My story

My story begins when I was just four years of age – yes I remember a lot of things since that young age. I was not yet in crèche and the family friend took care of me. A man sexually abused me daily by laying me on the small bed and flipping through a porn magazine. At that age I did not understand what kind of magazine he was looking at. I remember that his wife always wore a lot of bangles and jewellery so I was always waiting for that soothing, comforting sound of her bangles clinking together because then I would know he would stop now, zip up his pants and help me down from the bed.

I was then again abused at the age of eight right through to 10 by two different men, one was also a family friend the other was my own cousin. Surely at this point I understood what was happening because at school they taught us to say NO if somebody touches you inappropriately yet I couldn’t say no. I didn’t have that luxury at all because in my mind this is what I was created for, for men who I thought I could trust to use me as they wished. They were the adults so they were always right in my mind. I did not confide in anybody, I was too ashamed and embarrassed. When I ended up opening up to a close friend of mine at age 11 years, she went to tell her mother and her mother put so much fear in me I shut up for many years after. She threatened that if I spread such rumours I will end up in jail.

Waiting area for children at a court in Cape Town

Waiting area for children at a court in Cape Town

At the police station again an officer told me it was just my imagination, I’m making these stories up and mind you I believed her. I didn’t know any better and I was taught that grown-ups are always right and will never lie. Needless to say, I didn’t trust anybody. I couldn’t even trust myself. When my mom found out that an uncle abused and groomed me she told me to keep quiet because she does not want the family to be torn apart and so I did just as she said but hated and resented her for many years.

All of this was then, and this is now. I was never spiritual – how could I be if this God allowed several men to invade my body and steal my innocents –  but let me tell you this is my testimony.

A year ago work was tough, relationships in all aspects of my life was terrible, I was diagnosed with bipolar, anxiety, panic attacks and was on prescribed medications. A year ago I ran away for three days, wrote suicide notes because yes I was going to kill myself because I felt unworthy, dirty, pressurised, I didn’t want to pretend everything is okay anymore because nothing was. I failed in life and I wanted to give up. So I did.

But God is good he sent someone on my path and all he said was “Meisie, gaan huis toe” and I did just that. Today I’m a victor. I forgave all those who hurt me not for them but for my inner peace and healing. I don’t regret living, I did not self-harm for 10 months now. I feel free of burden and I am myself now. Yes everyday still is challenging but prayer and real family and friends support gets me through a lot. Yes, I’m currently not employed yet as I am still a bit scared that my anxiety will come back. All I had to do was be honest with myself and realise it was not my fault – it never was.

The world is a cruel place but you can be the change and be an encouragement for somebody.Talk, talk, talk to somebody. You are not alone. I pray for everybody that’s going through and living through this horrible abuse but please don’t give up! Seek help. You just have to get through this day today.

I hope that my story will in some way inspire and encourage someone else who feels like I did.

Anonymous

If you are a survivor of rape and would like to talk to someone about it, call Rape Crisis on (021)447-9762

Rights for women, rights for humanity

The last sixty years have seen an extraordinary rise of awareness about all the human behaviours or moral rules of which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being. The International Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, could have not said it more clearly: we are all equal regardless of race, colour or sex and we are entitled to a significant number of freedoms.

Human Rights are on the table, but unfortunately not as a main course.

“Women and children are raped here all the time, we see it in the news and we know it happens in our community; it is our daily life” (Woman from Khayelitsha, Cape Town) As a part of the field research carried out by Rape Crisis in this area the last week, without blinking an eye, she explained how unsafe she feels in her community and how, too often, men drink too much alcohol and find it entertaining to abuse their wives or neighbours. Violence such as rape is a critical violation of the rights and an unjustifiable attack against a women’s dignity.

girls interviewed_Harare

The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), defines discrimination against women as any “distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on the basis of equality between men and women”. Something is clearly not working; despite of the multiple legal frameworks founded on the basis of this convention and the South African Constitution, 174 women were raped per day in South Africa in between March 2013 and February 2014, with a total of 8 062 sexual offences reported to the South African Police Services (SAPS) in the Western Cape alone.

Khayelitsha, the largest township in Cape Town, is focus of great concern. This community is considered one of the most dangerous settlements of South Africa. The statistics speak for themselves: 1 421 aggravated robberies, 140 murders, 229 sexual crimes and 45 kidnappings have been reported this year according to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS). While these findings are alarming on paper the reality is even worse. In the field research done by Rape Crisis in which I participated, men and women from Khayelitsha confirmed that the numbers could have been far higher if all the victims had gone ahead and reported the crimes. They are frightened because the perpetrators can walk free and return to threaten them again.

Women in this settlement, 30km southeast of Cape Town, cannot walk alone in the street in the night, they are too scared of coming across a man that might want something from them, nor can they dress as they wish because they could prove to be a “temptation”. Furthermore, those who live in the most informal shacks, need to make sure they don’t use the toilets, which are located outside their houses in the bushes, during the night because that would put them in extreme danger. “I wake up several times during the night to check that everything is alright, you never know, they can break in any moment” (woman from the area of Harare, in Khayelitsha). Woman do not feel safe in their own houses.

Why is this happening? Are human rights, especially women’s rights, an aspiration too optimistic for a community such as this one? Why does rape take place? As the results of the research begin to emerge, lack of employment and the excessive consumption of alcohol and drugs are one cluster of reasons that local people are referring to. The other cluster centres around the ineffective criminal justice system and the fact that the police and the courts are not doing their jobs properly. Police take long to respond or don’t come out at all and many rapists are not found guilty and are released back into the community to rape again. In a free society, such as South Africa, with one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, there is enough evidence to say that something needs to be done to help those whose rights are being constantly denied.

One of the men interviewed in Khayelitsha this week noted that “rape is not about not having a job or about drinking too much, it is about human dignity” And so it is. With the worldwide celebration of the Human Rights Day, we all should stand for what we are: humans. This is not about men, women, culture or religion, it is about fighting for our entitled and irrefutable dignity as human beings.

Human Rights are on the menu. Choose carefully.

Laura Fernandez

Laura is studying human rights at the University of York and spent two weeks with Rape Crisis conducting field research in Khayelitsha. 

”It’s not OK for boys to do what they want with you”

Solulele Tinzi (18) from Harare in Khayelitsha is a Peer Educator for Rape Crisis.

The first weekend in December Solulele attended her third youth camp with Rape Crisis at a camp site near Paarl. Here she met the newest Peer Educators from Khayelitsha.

”Being a Peer Educator means that others at school can come to me if they have been raped or sexually abused. I will then help them with different things, like reporting to the police, get counselling at Rape Crisis and so on’’, she explains.

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Solulele lives with her mother, two sisters, aunts and cousins in Harare, Khayelitsha. She has just finished grade 11 and has been a Peer Educator for three years now.

”I like it. I learn a lot, like gaining more confidence”. Solulele smiles.

”Do you want me to sing for you after this interview?”

At the youth camp the teenagers attend work shops where they talk about issues like gender differences and myths.

”If the boy wants to have sex, you have the right to say no”, says Solulele and continues: ”If he forces you to have sex, you must leave him”.

– Is it rape if your boyfriend forces you to have sex with him?

”Yes, for sure! Rape is when you force someone to have sex with you.”

– When did you learn that this is rape?

”Before starting as a Peer Educator, I didn’t know. I have learned it from Rape Crisis. Even though you’re wearing short skirts it is not ok for boys to do what they want with you. A girl can wear whatever she wants. As long as you are cool with your clothes, it is fine.”

According to Solulele, the boys at the camp have changed their behavior and attitudes as well.

”They learn how to treat a woman. Respect her”, says Solulele.

– How do men show you respect as a woman?

”Like not touching  my butt. A girl with many boyfriends is usually called slut, bitch or whore. It is not all right! That is not to show us respect.”

At the camp the Peer Educatiors do different outdoor activities, like hiking in the mountains.

”When you’re hiking, you have a goal. My goal tomorrow – when we go hiking – is  to get to the top of the second mountain.”

Solulele has goals in her life as well. After graduating next year, she wants to study either psychology or music at university.

”To be able to go to university I need a scholarship, so I have to work hard the next year”.

– What kind of man do you want to marry?

”First he has to be handsome and successful. Then he has to care for me”, says Solulele.

– Do you want to stay at home with the children after you have married?

”No, I want to work. Both the man and the woman should bring something to the table. I’ll make sure not to be pregnant– because then I won’t be able to have an education, but just stay home and take care of the children. I want to study hard so I can be whoever I want!”

And then she sings Mary Mary’s song ”Can’t give up right now” for me. Her voice is strong and confident:

”There will be mountains that I will have to climb and there will be battles that I will have to fight…”

Ida Malthe-Sorenssen 

This work is made possible by The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation
and Development (BMZ) and OXFAM Deutschland.

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My two weeks in the township

By Ida Malthe-Sorenssen

”There’s too much crime and shooting. People get robbed every day in Khayelitsha”. This quote is from one of the many people I interviewed while I was doing a survey for Rape Crisis about crime and violence in Khaylitsha. Having looked at the official statistics about the crime rates in Khayelitsha before coming to South Africa, I was not suprised to hear about the enormoity of the crime rates. What particulary surprised me was the overwhelming fear people in Khayelitsha felt – both men and women. It was unsafe for the children to play in the street if they were not supervised by their parents. Women and children living in informal settlements feared going to the toilet in the bush, because they could be raped there. People I spoke to were afraid of being robbed in the street in the middle of the day. They feared housbreaking and hijacking. Parents took their children out of school because of gang shootings.

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Ida interviewing a woman in Endlovini

What does it do to people to be scared all the time? To feel unsafe to go to the toilet because someone might attack you on your way? Where I come from, Norway, I can walk around at night without being scared of robbery or rape. Of course I take precautions and may avoid certain areas in the city during the night. But back home my children can play in the street without fearing kidnapping or rape. Of course, these things also happen in Norway, but it occurs so rarely that it doesn’t affect our daily lives.

While doing the survey in Khayelitsha, we took many precautions. We stayed together in groups of two for safety. According to the protocol, we were supposed to wait for all the groups before moving on to the next street. One day we didn’t follow the protocol, and all the sudden no one knew about the whereabouts of the others. This day all of us felt very unsafe. The next day, however, we all stuck to the protocol. Being together as a big group all the time made us feel a lot more safe. Sadly, the people in Khayelitsha cannot stay together in big groups all the time. They cannot call their neighbours when they need to go to the toilet in the bush, and they cannot ask friends to join them when going to the grocery store.

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Note: the people in this photograph are not those specifically mentioned in the story in order to preserve their anonymity

One of the women I met in Khayelitsha was a mother of two, just like myself. As most of the others I interviewed, she was afraid of housebreaking and robbery. However, what she feared the most, were the ones who raped and killed her mother several years ago. When this woman found out who the murderers were, she went to the police. Two or three men were arrested, but then got bailed and the next day they were back in the community. This woman was then pursued by the men she had reported to the police. One night they came with a big knife looking for her. Her children hid under the blankets in their beds. She herself had been warned, so she was not at home. Now her biggest fear is that something may happen to her children. Being a mother of two myself, I can imagine what it must be like to fear for your children all the time. When returning back home I will hug my own kids– more aware than ever of how lucky they are to live in a safe place.

Read more stories about our experience in Khayelitsha here. You can also support our work by donating to our volunteer training.

A special thank you from Rape Crisis to Ida Malthe-Sorenssen, Neil Raw, Alia Marie Ep Alhwash and Laura Fernandez from the University of York who conducted these surveys alongside our volunteers and worked long hours analysing the data. We are grateful for your hard work.