose to break their silence into future-wreckers and not sexual violence survivors facing the winds of anger and accusation to speak their truth.

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In an Emotional Patriarchy we weaponize emotions and deploy them to protect that accused man.

We will use guilt, shame and judgment to require a survivor to maintain their silence, even as the men they accuse continue their lives untroubled, untouched and unaware of the damage they have caused in another’s life. We will risk the life of a survivor to protect the reputation of a powerful predator.  We will pressure a survivor to stay silent, We will remind a sexual violence survivor of what that powerful man and alleged rapist has built, how his work his served and saved, the importance of his role in an organization or an institution. And we will lament what is lost if he faces any action that threatens him.

We will not do this same roll call of lament when it comes to survivors of sexual violence. We do not ask what they have lost, how they have been changed, what damage has been done, what devastation this action has caused. We will not suggest that our future is blighted if she is not believed or taken seriously.

This approach has far reaching consequences.

It teaches lessons to boys about power and masculinity – what it means to become men, to be a man and what it costs if you wield your power in ways that are sexually predatory. The cost to such men? Nothing.  Not a pesewa or a cedi. They  learn that power is theirs, to be wielded like a weapon.

It teaches lessons to girls. They learn that their bodies and their futures are not as important, not as precious and not worth fighting for if that body is up against a powerful man. It teaches girls that truth about a sexual violence allegation is not about what happened, it is about the kind of girl or woman you are, how you behaved, what you did or did not do. We teach girls and women that the toll on or damage and devastation to their body, mind and spirit is not a matter that should threaten the future, wealth and reputation of a powerful, predatory man.

In this context, who is the real risk taker? And whose reputation is really at stake?

Emotional Patriarchy is not unique to Ghana or Ghanaians. Patriarchy is a global beast; emotional patriarchy is no different.  It is part of society that teaches girls and boys about value, worth, power and possibility and different these things are according to your gender.

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Not all men rape, not all men abuse their power, but all men can become bystanders, complicit in a culture of silence and silencing, risking nothing by staying silent and in so doing protecting the reputation of powerful, predatory men. Not all girls are survivors of sexual violence, but the numbers tell us far too many are – and continue to be.

Right now, there is a global, growing #MeToo movement that involves sexual violence survivors breaking their silence, sharing their stories and speaking truth to power.

That movement is teaching us specifics about this issue of sexual violence and powerful, predatory men. Accused men rarely have a single victim. They abuse over many years. We learned about the wealthy and powerful movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein who abused for more than 20 years.  We heard about Bill Cosby, the popular tv star and creator of The Cosby Show, philanthropist, educationalist who abused women over four decades. We now know about Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly and Fox TV former owner, Roger Aisles – both accused by multiple women of sexual violence, harassment and predatory behavior.

There are those who protect and enable them – women and men – despite knowing what they are doing.  There are those who speak up and are silenced or ridiculed.

In the US right now, singer, songwriter and producer R. Kelly is the subject of a documentary series ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ which chronicles 25 years of sexual abuse allegations by young, Black women.

There is a reckoning and a rumbling across communities, societies and nations. It is one where slowly and surely, powerful, predatory men are facing the weight of their alleged actions as a growing number of women are becoming silence breakers.

A girl in school and a woman in a work place risks her future and her reputation when she breaks her silence to name a powerful man and his alleged sexually predatory behavior and defend her body. She faces a fight that involves family, society, strangers, leaders and more.

She shouldn’t have to.

We all have a role to play in such a moment. Each of us must ask: what will I do? Where do I stand in this moment?

I stand with Kuukuwa Andam. I stand with the young women student survivors of sexual violence by predatory teachers in Ghana’s schools who find the courage to break their silence and  defend their right to sexual violence free education. I stand with women and men fighting to transform a structure that privileges powerful, predatory men and punishes sexual violence survivors who choose to become silence breakers.

Where do you stand? What are you fighting for?

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