African Lads Behaving Bad
If you are an African male (especially South African) then my next question might seem a bit redundant. If you are not an African, then you might think my next question is a bit odd. My question is — are you a participant of a chat group involving a group of males in which the sole purpose is to share funny/rude memes, videos and photos? Most African males are laughing right now, thinking ‘Of course I am, I’m in about eight of them. Why?’ And my non-African readers are scratching their head with confusion and saying different variants of, “ Um, no, I’m not a teenager anymore’.
Belonging to numerous group chats in which African males send “funny” content (sometimes sexual and degrading to women) to a handful of other selected males, seems to be a natural occurrence and one that most have never questioned— I didn’t. I just assumed all men around the world did this. But to the rest of the world, this is actually a very odd and juvenile practise. So why do African men (single or married) believe it is normal to send sexual images of women, without their consent, to their male peers? And what does the law have to say about this.
The problem stems back to very different family dynamics and parenting styles in Africa. It wasn’t until I moved to New Zealand from Durban when I was 19, that I realised how I was raised and my threshold for what I thought was degrading to women, were different to the majority of the rest of the world. Like most South African kids, I was born into a family with an extra family member called domestic violence. I say this so casually that most people would be shocked, but violence towards women is as common as the common cold in most African countries, and South Africa is no exception. I did not have the typical western culture experience with my family and continually saw my dad degrade, belittle, disrespect and speak down to my mum. I always vowed never to be like him — to treat my wife and all women with respect.
I was very proud of myself when I came to the realisation that I was different to my dad and I made an effort to love and respect my wife. I was relieved to realise I did not turn into my dad. Life was good.
That is, until one day when I added a Kiwi man (a New Zealander) from work to one of my men’s group chats. He loved a good joke and the odd Trump meme, so I thought he would enjoy our little WhatsApp chat group that was made up of six of my friends from SA. But, after two weeks I realised he had left the group. I was curious (and a bit annoyed) as to why he left, so I asked him. He simply said, ‘Nah, not my thing. But thanks.’ I thought that was rather odd but put it down to him being a religious man and probably against his religious beliefs.
A year later I added my soccer captain (a funny guy from Ireland) to another group and again after three days, he left. I asked him why? He simply said that he didn’t have time for ‘that shit’ and we barely spoke again. What was going on? I never had problems adding men to our chat groups in SA, why were men in NZ having issues with it? Was it a cultural or religious thing? We didn’t post anything that was pornographic, degrading to women or illegal, so what was the problem????
I had a Singaporean friend, who was a high-ranking detective and whom I referred to as ‘my oracle’. He had lived on every continent in the world (11 different countries) due to his Dad being a diplomatic ambassador. I’d never met a more down to earth, intelligent and articulate man so I decided to invite him out for a drink for the sole purpose of asking him about my little group chat problem.
I explained what had happened to which he started laughing uncontrollably. In his true Yoda style, he asked me why I thought both men had a problem with the groups. I thought about it for half a second and rattled off reasons like religion, their wives getting angry at them for joining, and even low storage space on their devices. I amused my poor Singaporean friend to no end.
He asked me what kind of images were being sent in this group? I replied nothing bad or pornographic, just memes and funny videos of people hurting themselves, memes of newsworthy things, memes of women with sexual comments. He asked me to show him an example of the memes containing women that I referred to. I quickly added, that they were not porn, or anything like that, maybe you might see some breasts here or there but nothing bad or illegal. (I didn’t want him to think I was a pervert now.)
I fished out my phone from my pocket and opened the first WhatsApp group on my alert screen. I showed him the last three photos. One was of a woman spitting out what looked to be semen with the text, “Scientists have found intelligent DNA in some women, however most spit it out.” The next one was of a credit card and a measuring tape with the text, “Proof it only takes 3 ¼ of an inch to please a woman.” And the last one was a photo of a semi-naked girl crying with the text ‘Women can argue and cry for three hours straight but complain after one minute of giving a blow job that their jaw hurts.” I was too busy laughing to see his reaction, but once I looked up I realised I was about to get a serving.
He asked me what was my definition of porn? Porn? I replied that I hadn’t really thought about it as I wasn’t interested in it, but I guess naked women having sex or oral sex with men, or women, or animals, or all three. “We don’t share that kind of shit, I’m not a pervert.” I added. He told me that two of the three photos I just showed him were pornographic and degrading to women and the third was just plain degrading to women. I was shocked. How were they porn? How were they degrading? The women weren’t being tied up and hurt? And besides some side boob, there was no genitalia.
He said that a pornographic photo is any photo that is sexual in nature or depicts an element of sex being vaginal, oral or anal sex. He added that if this was the content that we were sharing, then it was no wonder my friends left the group. And also added that he was shocked my SA friends and I hadn’t been flagged by WhatsApp for sharing pornographic images and had our accounts and mobile numbers banned from the service permanently. (And I found out later that if this happens to your account now, a message is sent to all of your contacts saying that you account has been permanently banned due to the user sharing inappropriate content. One message I would be mortified for my family and friends to receive).
He started to get a little annoyed at me, which was unusual for him, and he asked me what was I taught in school about females and having respectful relationships with females. I laughed at him and said nothing, we learnt maths and Science. We didn’t even have sex education. Why? He paused and said, “So if you didn’t learn how to respect women in school, did your dad teach you explicitly and model how to respect women?” I stopped and laughed again, even if a bit nervously this time, and told him that my dad definitely did not teach me to respect women. I learnt how to respect and care for women on my own. He took one last sip of his beer and asked me if I really think that sharing, commenting and laughing at images of women like that, is showing women respect and care towards them and towards my wife? Before I could answer, he picked up his jacket and walked out. I was stunned.
And then I was mad. How dare he imply I disrespected and demeaned women and my wife just because I laugh at, or send the occasional funny photo like the three in question. I had prided myself on breaking free from the stereotype of being a ‘typical South African male’, and being a respectful, woman-loving, caring Saffa. I couldn’t sleep that night and decided that I was going to call my Oracle the next day and give him a spraying for implying I was a pervert and a sexual predator. I played out the conversation in my head more than twenty times before finally falling asleep.
In the morning, I decided to ask my wife what she thought of the three images. After all, she had a healthy sense of humour and I wanted reassurance that I was the good guy, I thought I was. I showed her the three images and boy was I wrong! She said she had no idea I belonged to these types of group chats and that when these constant messages came through she thought they were work messages. I could see the anger and shock in her eyes. She said that she couldn’t’ believe that she sacrificed her time with me when we were watching a movie, or on a date, so I could read these ‘work messages’ when they were just disgusting, misogynist memes. (Yes, I am embarrassed to say that I had to google the word misogynist as I didn’t even know what it meant. A big thank you to the South African schooling system.) I saw a side to her that I had never seen before. Rage and sadness directed solely at me. She said that I had betrayed her trust and she never thought I would be the type of man who accepted this disgust.
She told me to leave for awhile so she could cool down and think about everything. I thought it was time I called my Singaporean Oracle to try and smooth things over; and to find out what on earth was going on. Was it me or had the whole of NZ gone bonkers? Luckily, my Oracle agreed to meet for coffee and we had a conversation that would forever change my life and the way I viewed these chat groups.
I asked him straight if there was something wrong with me because I didn’t realise I was doing anything wrong? He told me that there was nothing “wrong with me”, just that I had missed out on a very important part of my life education by not being taught respectful relationship skills in school (like most countries teach now) and not having a dad who demonstrated respect towards women. He said that boys who grow up in most first-world countries attend schools who teach them how to have respectful relationships with girls and women from the time they start school. They teach them the right thing to do when it comes to the internet and what behaviours are acceptable and which ones are not. Even if they don’t have fathers who model how to respect women, they learn it in school. And sending images of women with sexual comments is definitely an anti-social and unhealthy type of behaviour.
I was still confused as to why he thought my SA friends and I didn’t respect women. He said that by sharing and laughing at images like the ones I showed him, I was perpetuating the myth prevalent in most African countries that women are not as valuable as men and have the role as serving men. Whether that be to cook for them, please them sexually or be the centre of a joke so we can laugh at their expense— it doesn’t matter. By laughing at, and sharing these images, we were not seeing these women as people. As mums, doctors, teachers, vets, but as virtual trading cards to be collected and shared amongst our friends for virtual pats on the back and misguided laughs.
He asked me if I would join a WhatsApp group that shared degrading and deeming jokes about people from Asian cultures (as my wife is originally from Japan). Jokes about Asian people being dumb, being gold diggers, deserving to be tied up and gagged, defecated on or covered in semen, their bodies shamed….. simply because they were Asian? I replied, Absolutely not! “So, why do you disrespect your wife, your mother, your sister, your boss, every female who has ever walked this planet by taking part in groups that do exactly what I just listed, but to women. Do they ever send degrading and demeaning jokes about men for simply being men? Of course not. These posts are all about bullying and shaming women only. Would you go to your weekly soccer training and hand out print-outs of these jokes to the boys there? No you wouldn’t because you would probably be punched, and rightfully so, so it should not be done digitally.
These groups are popular in African and Middle Eastern countries because it is still culturally accepted there, even expected. These groups are a dark and seedy, secret underground in which men “bond” and feel validation when someone ‘laughs’ or gives them a ‘thumbs up’ for posting a “funny” image. My Oracle told me that the images I showed him containing women with sexualised captions were normally images stolen from the woman’s private Facebook or Instagram pages. Stolen via a quick screenshot and a degrading text added by the man who thought it was acceptable to flick through a female’s photo album looking for any photo they can turn sexual with a caption.
He said that the meme with the woman spitting out semen was actually “stolen” from a doctor’s private Facebook page when she was in med school. She was trying a new formula for coeliac medication when she spat it out due to its disgusting taste. Someone innocently captured the moment and posted it to her Facebook wall and they had a laugh. Unfortunately, someone else took a screen shot of the innocent image and added the sexual and degrading text. It made its way to group chats like mine and has apparently circulated around most of the world. The poor doctor was horrified when she found out about it when her boss was sent the image by a patient. These are not lifeless, faceless women. They are girls next door, our doctors, our vets and they don’t deserve to be laughed at and sexualised. Next time you see an image of a female that has a sexual caption added, picture the image WITHOUT the text. That is the innocent image that she placed on social media to share with her friends, before it was sexualised with rude text by someone stalking her site.
Most of the images are either stolen from social media or make their way to chat groups via ex partners wanting revenge. This is called revenge porn. I never thought that the photos with the captions were stolen from women or posted against their will. I always just thought that were happy participants in the jokes. In most of them they were smiling and happy, so I didn’t think much of it, but now my eyes are open to what is going on. When I think about it, who would want their photo stolen from social media and sexualised text added to demean them and their gender? No one would want that.
Detectives are taught in their training that there is a strong link between men who can’t identify that these images are degrading and disrespectful towards women, and men who commit domestic violence, rape and murder against women. That’s not to say that all men who laugh at degrading content of women will go on to rape and murder women, but all men who do rape and murder women find humour, not disgust, in content like this. Finding content like this funny demonstrates a deep-down disrespect towards women and is a huge red flag for police officers.
He went on to tell me that in New Zealand one woman is murdered by a man every week. I was shocked and confused because he said that Kiwis didn’t normally participate in these kinds of groups. He added that although this figure is shocking, in South Africa, a woman is murdered every three hours and a female is raped once every seventeen seconds. Female murders and rapes are a huge cultural problem in South Africa and at least six times higher than the global average. South Africa is in the top five countries for murders committed against females, higher than Afghanistan, Iran and all other worn-torn countries. Female murders in South Africa are grossly underreported as female lives are seen as less important as male lives, so the statistics in reality are a lot worse. If it was just our violent past that caused our high murder rates, why is the male murder rate a lot higher? Because women not only live in a country with a very violent past and culture, but with a culture that sees them as less than human and objects to be laughed at, perved at and disposed of when not needed anymore.
I nearly fell off my chair. I made the mistake of saying that surely these statistics were probably from the townships. He said that only about 65% of the rapes and murders of women happen in townships and the rest happen in the predominately Afrikaans and English areas. That means that approximately every 30 seconds a woman is raped and/or murdered in your typical ‘white’ South African neighbourhood. How did things get so bad and why did it take me 30 years to see what I was part of?
This conversation started me on a journey of self-discovery and one that quickly led to me leaving the groups that were sharing degrading photos of women. I still belong to one group with Kiwi friends who just send innocent memes about Trump supporters and Anti-vaxers, but the minute anyone sends an inappropriate photo, I will leave. That is the least I can do to try and stop the cycle of South African men spreading the hidden values that men are superior to women and can treat them however they please. Now that I look back, I am disgusted in myself and the men who shared these images. They were married men, men who promised to cherish, respect and honour their wives and then secretly viewed and laughed at these demeaning photos of other women. Just because a woman isn’t nude, doesn’t mean the photo isn’t sexual. I now see the men still in these groups like internet predators lurking in the dark of their work stalls, their cars or their toilets.
The Law Steps in
I don’t believe in guardian angels, but something was looking out for me that year. A few months after I left the groups two things happened. When I tried to message my friend, I received a message from WhatsApp to say that his account and phone number was permanently banned from WhatsApp due to “the user sending inappropriate content”. I wondered how they finally caught up with the groups, but I didn’t have to wait long to find out.
The second thing that happened was a lot more serious. One of my other Saffa friends from a group chat, flew to the UK when he was stopped upon arrival for a routine security check, which believe it or not, included a search of his phone. (This is legal in most western countries, and a common practice.) UK Border Security agents found images on his phone from one of the chat groups I once belonged to, that were deemed as being ‘child pornography’. I remember seeing one of the images a few months back but, in my stupidity, and ignorance, didn’t even realise that it could be deemed as child pornography. It was of a female who looked like a teenager (but I thought she was actually 18 or 19) who only had the top part of her breasts showing and the caption “All I want for my 18th birthday is for Daddy to rub Vicks on my chest.”
He was charged with using a phone carrier service to disseminate child pornography (by sending them to the five remaining members of the group). Apparently, in most countries outside of Africa, you need to prove that you knew that the female in the picture was 18 or over, it is not up to the police prosecutors to prove that the female in the image is under 18. He was also charged with ‘intimate image abuse’ which I didn’t even know was a thing. We are living under a rock in South Africa. According to most Western laws, if you do not have permission from the women in the photos to send their image to your friend, you are committing a federal offence. So next time you see a funny image of a female with a sexual comment, ask yourself — Did the sender have her permission to send that to me? Was it a completely innocent photo, stolen from her social media page and text added? What if that was my doctor or vet or niece, and this happened to them, would I laugh? Note: You can also be charged with viewing child pornography or participating in intimate partner abuse just by being in one of these message groups, whether you looked at the image or not.
My friend has been detained in the UK awaiting trial. What turned out to be a two-week trip with his wife and kids has turned into a trip from hell. His wife made the choice to separate from him and an injunction stopping him from seeing his children has been put in place. They have returned to South Africa while he is stuck in the UK. If found guilty, he could face up to 10 years in prison and be placed on the international sex-offender list where his physical and digital movements will be carefully monitored for the rest of his life. Even if he isn’t found guilty, his life is ruined.
So what happened to the remaining five men in the group chat? Well that depended solely on which country they lived in. One man who lives in Canada has been charged with being in the possession of child pornography and faces ten year in jail if found guilty. In the interim he has been placed on the international sex-offender watch list and has had his “Working with Children” permission cancelled for life. This means he is now unable to run his family business of teaching soccer at local child care centres. He is also unable to coach his son’s soccer team or even watch him play soccer. One man who lives in Northern Ireland has been charged with using a telecommunication service to harass (by forwarding photos of women without their permission) and also has had his Working with Children access cancelled. He faces 18 months in jail. One man who lives in Australia has had his Blue Card: Working with Children card cancelled for life and is facing the charge of ‘distributing intimate images without consent’. He has been spared the charge of participating in the dissemination of child abuse material because of a technicality. His guardian angel was looking out for him too. He went on a camping trip for two weeks after the image was sent to the WhatsApp group and he hadn’t opened the message thread, meaning he hadn’t technically viewed it, even though it was stored on his device. Although, his life, his career and possibly his marriage are all over due to this incident.
And the two members who remained in South Africa… I am disgusted and embarrassed to report that they received no penalty at all from South African police. Not even a knock at the door and a slap on the wrist. While their three counterparts are all facing jail time and being placed on the international sex-offender lists, South Africa has no laws or interest in changing this kind of perverted and misogynistic behaviour in men.
Detective Forgeonie from the Australia Federal Police states that more men are getting caught up in cyber crimes like this one every day. Pleading ignorance because they come from a country where these laws don’t exist, is no excuse. Men have also been charged with digital child abuse crimes for sending sexual images of cartoons, such as The Simpsons, or taking a screen shot of teenage girls fully clothed, but in sexual positions. The courts do not look lightly on digital child abuse charges.
While their friends in other parts of the world are facing significant jail time, my two South African friends are free to continue their life like nothing has happened. South Africa has no laws in which to charge these men. We are decades behind other countries with raising our boys to respect women and most men have no understanding that porn, or sexualised images of women, play a huge part in domestic violence and day to day disrespect of women.
As we become global citizens, Facebook at least, is doing something. It is implementing measures to stop users having their profile images stolen. Most accounts can now turn on a setting in which their profile images or featured photos cannot be downloaded and a notification is logged in their “Account information” if another user screenshots their image. (In settings go to “Turn on Profile Picture Guard.” to turn this function on.) And did you know that Facebook keeps a log of every time someone downloads or screenshots another user’s photo?
It’s time for male Africans to wake up and see that the rest of the world views us a certain way, for a good reason. It is also time for every single South African male to stand up and say no more to these archaic, degrading chat groups that separate us from the rest of the world. For the Saffas who have left South Africa for a better life, you are probably starting to see that the rest of the world values and respects women more than what we saw in South Africa. Check out the #NotAllMen movement on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for other men who want a better future for their daughters, nieces and every little girl out there. Because they are worth it and deserve a different world to the one we grew up in.