Small Victories, Big Change

Yesterday marked one week since our “small” victory in a relatively small committee room on the fifth floor of one of the buildings of Parliament. I use quotes because actually it was no small victory and here is why:

The Parliament of South Africa has two main functions. The one is to make and pass laws (legislate) and the other is to oversee the actions of government departments (provide oversight). However, most of these functions are not performed in the National Assembly or the National Council of Provinces and broadcasted over national television with larger-than-life politicians waving their arms and making elaborate arguments. No, most of Parliament’s work happens when Parliamentary Oversight or Portfolio Committees, consisting of members of parliament, meet in much smaller committee rooms to discuss issues relating to the specific portfolio. This can include pieces of legislation, reports or actions taken by the relevant government department.

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It was in such a committee room that we found ourselves one week ago. We, together with the Women’s Legal Centre, received a very last minute invitation to speak to the committee on Justice and Correctional Services about the legislation providing for the establishment of sexual offences courts. This was after we handed in written comments to the committee about this legislation in March. The invitation provided us with the opportunity to explain to members on the committee and to the Deputy Minister of Justice why exclusive sexual offences courts are the only way to ensure higher conviction rates in sexual offences cases while providing the much need support to survivors of this type of crime.

During a long discussion, members raised concerns about an alleged lack of resources of establishing exclusive sexual offences courts. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJ) confirmed the apparent unwillingness of magistrates to hear cases in exclusive sexual offences courts. We reminded the committee of the promise that the government has already made to roll out these courts and we responded to the concerns raised.

As a result of this heated argument, the Deputy Minister of Justice, Min. John Jeffrey, offered to arrange a meeting where we will be able to discuss this with the Regional Court Presidents, representing the magistrates that have to hear these cases, as well as the Department of Justice. This meeting will provide a great opportunity for the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign to continue to lobby and advocate for the rollout of sexual offences courts to make sure that all survivors of sexual offences have access to survivor-centred justice. We were very encouraged by the commitment of the majority of community members to addressing the high rates of rape in South Africa.

Bringing about change in the criminal justice system by ensuring that all survivors have access to a sexual offences court, is a big task and such change is often difficult to measure. However, big change occurs as a result of seemingly small victories in unimpressive rooms on Thursday afternoons. When you follow us on Facebook, you help amplify our small victories in order to achieve big change.

 

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Jeanne Bodenstein

Jeanne is the Advocacy Coordinator at the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and heads the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign. She likes wine, pizza and recently rediscovered her love for mystery novels.

Activist Training – Applications Now Open at Rape Crisis

The Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust has a 40 year history of training activists to bring about change in the way we deal with rape in our society. The need for radical change in our country is still as strong as ever but there is not a lot of training for individuals or groups on how to bring about this kind of deep sustainable transformation.

Over the years Rape Crisis has trained counsellors, community educators and activists from the communities we serve in the hope of leaving a legacy that strengthens and empowers the women of these communities to respond to rape and to stand up for their rights.

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The Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign was launched in 2016. (Pic: Alexa Sedge)

Change at the community level is not enough. Rates of rape in South Africa are very high. We grew up with a culture of violence where violence was part and of everyday life. The system we grew up in is a system that allows violence to go on unchecked. In particular the criminal justice system, which does not recognise the needs to rape survivors in bringing rapists to justice. That is why Rape Crisis launched the Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign in 2016 to persuade and pressurise government to roll out specialised sexual offences courts across South Africa. We believe that this will strengthen the criminal justice system as a way of addressing high rates of rape in our country.

Do you want to develop or strengthen your own political consciousness?  Do you want to make a difference beyond individual change? Become an activist by joining our training and becoming a volunteer for Rape Crisis.

We are about to embark on a new training programme for community activists who would like to build their organising skills and abilities. Our course deals with the political aspects of rape in South Africa and trains people to organise and lobby for change.

We are looking for a diverse group of participants so whether you come from the communities we serve and are based in or whether you live outside of these communities, we encourage you to apply. If you are actively involved, either in your own community or on social media, and you care about violence against women then this is course is for you. We are looking for people with a wide range of skills and abilities but if you think you have leadership skills and like to organise people and events then this will be an advantage. We are looking for volunteers who are reasonably literate and self-confident and who are critical thinkers. By the end of the course our advocacy volunteers should be able to engage with and persuade groups of people, be able to take initiative and plan well and be able to work in a team.

To get your application form and for more information, please contact our advocacy coordinator, Jeanne Bodenstein at jeanne@rapecrisis.org.za  or call her on 021 447 1467 from Monday – Friday between 9:30am and 4pm. Applications close on 19 May 2017.

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Campaign booklets. (Pic: Alexa Sedge)

The three month series of training workshops that make up the first part of the course will take place in Observatory during the day on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday but starting and ending off on a Saturday, starting Saturday 27 May 2017. This will be followed by six months of practical on the job training. Although the training is not SAQA or SETA accredited at this stage, assessment takes place throughout the full process of the training course after which participants will be requested to complete a written examination before graduating.

Who should apply?

  • People 18 years and older
  • From the areas of Athlone, Khayelitsha and Cape Town
  • People who are currently unemployed, doing casual work or students;
  • People who are available to volunteer during the day.
  • Be able to speak English

Expectations of Volunteers:

We expect volunteers to be able to commit to a minimum of eight hours of your free time per month after the workshop series is over in order to participate in advocacy activities, and to attend focus group meetings and buddy group meetings once a month. Volunteers will also be invited to attend volunteer forum meetings and general meetings of the broader organisation four times a year in total.

Course fees:

The cost of the course is R4 000 with a non-refundable registration fee of R1 500. Payment options can be negotiated so the course fee should not be something that stops you from applying.

We look forward to hearing from you.

 

Zapiro demonstrates what rape culture is

It is unconscionable of Zapiro to trigger the trauma of thousands of rape survivors for the sake of a political point that everyone either gets anyway or will steadfastly remain unconvinced on. In a country with rape statistics as high as South Africa’s, with more than 50 000 sexual offences reported to the police each year, a cartoon depicting the country as a woman after the act of being raped by its president is not just shocking: it is going to collectively trigger the memory of an intensely personal event and evoke overwhelmingly painful emotions for each one that remembers their own rape. And there are many. Far too many.

This is a strong example of how rape culture works in our society and how even the most self-aware among us are often quite blind to it.

The core of the problem of violence and crime in South Africa is a culture of violence, which needs to be seen and understood in the context of our extremely violent past. A culture of violence means: the majority of children and young people grow up in an environment in which violence is part of daily life. Violence within families, between parents, and parents being violent towards their children, violence at school and on the street, on TV and other media, video games glorifying violence, violence as a means to deal with one´s feeling of inferiority or as a means to create a feeling of belonging, for instance to a criminal gang, violence of men against girls and women as part of masculine identity – and violence which has been considered by people supporting apartheid, and people fighting against it, as a legitimate means to fight for one´s political purposes over decades. In a culture of violence, violence is seen as a normal and inevitable part of daily life. This can and needs to be changed, step by step.

The everyday violence of men against women, those that identify as women or that have women’s bodies often takes a sexual form. By everyday violence I mean the violence that permeates the environment to the point that it can go unnoticed. Examples include male university students dancing on the grass outside a women’s residence singing songs about raping them and laughing, community groups blaming women for wearing revealing clothes rather than talking to men about taking responsibility for the way they handle themselves sexually, magazine adverts that show women enjoying violent sex with a group of men in order to promote a clothing brand, a police official who says that most women are lying about being raped, a prosecutor who says most victims were “asking for it” because they were drunk at the time or a judge who hands down less than the maximum sentence for the rape of a child because the rapist was “gentle”. If you have the stomach for more examples there are many more to be found in online articles. The ones I quote all come from stories told by people coming to the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust for information, support or counselling. One of our volunteer counsellors, Rebecca Helman writes vividly about being “submerged in violence” after seeing this cartoon.

The impact of rape on survivors is severe, many will lie awake at night and not be able to sleep or eat properly for days because of the powerful emotions they feel. Feelings of fear, anxiety and vulnerability in particular provide the kind of undermining emotional preoccupation that often prevents women from working, studying or parenting effectively. Reliving rape is easily triggered. It disturbs and disrupts everything rape survivors do and distresses the people close to them who feel helpless to do anything to mitigate these powerful feelings. The fact that these same women often face the stigma of being socially disgraced when they speak out about being raped is another example of rape culture.

Challenging rape culture in South Africa and asking ourselves what a culture of consent might look like and how we would build that culture instead would be a worthy subject for the media and for Zapiro. He’s done it before in a cartoon that could not be more relevant now, in which a rape suspect, a policeman, a prosecutor, a judge and “the stigmatising public” are all represented in in a police line-up and the rape survivor being asked to identify the suspect is telling the investigating officer, “They all raped me!”


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Kathleen Dey

Kathleen is director of the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. Connect on www.rapecrisis.org.za, follow us on Facebook and on Twitter as @RapeCrisis or call us on 021 447 1467 or follow our Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign to lobby the South African government to roll out specialised sexual offences courts.

 

Reclaiming the Body: A Six-Week Course for Survivors

As sexual trauma is held within the body, it can leave you feeling numb, disconnected or overwhelmed by emotions. Rape Crisis is offering a course using a combination of simple body movement, breathe work and mindfulness techniques to help you reconnect to your body in a safe and gentle way. Learning how to reconnect to your body after sexual trauma is a powerful step on the road to recovery.

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Speak Out member Mercia Isaacs. Pic: Alexa Sedge

This course is open to adult women survivors (18yrs and older) who are past, present or possible new clients of Rape Crisis. Being in counselling is recommended, but not necessary as a counsellor will be present at each session. Participants are asked to commit to the full 6 sessions.

When:  Weekly every Thursday, starting the 4th May until 8th June 2017

Time:  10:30am – 12pm

Venue: Observatory

Cost: Free

Spaces are limited to 10 participants so please call to book by 26 April 2017:  Angela or Khabo on (021) 447-9762 or email volunteersobs@rapecrisis.org.za