Rape in South Africa is a much bigger problem that any commentator on the rape, mutilation and murder of Anene Booysen and the subsequent public outcry has begun to outline. In South Africa our Constitution enshrines the right of women to live free from violence. Our government has also signed a number of regional and international conventions agreeing to uphold these same rights and duties. It is time for the state to call for international assistance.
Police crime statistics released in September 2012 state that in 2011/2012 there were a total of 9 193 sexual offences reported to the South African Police Services (SAPS) in the Western Cape. This translates into just under 27 cases per day. In total, 64 514 sexual offences were reported countrywide for that period.
At Rape Crisis we know that the prevalence of rape is much greater than those cases that are reported to the South Africa Police Service (SAPS). This fact is backed up by scientific studies conducted by the South African Medical Research Council (MRC). The barriers to reporting rape are many. For the survivor of rape these barriers include the horror of being forced to relive the trauma of the rape every time she speaks about it, the shame of what other people will think, how they will judge her behaviour before they judge the behaviour of the rapist, the pain it will cause her mother, her father, her friends, her husband or girlfriend or lover, the fact that the rapist and his friends or family or gang will offer her threats or bribes to drop the case and, perhaps the reason closest to our vision as an organisation, the fact that she has little faith in the South African criminal justice system to support her in seeing that justice is done. Perhaps if this system recognised their rights more fully then more rape survivors would report or disclose these attacks.
However it is not only the prevalence of rape that is of such deep concern, frightening as it is. At Rape Crisis we know that the foreseeable consequences of rape can be a matter of life and death. Rapes in the Western Cape in particular but also elsewhere must be considered against the background of poverty, easy access to drugs like tik (methamphetamine) and of widespread HIV infection. Violence against women acts as a vector or as a driving force for HIV transmission because rapists and the act of rape itself carry several inherent risk factors. Perpetrators of rape often carry other sexually transmitted infections, cause injuries to the genital organs during the act and often rape repeatedly or in a group with more than one rapist. The use of tik and alcohol greatly increase the violence of rape and hence the risk of transmission. We have seen women with human bite wounds. Unwanted pregnancy as a result of rape leads to survivors seeking terminations of pregnancy or living with a child that is a constant reminder of pain. And poverty can make people believe that their lives have no meaning and no value to others. The combination of all these factors has lead to a situation that as it escalates over the years, is, in my opinion, quite lethal.
The resources we have to hand to tackle this problem are dwindling fast. With the classification of South Africa as a middle income country international donors are offering much needed support to poorer African countries or indeed responding to social problems of their own. Government has not adequately gauged the extent violence against women and therefore has not allocated funds adequate to the task of delivering services at the scale that is required.
Local corporate social investment does not increase year on year and these donations are tied to the performance of the economy and need to be shared between an increasing pool of beneficiaries. Businesses have not yet seen how they can expand their consumer base by aligning themselves with a good cause. Individual citizens are only just beginning to realise their power to use their votes to support decision makers that are committed to constructive solutions. They are only just beginning to realise that they have the choice to spend their money on a good cause and that in doing so they will make a real difference.
And what is that difference? What is it exactly that those organisations like Rape Crisis do? What is it that makes what we do so remarkable?
Rape Crisis was founded on the idea that ordinary women can do extraordinary things. Our founder, Anne Mayne, was an ordinary South African woman who was raped in the 1970s and found that she had nowhere to turn for help. She did not want to see other women suffer the same fate and so she recruited some volunteers to assist her. They met at one another’s homes to plan the work of Rape Crisis. They soon got themselves a pager and a telephone number. The telephone has not stopped ringing since. They offered counselling and support to rape victims in coffee shops, on the back seats of cars and on park benches before they had a small rented office. They spoke at meetings of civic associations, citizen groups, at churches and at schools. They wrote letters to the press exposing the inadequacies of the criminal justice system and of the law.
Rape Crisis 36 years later is the oldest women’s organisation in South Africa offering essential services to both female and male rape survivors. We recruit our staff and volunteers from the very same communities we serve – the community of ordinary South Africans in everyday life in all its diversity from housewives in Constantia to domestic workers in Khayelitsha to factory workers in Athlone to university students to unemployed women to professionals – we are all represented. During the struggle to end Apartheid we were a safe house and trained some of the most powerful gender activists in the field today. More recently we began to recruit women who speak Swahili, Lingala and French in order to better support the growing number of rape survivors from outside South Africa coming to our doors.
We counsel now in more comfortable surroundings in one of our three offices and the telephone helpline still operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 day a year. We also counsel rape survivors at two health facilities and five Cape Town courts and we train police victim support volunteers to counsel survivors when they come to police stations throughout the Western Cape to report rape.
We speak at civil society gatherings, at schools, at universities and at churches but now we do this in Cape Town and in towns throughout the Western Cape. We speak on the radio, we appear on television and we write articles for the press. We support our partners in national initiatives such as the Shukumisa Campaign. We run courses for our sister NGOs and train officials within the criminal justice system. We make submissions to Parliament advocating for law reform and for better implementation of our laws. There is no sense for us in seeing the individual rape survivor triumph over her anguish only to see the same thing happen again and again without making any attempt to change the system or build stronger communities.
As build them we do. Our staff and volunteers are well trained in highly specialised skill sets as counsellors, court supporters and community educators. Not only that, they know how to convene meetings, chair meetings, take minutes, keep records, set up filing systems and gather research data. They know how to lead. In fact they are the future leaders of this country. Supporting them is the best thing you, as an ordinary South African can do.
In the weeks since those men raped and killed Anene Booysen we have seen ordinary South Africans do so much. We can all follow their example. Join a campaign. Participate in a meaningful action. Join an organisation and train as a volunteer. Tweet #StopRape into trending every week and follow @RapeCrisis and like the RC Cape Town Facebook page or contact the organisation closest to you that you find on www.shukumisa.org.za to find out more about what you can do to assist them.
Look for the party in the upcoming election that supports law reforms that will benefit victims of crime and that will ensure steps to build a criminal justice system that sees the strength in the rape survivor and builds on that strength. Look for the party that has a true political champion that will drive these reforms over the long term. Vote for that party rather than any other.
Support champions like Gasant Abarder amd Margie Orford when they ride a race or write a book that highlights the problems we all face together and looks for the best solutions. Support a business that supports organisations like Rape Crisis rather than one that doesn’t. Donate and become part of something you can feel proud of. Support a call on the South Africa government to invite the United Nations to make a country visit to South Africa to investigate the problem. Perhaps when we have the scrutiny and support of the international community we will gather the resources do what needs to be done.
Contact Rape Crisis for counselling or other services on (021) 447-1467 or visit www.rapecrisis.org.za to find out how you can become more involved.