#HerNameWasVovo and she was a human being

I am a middle-class, white, cis-gender woman who is perceived to be heterosexual. Because of this I am protected in many ways from the hate and violence that is levelled against poor, black queer people like Noluvo Swelindawo, who was kidnapped from her house in Driftsands and murdered because she is a lesbian. I am not sexualised and perceived as ‘deviant’ in the way that Noluvo is. My body has not being transformed by hundreds of years of exploitation into something unhuman, like hers has.

Noluvo Swelindawo

Noluvo Swelindawo. Pic: IOL

But I am not as protected as I have always thought. On the 30th of October 2015 I was raped.

I do not profess to know what Noluvo experienced as a queer black woman, but I have experienced what it means to have violence acted out on me, because of what I represent; that which is less than man, that which is woman. I know what it is to be grabbed, strangled, dragged, penetrated. I know what it is to look into the face of a man and fear that he will kill me and leave my broken body in a clump of bushes. I know what it is to fear that those I loved would find me like this. I know what it is to have my humanity ripped away from me, to feel that I am no longer myself.

The murder of Noluvo forced me to reflect on what it means to be a human being in South Africa, what it means to inhabit this precarious, fractured space. On reflecting on the murder of Noluvo, I am forced to mourn for all of us who can read this kind of story and then carry on with our lives, when the lives of so many are being ended, when so many are being stripped of their dignity, their freedom and their humanity.

The valuing of my life, over the lives of other women, was made clear when I attended a government clinic following my own rape. Here I was repeatedly asked who I was accompanying for treatment – because surely this well-dressed white girl could not be the one who was raped? The fact that I cannot comfortably be seen as a ‘rape survivor’ and  that so many people have wanted not to believe what has happened to me when they so easily believe and overlook when the same happens to other women, is deeply revealing of how dehumanisation has become a key social coping mechanism.

If I had been murdered, those of you, who feel that this can’t happen to people like us, would have cried and probably brought flowers, like you did for Franziska Blochliger. You might have raged and screamed. You might even have marched to ensure that this does not happen to another young woman, like me. You would have recognised my humanity and that it was unacceptable for this to be taken from me.

You will not, I fear, do the same for Noluvo.

*Republished with permission.

 

bio

 

Rebecca Helman will begin her PhD, which explores “post-rape subjectivities” at UNISA in 2017. She is researcher at the UNISA’s Institute for Social and Health Sciences & SAMRC-UNISA’s Violence, Injury and Peace Research Unit and a volunteer counsellor at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust’s Observatory office.

Follow her blog here. 

 

 

 

 

Awareness, responsibility and blame

By Jen Thorpe

Safety is a difficult thing to contemplate in a country where nowhere is really ‘safe’.  It is hard to pretend that we don’t know.  We can’t ignore the high crime statistics, and police commissioner requirements of stomach in chest out.  It’s almost impossible to meet anyone who doesn’t know anyone who has been victim of crime, or hasn’t been one themselves.  We don’t live in a safe place.  We should all be aware of danger.

I think perhaps this assumption that we should be aware of danger, or the belief that we all know that we live in a context of risk, comes with a strange social requirement that we must manage that risk.  Our walls are high, marked by an acoustic array of electric fencing, sirens and lasers.  We put alarms and bars across the windows, we lock our doors, and we have household-safes and money under our mattresses. We are afraid of strangers.  We take out insurance and the insurers bank on the fear economy that we live in.  We take on the responsibility for our protection.

For many the first question you are asked when you are a victim of a mugging was ‘Where were you walking? Was it at night? Were you alone?’ For a victim of a high-jacking we ask ‘Where were you driving? Were your doors locked?’ For rape survivors we ask ‘What were you wearing? Did you fight them off?’ What we’re really asking is ‘How are you to blame? Why didn’t you try harder to protect yourself?  It’s a complex blame game.

We can acknowledge that we live in a world of violence, that some areas and contexts are fraught with danger. But we must surely also be able to acknowledge that everyone has the right to be free from violence, and that blaming victims for crimes means that we don’t blame perpetrators.  We must acknowledge that entering into a dangerous situation doesn’t mean that you are the cause of that danger.

Sexual violence is fraught with stigma, shame, and social myths about women’s sexuality and women’s rights.  In sexual offences cases victim blaming is particularly prevalent because we see that there is complexity in all sexual situations, and that consensual sex is rarely as simple as saying yes.  South African norms of sexuality complicate our awareness of the crime because say that women say ‘no’ when they really mean ‘yes’, and that women who dress, live or fuck in a particular way deserve what they get.

Society expects women to take the same risk management strategies with their bodies as we take with our homes.  So when we hear about women being raped, society tells us the question we should ask them is why they didn’t try harder to protect themselves and prevent their own rape.  Our logic is so fixed by fear, that we can only blame the victim and be proud of ourselves for keeping safe.

This logic also convinces us that only some men rape.  That we can anticipate who those men are, and that we should therefore work harder to avoid them.  But in SA, statistics show that the men that women should be trying to protect themselves from, are the meant they know.  Worse, they are most likely their family members, fathers, uncles and brothers.  These are South Africa’s rapists.

It is possible to be aware that SA is dangerous, but I think the jump from awareness to responsibility and blame is a bigger one than we have acknowledged it to be.

 

 

Stop the Bus! – Day 6 (Trip 2) – Time to say goodbye

Stanford - the final day of the workshop

Stanford - the last day of the workshop

This morning we headed to Stanford where we continued with the workshop. The topic today was care for the caregiver.  We also had a networking meeting in Hermanus where the needs, problems and resources within the Hermanus, Gansbaai, Pearly Beach and Stanford communities were identified and to build better capacity and finding ways of broadening the network of support for rape survivors. Moreover, we visited the hospital, the police station and the Regional Court in Hermanus in connection with the Shukumisa campaign to see whether the rape survivors’ rights and services within the system are followed.

The team has found this journey very rewarding and interesting and we all agreed that the needs for the support of rape survivors in the area visited were vast. We will close this enlightening journey with a quote from Soren Kierkegaard: “To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself”.

From the networking meeting in Hermanus

Some of the participants from the networking meeting in Hermanus together with Eleanor

Goodbye and thank you!

Goodbye and thank you!

Stop the Bus! – Day 5 (Trip 2) – Understanding rape

Catherine having a talk about myths and stereotypes regarding rape

Catherine having a talk about myths and stereotypes regarding rape

Today we continued with the capacity building workshop from day 2. The main topic for discussion was understanding rape. Also the pathway through the Criminal Justice System, the legal definition of rape, the new law on Sexual Offences which was implemented in 2007 as well as myths and stereotypes regarding rape such as “all rapists are mentally ill” were addressed.

At around 14 am. some of the team members went to the Community Health Centre in Stanford where we met the operational manager. She informed us that the services for rape victims were poor in this area and the survivors were sent to the hospital in Hermanus. Moreover, this Centre does not do the forensic examination, but it is done by the police station. The only services they render to the victims are that they give them PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) which is an anti-HIV medical treatment, and this has to be taken within 72 hours after the rape in order to have its effect. Also they get offered medication for the side-effects of PEP at the Clinic.

After this very challenging and rewarding day the team closed the evening with having our debriefing and planning for the grand finale tomorrow.

Jemima giving an excellent presentation of victimization

Jemima giving an excellent presentation of victimization

Peliswa and Eleanor together with employees at the Stanford Clinic

Peliswa and Eleanor together with employees at the Stanford Clinic