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A bitter pill for the mentally disabled



There is a saying in Lesotho “Lihole li rata motabo hampe”. Loosely translated, the phrase means the disabled, especially the mentally disabled, love sex. This phrase has been used as a justification when men took advantage of mentally disabled women and girls by having sex with them. In fact the correct term here is rape because sex denotes an element of consent that is not present in such circumstances. On Tuesday February 7, 2022 we woke up to reports that a mentally disabled girl, name withheld, had been raped and murdered in the district of Qacha’s Nek. The woman B*** achieved minor celebrity status on a slightly viral clip where she can be heard saying “o ntlele le biscus B, ke batla e meruni”- Bring me back lipstick B, I want a maroon one. The clip while it raises questions on the ethics of filming someone especially one with limited capacity to consent and then using it on the internet showed a seemingly happy and carefree girl and earned her a bit of adoration on local social media. That is why it came as such a harrowing shock when we learned that someone or perhaps a group of someone’s decided to rape and kill her. If we were to be honest with ourselves though, the only shocking part of what happened to her is the murder. In our individual villages we all know a mentally challenged woman or girl who keeps falling pregnant with children that look like some of the men in the village. In my own capacity I knew of one such girl. When the problem became too much for the village women to bear (Meaning they started to see the faces of their husband’s reflected in the faces of the children she was bearing and when she would name names) they took her to a nearby donga and assaulted her. To beat the sluttiness and harlotry out of her no doubt. No one ever stopped to question the men in question. Grown men were apparently being seduced by the feminine wiles of this mentally challenged girl. This was years ago and then I also saw nothing wrong with that narrative. Lesotho currently stands at number 3 on the list of the top ten countries with the highest rape rates in the world. 82.68 % of women in Lesotho will experience some form of rape in their lifetime and that is just the ones who report it and those whose reporting of it is taken as viable by the authorities. Worldwide women with intellectual and mental challenges are seven times more likely to experience rape. While generally reluctant the police are to take rape victims seriously that reluctance more than doubles when the victim in charge is mentally disabled. Add to that the fact that these women and girls are often unable to properly articulate what exactly happened to them, they become the perfect prey for rapists. Even if a mentally disabled woman came forward to report instances of rape the odds are the society is more likely to blame and punish her than the perpetrator. Statistics show that the mentally disabled are more likely to be raped by someone they know, a family member or care giver. We have created a society where the rape of the mentally disabled thrives. One might even go as far as saying we have encouraged it. Today we are shocked to learn that people went as far as murdering B. It makes us uncomfortable, as it should because thankfully we still draw the line at murdering the mentally challenged but we as a society have never had a problem with their rape. We have turned a blind eye, we have slut shamed them and have in our own way contributed towards the practice. So no lihole ha li rate thobalano, we as a society are simply using this phrase rather than face the uncomfortable reality that our spouses, our brothers and our sons are forever raping and sexually assaulting the mentally disabled. They will bury B in Qacha’s Nek over the coming days and we will go back to our daily routine. We will soon forget about her like we forget about the hundreds of disabled women whose abuse we are seeing in real time because we do not take it to be our problem and as a society we generally view the mentally disabled as a cumbersome burden whose bodies belong to all and sundry. In a different country, under different circumstances I would end this piece by saying I hope that justice will be served, but who am I kidding?

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