Social Media Activism for Survivors

“If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things that you do not see”. This is the mantra that informs my Facebook wall and my twitter feed. These are the words of James Baldwin, an American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet and social critic. Baldwin conceived of political consciousness as an offshoot of deep care. He thought of love as an unveiling of societal ignorance and a marker of resilience.  His conception of love made space for the scrapes of suffering and glint of adventure that form part of political and social activism. He lived in a time before ‘hashtags’ , ‘likes’, ‘retweets’ and ‘shares’  but his words populate memes that zip across digital space and take up residence on cardboard signs at on the ground protests.

Baldwin on why I share

Social media activism is often derided as being ‘slacktivism’ or a symbol of millennial laziness. Older generations and commentators often write us off as keyboard warriors – willing to sit behind screens and speak of social transformation but never go outside to actually see about those changes. It’s been said countless times that hashtags and Facebook posts don’t save lives. To put it simply, these people are wrong. In my PTSD- ridden post-rape life, it has literally been social media images, brave hashtags and social media connections that shook me awake and alive. The internet can be a difficult place for survivors.  Online social networks teem with the murk of victim-blaming, rape jokes and myths, rape apologists/denialists and general ignorance about sexual assault. But they also offer survivors spaces where they are not silenced, and other survivors to interact with and draw strength from. These are the little social media miracles that have kept me pushing and speaking out this year.


I first saw an image of American art student Emma Sulkowizc hoisting her College dorm mattress over her shoulder on Facebook. She had decided to visibly carry the weight of her sexual assault in protest of having to continue to share a campus with her rapist. I knew that she had found powerful visual shorthand to explain something so difficult to understand for people who haven’t experienced rape. In an interview about her performance piece, she sums it up by saying: “A mattress is the perfect size for me to just be able to carry it enough that I can continue with my day but also heavy enough that I have to continually struggle with it”. I think this speaks to the experience of a lot of survivors.  Ordinary life continues despite the hulking shadow of trauma.


In June, the rape of 16 year old high school student went viral on social media.  Jada’s assault was turned into a meme. Pictures of her experience of sexual violence were posted on different social media platforms to be mocked and derided by her peer group.  She fought back and decided to speak up. After an interview, a photo of Jada with her fist raised in the air launched the hashtag which gave social media an opportunity to redeem itself and unite behind her.  #IamJada not only bore her name but also a challenge to the cardboard caricature constructed to define rape survivors as what happened to them.  In an interview with KHOU-TV, she said “There’s no point in hiding. Everybody has already seen my face and my body, but that’s not what I am and who I am.”


Guerrilla Feminism SA

Earlier this year, Sian Ferguson popped up on my Facebook feed via a mutual friend. This chance encounter on an online comment thread meant the beginning of a friendship, survivor solidarity and feminist collaboration. Sian and I are co-moderators of Guerrilla Feminism South Africa – an intersectional feminist page that posts pieces that intersect across the nexus of gender, race and class struggles. We spotlight these issues in a South African context but also hold space to discuss how they manifest all over the continent and further abroad.  Guerrilla Feminism South Africa is billed and constructed as a safe space. This means that there are guidelines to how commentators may engage. These are geared towards ensuring that groups of people that are already significantly marginalised and silenced do not experience oppressive forms of antagonism in this forum. No allowances are made in this space for misogyny, racism, antagonism of the LGBTQIA community and various other kinds of intolerance. This proves to be a radical notion of discursive space in a world that is comfortable sacrificing pieces of people’s humanity for the sake of debate.

In solidarity: a safe space for survivors

Michelle Solomon is a sexual violence activist, researcher and journalist, who started up a Facebook group this year for survivors of sexual violence. In solidarity: a safe space for survivors is a supportive platform where survivors can share personal struggles, triumphs and self-care resources. This group is a space where survivors can talk to each other and share how they tackled certain experiences or provide an “I’ve been there” or a sense of understanding.  All the information shared by members in the group is strictly confidential and this is one of the guiding principles that keep the space safe. If you’d like to be a part of the group simply send a request to join the group and one of the admin will approve your request.

Other notable twitter mentions

#rapedneverreported  is a hashtag that survivors are using to speak about why they never reported their experience of sexual violence to the police. It is a great window into the myriad of reasons why the criminal justice system has failed to gain the trust of rape survivors. #solidarityisforrapists challenges  victim-blaming narratives by pointing out the many problematic ways society seems to support perpetrators and make it extremely challenging for rape victims to keep going. #survivingcostme is a hashtag where survivors discuss the great financial, emotional, mental and physical costs of overcoming an experience of sexual violence.

We invite you to share your own examples of social media organising with us, and to become a part of our team of writers for the Rape Crisis blog so that we can turn this blog into a powerful space for social media activism. Email to get involved.

Dela Gwala

Dela Gwala is a full-time feminist and post-grad student at UCT who writes in the hours stolen from her thesis. She helps manage the South African branch of the largest intersectional feminist page on Facebook, Guerrilla Feminism.


Here’s what our Athlone community had to say about rape…

Over the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women and Children, the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust embarked on a community survey in the Athlone area. Our volunteers and five hardworking interns from the University of York went door-to-door in the Athlone community over seven days to talk to community members about rape. We identified 10 areas and set out, clipboards in hand, to get the community’s opinions regarding the following questions:

  • What are the biggest problems in your community?
  • Do you think rape is a problem in this community?
  • What causes rape in this community?
  • What are the negative effects of rape for this community and for your family?
  • How safe do you feel in this community?


We exceeded our target and interviewed 525 people. The community was very welcoming and we learned a great deal from them.

What are the biggest problems in your community?

The largest problems identified by the community were drugs, gangsterism and violence, rape and unemployment. It is important to acknowledge the many challenges that our communities face, and how these intersect to reinforce each other, for instance the high amount of substance abuse and how this can exacerbate violence and rape.


Do you think rape is a problem in this community?

Half of the people interviewed, 57%, felt that rape was indeed a problem in their community. However we noticed that many were reluctant to acknowledge rape as an issue, preferred not to talk about it, or said that “rape is not something we talk about, it is something that happens behind closed doors”.

What causes rape in this community?


The vast majority (53%) felt that drugs were a contributing factor to the high rates of rape. They also felt that parental negligence was a problem:

“It is the abuse of drugs. People who can’t control themselves when on drugs.”

“Mothers are working and leave the children with sons or husbands and their friends rape the children.”

What are the negative effects of rape for this community and for your family?


Rape has a negative impact on this community. In particular, it makes people feel unsafe, leaves survivors and families with psychological trauma and causes fear and silence about rape.

“The environment is unsafe. You have to protect your children, and hearing stories creates fear about your children and grandchildren.”

“A lot of people are still very quiet because of the stigma and rejection if they have been raped. They suffer in silence.”

How safe do you feel in this community?

We asked community members to rate how safe they feel in their community on a scale of 1 (completely safe) to 5 (completely unsafe).


Most people feel very unsafe, particularly the residents of Hanover Park. This is what they said:

“I am too scared to go out, I have to take buses and taxis and I don’t walk. It even feels unsafe in the house.”

“My family isn’t safe in this area. They have to stay locked in the house. We’re raising girls. They can’t go to school alone or play outside alone.”

 Today, on the final day of the 16 Days of Activism, we are hosting a Community Dialogue and have invited all those whom we interviewed to join us in discussing the results of our community survey.  These results from part of a larger community needs assessment we are conducting in the Athlone area. Our next step will be to partner with the community to identify potential solutions to some of these issues, and support community members in developing innovative ways to challenge the high rate of rape. We believe that communities are the experts on their own lives and know best how to challenge the problems they face if they are listened to, supported and empowered to make change.


We would like to thank the Athlone SAPS and the Athlone Community Policing Forum for accompanying us and ensuring our safety during the surveys and our volunteers and students for all their hard work. We also thank the Athlone community for being so welcoming and for inviting us into your spaces and sharing your opinions with us. Finally we thank the Department of Social Development for their contribution to this project.



Speaking Out

The annual 16 days of activism against women and child abuse is with us again.  For organisations like the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust however there are 365 days of activism.

Rape Crisis counsellors bear witness every day to the extreme pain and havoc that rape inflicts on the lives of survivors.  As counsellors we are privileged to listen to survivors’ stories. In our counselling sessions we debunk the myths that add to their pain; we do not sit in judgement; we believe their story; we try to ease their path through the criminal justice system and in all this we help them to feel whole again.

And they do.

63320019 (1)But there are thousands of women and girls and boys who are too afraid to come forward and report rape – too afraid of the perpetrator and the police, too afraid of the stigma, too afraid they will not be believed and too afraid they will themselves be judged.

These are the people we need to reach out to.

In supporting survivors along their path to recovery, counsellors at Rape Crisis strengthen survivors’ confidence and ability to speak out about their rape experience and their recovery.

It is a very brave person who speaks out about their experience of rape and abuse – it takes enormous courage.  But those who do provide an extremely valuable service to everyone in our country – for not only do they provide encouragement to those who are broken and believe they will never heal, they give confidence to those who would otherwise be too afraid to come forward; they help put perpetrators behind bars and they let the world out there know that the monsters who rape walk very much among us.

Silence makes healing difficult. Silence keeps perpetrators out of jail and on the streets. Silence allows society to turn a deaf ear.

It is imperative that survivors of rape feel safe to come forward, seek help and speak out. Perhaps then government and society will accept that rapists are not the visible two headed monsters most expect them to be – they are the ordinary looking among us – teachers, religious leaders, business executives, uncles, fathers and grandfathers, the famous and the celebrated.

Speaking out helps men and women both on the street and in high places to genuinely acknowledge and understand the enormity of the problem in South Africa. For only with this knowledge and understanding will people reject patriarchy and the ‘ownership’ of women and children and the harmful behaviours that result from these archaic belief systems.

We need to join together and Speak Out to demand an end to the tragically high levels of rape in our society. We need to support organisations like Rape Crisis that do this 365 days of the year. We need this scourge to stop.


Lizzy Cowan

Lizzy has been a volunteer counsellor at Rape Crisis for many years and has supported many women and their family members in their recovery after the trauma of rape. 







Whether she was a domestic worker or a sex worker doesn’t mean that you must beat her

From Hong Kong to Qatar to Greece to the United States, domestic workers and women cleaners are under attack. They are under attack because they are women. In South Africa this year, domestic workers and women cleaners have confronted the attack head on.

Delia Adonis works as a cleaner in a mall in Cape Town. Last month, Adonis saw five men attack a sixth. She called the police, who intervened. She then went to the parking lot, where the five men encircled her, knocked her to the ground, and beat her. Throughout the assault, the men used racist and sexist epithets.

Adonis called the police and laid charges on the five men. It turns out they’re UCT students. Adonis claims that the police came to her and offered her money to drop the case. The officer allegedly said that the men were afraid of being kicked out of school. Adonis rejected the offer, and all it represented: “I’m really angry about this. I’m traumatised and still in pain. These youngsters verbally abuse us every weekend, and now this? I’m a mother of six – how would they feel if someone beat up their mothers like that? There was so much blood pouring from my face I couldn’t see. When I washed my face. I just thought to myself: ‘Boys, you can run but I leave you in the hands of the Lord’.”

Cynthia Joni works as a domestic worker in Cape Town. One morning, Joni was walking to work, when a white man leapt out of his car, slapped and threw her to the ground. She screamed, and he drove away. He was later identified and charged. His `explanation’ was that he mistook Cynthia Joni for a sex worker and `snapped.’ To no one’s surprise, it turns out that Cynthia Joni is not the first woman he’s assaulted. Now others are coming forth.

Swimming coach Tim Osrin takes cover after appearing in the Wynberg Magistrate's Court for allegedly assaulting a domestic worker  Image by: ESA ALEXANDER (published in Times Live, 18 November)

Swimming coach Tim Osrin takes cover after appearing in the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court for allegedly assaulting a domestic worker
Image by: ESA ALEXANDER (published in Times Live, 28 November)

While the toxic mix in both the physical violence and then the subsequent violence that passes for explanation are important, the women’s response is more important. Domestic workers, sex workers, women workers, all women workers reject the violence and call on the State to address it … forcefully and immediately. On Thursday, women gathered outside the Wynberg Magistrate Court to say just that. Any attack on a woman is an attack on all women, and no one gets to decide who is and who is not a woman. As Duduzile Dlamini shouted, “Whether she was a domestic worker or a sex worker doesn’t mean that you must beat her. We have a right to do what we want to do. I’ve got a choice!”

Gloria Kente is a live-in domestic worker in Cape Town. Last year, her employer’s then-boyfriend got angry with her, allegedly grabbed her, spat in her face, and screamed a racist epithet at her. Kente called the police and had him charged with both assault and a violation of her human and civil rights. She called him out for hate speech and harassment. When the man tried to extend `an apology’, Kente said, “NO!” If an apology meant not going to court, not having the State fully involved, then Gloria Kente wanted no part of it.

Today’s stories echo the past. Over six years ago, four white students at the University of the Free State videotaped their assault on five cleaners, Mothibedi Molete, Mankoe Phororo, Emmah Koko, Nkgapeng Adams and Sebuasengwe Ntlatseng. The video went viral, as did disgust, and the cleaners, four women and one man, fought back.  This June, the five cleaners launched their own company.

Today, however, domestic workers and women cleaners are making demands on the State. Domestic workers and women cleaners reject the protectionism that would see them as a separate class in need of help. They are workers with rights, women with rights, and humans with rights. Women workers are speaking out, increasing demands for civil, labor, and human rights to be respected, and, in so doing, consolidating power. The struggle continues.

Dan Moshenberg

This is an adapted version; the original article appears here,