#SpeakOut this 16 Days of Activism to End Violence against Women

Rape is prevalent in the Western Cape and in South Africa but it is also under reported because communities have no faith in a system that lacks the capacity to address their needs and allows rapists to go unpunished.  The resulting culture of impunity drives the number of rape incidents upwards which means that women’s right to live free from violence is compromised.

Rape leads to high levels of psychological trauma and when this goes untreated the social fabric, in other words the bonds between people in a community, which determine how well the community can function, is eroded. The trauma of rape can have physical, psychological and behavioural effects on the rape survivor including injury, pregnancy, HIV or other sexual transmitted infections, shock, depression, nightmares, thoughts of suicide, isolation from other people and feelings of anger, extreme anxiety and shame. Sometimes survivors turn to substance abuse as a way of supressing these feelings and many of these symptoms can impair a survivor’s ability to maintain healthy relationships and function in a community or a work environment.


Causal factors that drive our high rape rates are many and varied, and the fact that many poor social conditions are not adequately addressed by the state leads communities to suffer and to believe that nothing will change. This ongoing sense of helplessness and powerlessness feeds violence and sexual violence in particular, leaving women feeling unsafe in their communities, their schools, the work places and their homes.


At Rape Crisis it is our mission to promote an end to violence against women, specifically rape, and to assist women to achieve their right to live free from violence by reducing the trauma experienced by rape survivors, encouraging reporting of rape incidents and facilitating the active engagement of communities in challenging high rape rates and flaws in the criminal justice system. We believe that everyone can take action to promote safety in their communities by challenging the high rates of rape in South Africa.

Womens Day March-24

The 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women is an international campaign that highlights the impact of violence on our communities and calls on women and men to speak out.

This year, our volunteers will go door-to-door in the Athlone community, accompanied by the Athlone South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Athlone Community Policing Forum (CPF), to ask community members what they think about rape in the community and how rape affects their daily lives. Volunteers will hand out important information about rape in South Africa and what to do immediately after rape if you are or if you know a victim.


Everyone that participates will be invited to share their ideas and opinions at a Community Dialogue on 10 December. Rape Crisis will present the results of the community survey and have a discussion with community members about the problem of rape. In this way we hope to support the Athlone community in challenging rape and finding ways of promoting greater safety for women.


We encourage you to donate to the #SpeakOut campaign in support of a film about how we can all challenge rape in our communities and promote safety for all women in South Africa. Speaking out as a survivor is a powerful way of supporting survivors and challenging rapists.  Our film will spread the message that everyone can be a change maker and that if we all work together we can challenge the attitudes that promote rape culture and create a new culture where women can live free from violence.

GivenGain pic2

Take part in discussing the issue of gender violence with @RapeCrisis on Twitter using the hashtag #SpeakOut.


From Cape Town to Washington DC, the resemblance is striking

South Africa suffers great violence, particularly sexual violence – as do most major cities in the U.S., including Washington, DC where I live. In 2006, South Africa had 40.4 murders per 100,000 people. That same year DC had 29.7 murders per 100,000 and Birmingham, Alabama had 44.5. The parallels in statistics extend far beyond crime. A 2012 report found that in DC, HIV/AIDS had a 3.2% prevalence in the population. According to the report, if Washington DC were an African nation, it would rank 23rd out of 54 countries in percentage of people with HIV/AIDS. The list goes on and on. Issues of education, gentrification, mental illness, drugs, class, and race show little statistically significant differences between regions. On paper it’s hard to tell which is a city in a ‘developed’ country and in a ‘developing’ country. Maybe that’s not the important distinction.

Having lived in Cape Town for six months, I saw people striving for change in ways I haven’t seen in Washington. Point-by-point, when looking at what is being done to address issues such as sexual violence or HIV/AIDS, I found that the residents of Cape Town are taking action.

This social action is epitomized by the work I witnessed at the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. During my time as a Rape Crisis intern, the program nearest to my heart was The Birds and Bees. The program educated peer educators to challenge the negative social norms that drive rape among youth, and support survivors in their schools. They train both boys and girls aged 13-18 from high schools in low income neighborhoods how to be role models to their fellow peers and youth of the community through a series of seminars covering a wide range of topics such as relationships, sex, sexuality, HIV, rape, and gender equality. I witnessed first hand how amazing and effective this rape prevention model is. To have a fourteen year old boy say “Rape Crisis changed me a lot. […] I can tell another person about how to treat a woman” is both uplifting and groundbreaking.


What makes this program so effective is the open and participatory style of discussion that allows students to feel comfortable asking anything. The format makes it so that every student, whether girl or boy, is more confident, knowledgeable, and committed to making change in their community as an ally of Rape Crisis and as an advocate for the citizens of their country. The work that I witnessed oceans away inspired me to seek something like this at home in Washington. I wanted to be a part of something that empowered the youth of the city who are most vulnerable to its harsh realities – and I found it!

Peer Health Exchange (PHE) is an organization that trains college students to go into inner city 9th grade classrooms and teach sexual education and drug and alcohol awareness. The ‘near-peer’ model is similar to Rape Crisis’s peer model. Recently, the organization modified its curriculum in ways that draws it even closer to the Rape Crisis’s model. Just a year ago, the program was lecture style, like most high school sex-ed – simply facts presented in an hour and the hope that it sticks with a fourteen year old for the rest of their life. PHE’s new model uses activities, interaction, and discussion between teacher and student. Through the near-peer model, the goal is not to tell students what they should and should not do, but rather supply facts and teach an effective decision making process that allows students to make their own decisions that are right for them. Teaching began in October, and I  believe the new model will be a more effective means of addressing issues that affect Washington youth. Cape Town and Washington might be distant, but they are not unlike each other. They are united by their weaknesses but also by the strength of their citizens, determined to make their homes better for the future.


Shakti Naidoo

Shakti has worked in peer education youth programs in Cape Town, with the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, and in Washington, DC, with Peer Health Exchange and has a passion for gender rights and health issues. 

How much does government really do for victims of gender based violence?

I guess one way of finding out is to ask who pays. I’m afraid ‘follow the money’ is a bit of a mantra for me. Don’t tell me how much you care – tell me what you do. Or how much you spend.

If I said to you that government covers two percent of the cost of gender based violence in South Africa, you’d be startled right? 16 Days of Activism, the National Council on Gender Based Violence, a 24-hour Command Centre dedicated to provide support and counselling to victims of gender based violence…surely that adds up to a lot more than two percent?

Zimbini - a rape survivor

Actually not. The cost of gender based violence in South Africa amounts to over R 28 billion, and represents 0.9 percent of the country’s GDP for 2012. Victims carry 90 percent of that cost. So what does the government’s two percent do? What are the big ticket items?

Not specialised Sexual Offences Courts. We know they are one of the best hopes of getting cases to court and getting convictions. When they work well with their surrounding communities and collaborate with a local NGO like the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust to offer related psychosocial care they are one of the best ways of reducing secondary trauma to victims. In the Ministerial Advisory Task Team on the adjudication of Sexual Offences (MATTSO), the Task Team reported that only 15 Sexual Offences Courts are functional.  There are supposed to be at least 276.

The roll out of 57 new courts are planned across the country. [1] The cost per court is R3.8 million per court, per year. There is R22 million budgeted for the first 22 courts. That’s enough for 6 courts, not 22 courts. Show me the money, people. Talk is cheap.

Alison Tilley

Alison Tilley is an attorney, and the head of advocacy at the Open Democracy Advice Centre, which is a law centre based in South Africa, specialising in access to information and whistleblowing law. The Centre works on these transparency issues across Africa.www.opendemocracy.org.za

[1] The cost of Justice in South Africa: Tracking Expenditure on Gender based violence in the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development Joy Watson February 2014 Parliament of the Republic of South Africa. Pg 7

Shrien Dewani: Two things we should think about

In September this year South Africa supported a resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity at the United Nations Human Rights Council. The resolution aimed to protect against anti-LGBT violence and discrimination.

Four years since 2010 have passed and it has finally come the time for the trial related to the murder of Anni Dewani to begin. The spectacle of reporting on this trial has already revealed two things I think are important to reflect on in light of the spirit of this resolution.

  1. South African media still considers heterosexuality as ‘the norm’, to the extent to which it is invisible

In his statement, Shrien Dewani pleaded not guilty to all charges against him, and also confessed to being bisexual. A number of pieces have been written about this coverage already so I won’t say much other than to state the obvious – it was bad journalism.

The media reporting on the trial lazily described this revelation as a ‘possible motive for murder’ and focussed entirely on this aspect for the first day of the media coverage around the trial. Even international media like the Guardian suggested that “his sexuality is likely to be presented by prosecutors as a motive for wanting his wife dead.”

Dwali pic

Let’s stop for a second and go back to a very recent high-profile murder trial.

Oscar Pistorius, a heterosexual man, guns down his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp through a bathroom door. Accident or not, it was Pistorius who pulled the trigger. Despite the fact that South Africa is a country where there are extremely high levels of violence against women perpetrated by an intimate (male) partner, and the fact that in many cases where a woman is murdered she is murdered by an intimate (male) partner, Pistorius’ heterosexuality never came into it. It seems strange no – in a country where heterosexual masculinity frequently implies violence and dominance over women? If Pistorius’ sexuality wasn’t important, why is Dewani’s?

  1. Media reporting and social reaction like this contributes to further stigma around sexual orientation and gender identity, and is perhaps why Dewani hid his sexuality in the first place

The media reporting thus far reinforces what gender theorists like to call ‘heteronormativity’. In essence this is the belief that people are divided into separate and complementary genders (man and woman) and that these are generally linked to biology (male and female) heterosexual desire (male man loves female woman).

The very fact that his bisexuality could ever have been considered as a motive for murder suggests that in the minds of the media (and possibly its readers) heterosexuality is the only ‘normal’ sexuality and that anything else leaves someone, well, a bit weird. And if they’re a bit sexually weird, it’s possible that they could be a murderer.

In case you didn’t get me here, those ideas are a) WRONG and b) DANGEROUS.

They’re wrong because they ignore the full spectrum of sexuality. They’re wrong because they reinforce homophobia by perpetrating the idea that there is a link between homosexuality, bisexuality and violence. There is no evidence for this latter idea.

In a country like South Africa where violence against members of the LGBTI community is prevalent, where hate speech and hate crimes force people out of their schools, homes and communities, to in any way endorse perceptions that bisexuality is ‘abnormal’ or even remarkable is dangerous. Particularly, the idea that homosexuality and bisexuality are linked to violence could result in retaliatory violence, the framing of violence against LGBTI people as ‘corrective’, and the continued stigmatisation of people who are not heterosexual.

In essence, these ideas create a world where it is not safe to say that you are bisexual, homosexual or anything other than heterosexual. They reinforce the world that made Dewani afraid to admit his sexuality in the first place. They create the cultural currency that allows the exclusion of LGBTI people, and go against the commitments made by South Africa in the SOGI resolution.

For these reasons alone, media headlines like the ones we’ve seen so far should be stopped, and instead, some less sensational, real analysis should be welcomed.

Jen Thorpe

Jen Thorpe is the editor of feministssa.com. She’s a feminist writer and researcher who is passionate about getting the word out about violence against women, and about research around women’s negotiation of sexuality. In 2010 she started the My First Time women’s writing project which is still open for stories from women on their significant first time experiences, and was published as book in 2012.