Volunteering at Rape Crisis – Emily Whiteside

Working at Rape Crisis is like being part of the movie The Women, if The Women had tackled issues bigger than shopping, cheating husbands and curly hair as a metaphor for a disorganised life. In fact, upon reflection, the only thing that the 2008 U.S. ‘comedy’ has in common with Cape Town’s oldest organisation tackling sexual violence is an overwhelmingly female presence. This overwhelmingly female presence, however, goes far beyond the young, thin, rich, white cast of The Women.

Rape Crisis staff and volunteers come from every imaginable background, ethnicity, religion and language – diverse photos on their brochures aren’t carefully staged to showcase racial pluralism but candidly shot at training days or fundraising events.  They don’t swoop into Underprivileged Communities unannounced, attempting to force-fit solutions from the top down. The organisation is made up of women from the communities it works with, women who counsel survivors and support them through the criminal justice system, run primary prevention programmes for students and liaise with local media and community leaders.

My arrival coincided with the beginning of Sentimental Holiday Season in South Africa but I had to suspend my cynicism, because with Rape Crisis even typically co-opted and commercialised holidays like Mandela Day and Women’s Month become opportunities for long-term, sustainable change. I was to learn that long-term, sustainable change is what this organisation does best, and I have been lucky to contribute to work that will last far beyond my time here.

Emily at the Mandela Day Care Pack Drive pictured here with Angelina, a survivor who shared her incredible story

Emily at the Mandela Day Care Pack Drive pictured here with Angelina, a survivor who shared her incredible story

I applied for this internship with a view to gaining experience of how an NGO functions in a field I am passionate about – women’s rights and sexual violence. Rape Crisis has been an incredible organisation to learn from, given its forty years of history, the vast collective knowledge of its members and its impressive recovery from the threat of economic crisis and closure only three years ago that has led to the implementation of a business approach

Working as part of the Communications Team for ten weeks has allowed me to get involved in projects both long- and short-term and enhance my knowledge and skills in many ways. I have co-authored a series of articles on rape for Health24, compiled research documents for the Director and contributed to the Rape Crisis blog. Fundraising has become a new area of particular interest, sparked by organising Mandela Day and Women’s Day events and consolidated by working on campaigns focusing on individual donors and stewardship. And of course this has all been in conjunction with daily tasks from managing social media to liaising with the press.

Emily, Brittany and Sandy – the communications team hard at work

Cape Town is a very different place from the small town in the north of England where I attend university. Rape here is surrounded by circumstances unique to South Africa – HIV is a greater concern; gang culture makes rape by multiple perpetrators more common; the ‘corrective rape’ of lesbians is a horrifically common hate crime as the culture of violence born from apartheid-era struggles promotes a toxic masculinity. But whether a rapist targets a woman from Khayelitsha outside an unlicensed tavern, or a third year student in her college room in Durham, the causes are the same. Globally, rape has its roots in male power and entitlement, a patriarchal system that objectifies women and positions them as subservient to men, and a culture that blames victims and normalises sexual violence.

As I return to my final year at university, I hope not only that I have left something of value behind at Rape Crisis, but that I can take these lessons away with me and apply them in my own projects and life.

Emily Whiteside


On behalf of the staff, volunteers and beneficiaries of Rape Crisis, we would like to thank you Emily for your incredible contribution to the team and for using your skills in service of our mission. We wish you the best. 

If you would like to volunteer or intern with Rape Crisis, fill out this online form.

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About rapecrisisblog

We have a vision of a South Africa in which rape survivors suffer no secondary trauma, and are supported throughout their interaction with the Criminal Justice System (CJS). Our mission is to promote an end to violence against women, specifically rape, and to assist women to achieve their right to live free from violence. Rape Crisis Cape Town seeks to achieve its mission through counselling and training of women, thereby reducing the trauma experienced by rape survivors, and encouraging reporting of rape and the conviction of rapists.

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