Last month we celebrated the commitment and achievement of our new peer educators from Khayelitsha who came together for their end of year camp. This group of vibrant school learners challenge the myths and misconceptions about rape amongst their peers in their schools and encourage those who are survivors to speak out and seek support. This most recent camp was attended by two students from the University of York, Amy Woodruff and Zaynah Nadeem Khan, who give us their impressions. Throughout my experience at the Birds and the Bees camp, two themes emerged: the importance of including youth in advocacy and the spirit of community support. The activities led by Rape Crisis facilitators and the peer educators demonstrated the importance of youth working together to a sense of build unity as a foundation for working to bring about change. The excitement of the peer educators was contagious, as they took part in what proved to be a life-changing experience filled with the kind of opportunities that would not typically be available to them. In essence, they were given the chance to do something out of the ordinary while receiving well deserved recognition for their dedication to the peer education programme. In workshops where they reflected on their previous learning, we could see the importance that they gave to the problem of rape, and how seriously they felt about doing their part to address it. In the more physical activities such as climbing the mountain, the peers worked as a team, supported each other and gave a helping hand to those who were finding it tough. The sense of fulfillment they felt after climbing the mountain was an incredible thing to witness. Many of the children said they felt strong, capable and surprised at what they could accomplish together as a team. It was great to see the learners interacting with each other during the ‘Tree of Life’ activity. In this experiential game they gathered objects from the camp surroundings to illustrate their life stories. They were candid and willing to share not only with each other but also with us, which was incredibly inspiring. The camp re-established the pride these learners feel in themselves as leaders in their schools and communities, and added to their motivation to engage in advocacy actions to address sexual violence and promote safety in their schools. It gave them a chance to reflect on their new knowledge and experience, to engage with other youth, and to receive the praise and affirmation they deserve. It was a pleasure to be involved in this project, and I hope the camps continue for many years to come, and that the peer educators carry forward these lessons into their lives and into their communities. Our peer educators perform a key role in the promotion of safety in their schools where rates of sexual violence are so high, and ensure that learners who are survivors have access to information and services and are supported in speaking out. We thank Manyano High School, Bulumko Secondary School, and Kwamfundo High School for continuing to host this programme in their schools. Thank you to MATCH Internaltional Women’s Fund and Oxfam Australia for funding this programme.
Watching a screening of a documentary about the self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” Audre Lorde recently in Berlin, brought the following quote back into my mind. In her poem A Litany for Survival she wrote:
and when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
so it is better to speak remembering
we were never meant to survive “
Shivers ran over my body while listening. These lines made me think of many incidents in my life, being a woman, a critical-thinker, a feminist and since last year a volunteer counsellor at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust where I was afraid to speak. The fear to speak out loud follows me and the poem resonates within. It does take great courage to share, and the poem is a reminder that society is mostly not and has never been gentle. Violence and fear are a part of too many lives.
Leaving the screening, the poem stayed with me. The words, coupled with the coincidental random post I encountered on a social media platform on my way home made me immediately sit down and write. What I read caused confusion and anger which I had to get out, as words on paper; I suddenly had to mold my thoughts. The social media post was a petition trying to stop the planned seminar by Julien Blanc in Berlin. The heading in big letters stated: ‘No rape promotion in Germany’. I hadn’t heard about Julien Blanc before and tried to find out more.
The workshop organised by this ‘pick up’ artist working for the organisation Real Social Dynamics promotes a strategy on how to convince women to have sex with men. Not only how to convince, rather how to use force “if she is not willing”. Germany, my home country, was one of his multiple destinations. His promotional tour started in Australia and moved from there to Japan where videos have been shared online on how to force Japanese girls to engage in sexual intercourse. Pictures of him holding a young woman by her throat, alongside the hashtag #ChokingGirlsAroundTheWorld could be seen online.
Once again women’s right to their sexuality, their desire for sex, the equal ‘game’ is being denied too. It is this pure hunter’s perspective – young women as the trophy- combined with its violence, that made my stomach turn.
Luckily lots of campaigns were initiated and shared on social media to stop these workshops. Activists stood up and raised their voices and as a result Julian Blanc got denied entry into Australia and the UK. I hope they are successful in Germany too. Germany, like South Africa, is a country that espouses human rights for everyone in its constitution, and it should not forget about the right to safety of more than half of their citizens: women.
The courage of women who speak out against injustice inspires me. We need to listen, to hear and to be quiet if needs be and to be creative. If language can’t form itself, we can draw, write, sing, scream, run – anything as long as we do not let it sit alone inside us. There is so much power in speaking out, yet it is a strength that we tend to forget.
So use your voice – in the service of women all around the world, or for yourself. Become a Rape Crisis volunteer, join our writers group, follow us on social media and share your thoughts with us, tell your story to one of our counsellors or donate now.
Cornelia, holds a degree in Sociology and is passionate about gender activism, the support of refugees and the use of art as a tool to overcome social inequality. The topic of intergenerational trauma in Germany and in South Africa is one that she is currently exploring. She is working towards a Phd on the use of art for social change. If she is not in Cape Town, her chosen second home, she can be found in Hamburg, Germany. She is a volunteer counsellor at Rape Crisis.
“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.
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 email@example.com to get involved.
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.
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.