The Telegram Leaks

I only learned about the Telegram messages yesterday night. A thousand-plus Mauritian men on a Telegram chat group, showing, selling, buying naked pictures of women – their partners, wives, exes, sisters, daughters, little girls, little boys. Sharing contact details of these women and girls, where they work, live, study. They also share the profiles of random women, ask if other users have their naked pictures, or – failing that – if they can collate these women’s faces to naked bodies using deepfake technology.

I looked up what was happening on the news, and saw to my immense disgust that the male perpetrators were almost an afterthought in the on-going coverage of the leaks. The focus of one video by a reputed media outlet, for instance, was on underage girls selling their pictures (‘what were their parents doing?’); this issue was even conflated with consenting adult women who sell their photos online (adult sex work is of course absolutely fine, but not to this outlet).  

I was reminded of this fantastic piece by Anne Enright:

Men do not just disappear in court, they disappear from the discussion, they disappear from the lang­uage we use. Rape is described as “a women’s issue”. We speak of “women’s safety concerns”, not “con­cerns about men’s violence”. We call it “an abusive relation­ship” as though the relationship were doing the abus­ing, or an “abusive home” as though the walls were insulting the occupants for fun. The notor­ious line “she was asking for it” is not so differ­ent to “a woman was raped”; both take the rapist out of the sentence. 

Male agency is routinely removed from descriptions of male violence, and this helps men get away with it.

So far only one prominent politician has publicly condemned the men on the Telegram group and voiced their support for the victims – Joanna Berenger. All the power to her. For the rest, it seems like this is very much a non-issue, to be relegated to social media and the scandalous pages of the news. 

Toxic masculinity in this country is near-absolute. It is mundane. It is routine. It is banal. 

A man’s image will not be marred if it is known that he beats his wife and calls women whores in public – just look at our former Prime Minister. Not even paedophilia can fire a man from his job: take the case of the editor-in-chief of Mauritius’ biggest paper, who was accused of incest and paedophilia three years ago and who still hasn’t been sacked. Bien au contraire. 

Platforms are routinely given to the astoundingly ignorant. A ludicrously sexist column in a newspaper drove me to write about Mauritius’ entrenched misogyny in an essay for the LA Review of Books in 2019. I remember the aftermath of the piece: so many thoroughly racist, misogynistic men inundated my timeline, angry at me for calling them the ‘alt-right’ (they thought they were somehow ‘intellectual’). My photo ended up on a Neo-Nazi website. Nazis analysed the shape of my nose, wondered if I was a ‘Jewess’. 

I reread my essay before I wrote this, wondering if anything had changed for the better here. Almost nothing has, except for the fact that, happily, the discourse around feminism in Mauritius is becoming mainstream thanks to platforms like #MeTooMauritius and feminist influencers like Coralie MK. 

I thought about my ex-friend, the one who became so engrossed with Jordan Peterson and a number of alt-right ‘celebrities’, who found passing internet fame with his ‘ironic’ vitriol. I wondered again about some women I know who stayed friends with him, shared his posts sometimes. Did they think that they were somehow excluded from his misogyny because of their friendship? Or did they think it wasn’t that much of a problem? Where would they draw the line?

As I type I’m looking at some of the reactions to the Telegram Leaks. There are excellent Mauritian influencers and personalities who are using their platforms to teach their audience about consent, on the legal options available to victims and so forth. There are also many women who think that some of the victims deserved to have their photos shared, because they were ‘shaking their asses’ (as per one commenter) on social media anyway. They echo some of the men who – publicly on Facebook! after they’d been outed! with *no shame whatsoever*! – that the victims were in heat, that they deserved it. No arrests have been made so far. This just goes to show the magnitude of the work we have laid out in front of us. 

Sabrina and I are compiling a list of gender-based crimes in Mauritius – femicide, rape, abuse, violence reported in the news. There have been approximately 30 crimes against women reported in the newspapers in the country from Jan 1- February 28. 30 reported crimes in 58 days. One crime almost every other day. Now imagine what happens in private, what isn’t reported. Here – and it seems, like everywhere in the world at the moment – the police will harm more than help.

Stay safe. Solidarity.