The commemoration of the anniversary of Anene Booysen’s death has been cause for a long look at the state of rape in South Africa by the media, as editors and journalists take stock of what has changed. The answer? Not much. Rape statistics remain unacceptably high, government resource allocation lamentable and efforts at prevention weak. Of the three it is the latter that most concerns organisations like the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. The lack of evidence based solutions to the scourge of rape in our country says more about our ability to face this crisis than anything else.
There are several problems within government. The Department of Social Development in particular has several avenues open to it yet it has not followed through on these. It has seriously underestimated the rate of rape in the country and the number of families and individuals that will require services as well as underestimating the cost of these services. As a result it has also failed to allocate sufficient budget and other resources to this problem including deploying enough social workers. It also does not seems to have allocated funds from Treasury that were set aside for the relief of distressed NGOs that were forced to retrench staff, cut down on services or close their doors in 2012/13.
One solution it has that is based on research conducted in 2010 is the Victim Empowerment Bill. It has failed to ask for public comment or further expert consultation on the Bill even though this has been part of its own strategic plan for the past two years. This Bill would address a number of gaps in the criminal justice system, including making sure that people in South Africa know more about how the system works, better information for victims of crime about the progress of their cases, effective tracking of cases through the system, improved mechanisms for holding service providers accountable, improved psycho social care for victims and better intersectoral and multi stakeholder collaboration between government departments and between government and NGOs.
Another solution, this one being considered by both the Departments of Health and Social Development, is to further limit alcohol advertising. This is being ridiculed by commentators as not being evidence based, and not being sufficient even if it does work. While there is some evidence that increased use of alcohol is in fact linked to advertising, we know there is a strong link between alcohol use and violence. Rape Crisis counsellors can attest to the strong link they see between unsafe use of alcohol and rape and this theme comes up in dialogues the organisation holds with communities where rape is prevalent. It is not a popular solution by any manner of means but limiting access to alcohol, and limiting advertising of alcohol might well form part of a solution.
In France, where the passion for drinking seems to be an indelible part of the national identity, the ban on alcohol advertising is severe and strongly upheld even though the overall effect on consumption is considered to have been weak. It appears that quantitative considerations have been given less importance than the qualitative or symbolic effects of this ban. Alcohol consumption is still very often associated by advertisers with stereotypes of masculinity and with personal, sexual and social success. The ban was seen as the only way to change these kinds of tactics.
The UK Institute for Alcohol Studies (IAS) describes how the French law has resisted all challenges including complaints lodged with the European Commission, which considered in one instance “that the protection of consumers’ health should prevail over the freedom of the provision of services”. The IAS also says that the regulation of advertising can only form part of an overall strategy of prevention.
This being said, the focus on prevention should not take away from the fact that women should be able to go where they want, dressed as they choose and not be subject to harassment and rape. And many other drivers of rape – inequality, a culture of violence and impunity, lack of access to justice, belief in the prevailing myths and stereotypes about rape – are of course issues we need to address. But we have start somewhere, and there are policy initiatives on the table that begin to make some of the changes we clearly so desperately need. However, government’s ability to make the changes that are needed is limited. The solution also lies with us, and how we challenge the way we see women and men in our society. If we get that right, in that best of all possible worlds, Anene would be a year older, and we would not need to remember her name.
Kathleen Dey, Director of the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust.