The power of the broken hearted

Since I started making my own way in the world, I’ve generally considered myself to be a strong woman. I am by and large tough, resourceful, and not afraid to feel things deeply: to be vulnerable … especially in my work with people who have suffered trauma. I have thought of myself as a successful survivor of a violent childhood, a litany of losses and what is termed “ordinary human suffering”. And it was probably this self assurance and my often foolhardy courage that enabled me to begin counselling asylum seekers and refugees from the African Diaspora.

I began in earnest in early 2009, shortly after the xenophobic attacks of 2008. I started one-on-one sessions with refugees who came into Rape Crisis Trust for free counselling. I then moved on to any referral that was given me, from other organisations and from former clients. I felt compelled to try to atone for the shame of how my country treats these people.

However, counselling people who have witnessed and survived a genocide, who have come from the ongoing horror that is happening in Congo DRC and who again suffered rape and murder in the land they had fled to for safety, became much more than simply about rape. It is about rape culture: ways of thinking that allow people to be brutalised; that leave people with the deep underlying belief that they are no longer a person… no longer human.

I have worked with people who thought that happiness is impossible and that hope is fatal. And they found the courage to keep on going. Every day they would get up to a strange world, where few could speak their language, none or very little of the favourite foods of home are available, there is no family to turn to. And in this world, they have been denied work, left to wait for days in queues watching people die of hunger beside them, only to receive another postponement, another insult, another dismissal. People who often can’t find work without a South African ID, can’t open a bank account and who are now being told that they have to travel from their shacks in Cape Town townships all the way to Mesina every three months, just to be denied refugee status or face another extension, which means more travelling.

I have witnessed a mother give up her children (after carrying them for weeks through dark forests, bleeding from multiple rapes and with hardly any food or water to get here) because she could not feed them or care for them in South Africa. I have witnessed a woman fall to her knees in gratitude for simply being spoken to as a person who has feelings and has needs. How can we let this happen to people? This too seems to be more of rape culture: the ability to see others as less deserving of human rights.

And truth be told after these few years of working with refugees, I am tired. I have worked with a constantly breaking heart, knowing terrible things. Here as I sit in my comfortable, quiet, rented cottage, with its pretty garden and three meals a day, I feel ready to give up. With my good education, the inherent power and privilege of being white and English speaking, I want to stop. To rest ….and I am going to for some time.

And while I rest in comfort, many of my former clients will continue to grow, to love, to hope and to get up again and again. These women and men use the power of their constantly breaking hearts to believe that there can again be good in the world, that there can be safety somewhere, that they can create another and better life. And I know now that I am not nearly as strong as them, as courageous as them. Their resilience leaves me in awe. As does the resilience and love of the counsellors at Rape Crisis and other organisations who continue to do this work. I hope to find my powerful broken heart again and I know you all will help me.

Morgan Mitchell

Morgan Mitchell lives in Cape Town where she works with survivors of trauma in private practice as a trauma and EMDR counsellor. She has been a volunteer at Rape Crisis since 2001 and is a feminist civil rights activist. For over 15 years, she has also developed materials for a variety of ages and cultures.

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It is so sad that we are still debating issues of safety

It is so sad that we are still debating issues of safety

while we live in cities with so many security checks,

When we never walk a mile without seeing a police van,

And that we have thousands of people occupying space in the army,

It is so sad that we have become like caged birds in our own communities

That each time we walk that someone wants to steal a piece of our joy

That each day in this life we are breeding monsters amongst us,

So where are we safe except in the vastness of our imagination?

So then, let’s keep imagining a better world,

Let’s create spaces of safety that we wish to live in,

Let’s raise the children we would like to see in the our world,

Let’s be the sisters we dream of having,

Let’s be the nurturers we wish we had

Let us the friends we would cherish and respect.

Let’s create that world wherever we can, whenever we can.

By Primrose Mrwebi, poet, actress, writer, facilitator

Coming together to #ExposeRapeCulture

Today, on Mandela Day, we celebrate the power of individual actions to make positive change. Rape Crisis decided to harness this energy by encouraging individuals and communities to #ExposeRapeCulture on social media, and by coming together to plan Mandela Day actions to highlight those myths and beliefs that contribute to our high rates of rape.

Our first action of today was a workshop in Cape Town. The Pepper Club Hotel & Spa generously gave us a beautiful space in which to join together with others in the Cape Town area and talk about those beliefs and the impact they have on the way we think about rape and how we treat those who are survivors of rape.

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After our discussions, we each wrote a statement that is meaningful to us and that we would like to expose by sharing with others.

Here is what we had to say:

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“My dress code does not give you consent to rape.”

“I don’t lack a sense of humor. Rape jokes are not funny.”

“You have every right, and you are strong enough to speak out.”

“A random drunk guy kissed me against my will and my friends thought it was funny. How is that funny?”

“The length of my skirt does not say ‘rape me’.”

“He can’t be a rapist – he’s too ‘decent’.”

“Break the silence and speak out. Your voice needs to be heard.”

Thank you to everyone who attended, and we look forward to working together again soon and supporting one another in challenging rape. And thanks once again to the Pepper Club for your ongoing support of our work.

If you would like to donate to our change making projects, click here.

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Ready for Action on Mandela Day

Yesterday we hosted the first workshop as part of our Mandela Day campaign, which aims to expose rape culture and inspire community members to come up with actions they can take on Mandela Day to challenge this culture. Rape culture links rape and sexual violence to the culture of a society showing how prevalent attitudes and practices excuse, tolerate and even condone rape. Rape culture in South Africa is fueled by the myths and stereotypes that our society holds about rape.

The workshop was hosted at Rylands Library in Athlone and was attended by high school youth, college students and local community members who all came together to talk about rape and particularly those attitudes and stereotypes that drive rape in the community.

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Creative Consulting & Development Works was on hand to film, photograph and document the day’s activities and will be helping us to share the participant’s Mandela Day activities with others.

After an energetic ice-breaker led by the high school youth, we dived straight into a discussion about rape culture. We debated some of the common stereotypes about gender differences and how boys and girls are brought up to behave and think differently. The presence of both young men and women gave our discussions a welcome liveliness and we were pleased to see young people voicing their opinions in a respectful way and feeling free to share their views so openly.

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After tea we got into groups and came up with ideas about how we can expose rape culture in our communities and presented these to the larger group. The activities include a walk-about in Manenberg, distributing resources at local health facilities and police stations and hosting talks with local youth groups.

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We look forward to supporting the youth this Friday as they go out and perform their Mandela Day actions, and we encourage you to do your part in exposing rape culture with us by donating or by joining our #ExposeRapeCulture social media campaign.

Thank you to Rylands Library for giving us the space free of charge, and to Creative Consulting & Development Works for their team’s hard work and support throughout this campaign.

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