#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.




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. 





The Perfect Victim

I live less than a five minute drive away from where Franziska Blöchliger was raped and murdered. I drove past Tokai forest on the day that it happened. I saw security personnel gathered around the entrance near to where her body was found. By the following day it was in the news. As I watched the media frenzy unfold and the reactions from the womxn in my family, I noticed in myself, an absence of anger or distress or even empathy.

In the weeks following, residents of the surrounding suburbs tied bouquets of flowers along the fence near to where it happened. I have driven past the site many times but only recently decided to visit. I wanted to try and understand my own reaction to the news and I thought that paying a visit might help to bring me clarity.



[Mourners left hundreds of flowers at Tokai forest. Image source: The Good Things Guy ]

As I walked along the fence looking at the drooping flowers, it occurred to me that the public reaction to Franziska’s case is quite unique. She has not once been blamed or implicated in what happened to her. With most rape cases that receive a lot of public attention there is often something about the victim or what the victim was doing that is offered as an explanation as to why it happened to them. The reaction to Anene Booysen’s 2013 rape case is an example of this.

Feminist author Pumla Gqola writes in her book, “Rape: A South African Nightmare”, of the public’s reaction,

“sometimes callers to radio stations expressed a combination of shock and attempts to explain how such a thing could happen by slut-shaming and victim-blaming her. Her judgement was questioned by some who then quickly and condescendingly decided that her class standing meant that she did not know better.”

It takes a lot to be the perfect victim, and one must be to ensure public outrage that is free of victim blaming. The perfect victim must be white, cisgender, heterosexual, sober, must not be out after dark, must not be at a club/bar/party, must not be in a “dodgy” area and must not know their assailant. In light of this, I was able to understand my response. I do not trust the public’s reaction and I do not want to be a part of it. I cannot trust that there is any sincerity behind those bunches of flowers. Would they have been there if Franziska had not met all of the requirements of the perfect victim?

As I drove away I noticed a poster-sized picture of Sinoxolo Mafevuka’s face stuck on a tree. But the poster was torn so that most of her face was missing. And I wondered if Sinoxolo’s case would have received any attention at all if Franziska’s had not happened for it to be compared to.

Danielle Alheit

Durex SA cocked it up on the eve of the 16 Days of Activism

By Jen Thorpe

I received a forwarded horrific tweet moments ago. The tweet in question came from Durex SA, and went as follows:

 @DurexSA: Why did God give men penises? So they’d have at least one way to shut a woman up. #DurexJoke

When I pointed out to them that this endorsed violence against women, their response was

DurexSA3:30pm via Web

@FeministsSA We have posted many jokes, see our timeline… And they not violent against woman! Re-read it!!!!!

Once again I was reminded that violence against women remains a joke to most South Africans, and that there is little understanding of the connection of social messages that sanction this violence (e.g. invite men to use their penises as a weapon) to the violence itself. Durex SA, you’ve really cocked it up here. Using one’s penis to ‘shut someone up’ sounds a lot like rape to me. If you’re not sure what the definition is, feel free to have a read of the Sexual Offences Act. Forced oral sex is rape.

I’m not going to spend this post spewing statistics about the high incidence of violence against women, because you can read them yourself on the SAPS webpage. It is important to understand that violence against a particular group does not arise out of nowhere, and the frequent perpetration of this violence by men is not a coincidence in SA where jokes like those with the hashtag #DurexJoke are popular. I want to talk about this social sanction of messages that promote violence.

Norms and myths sustain our social identities. They help us to understand the expected interactions between ourselves and others. Norms are themselves sustained by our actions. It is a self-perpetuating cycle. Norms that say men’s most important attribute is their penis, and that a woman better celebrate that by taking what she can get, are part of rape culture, which I argue is bad for everyone.

South Africa has an incredibly powerful rape culture. This culture is sustained by many things: low conviction rates for perpetrators, an unpleasant criminal justice system that alienates survivors and reduces reporting, a history of South African violence, and inequality amongst the sexes. It is also sustained by our laughter at jokes that condone violence against women. Rape is not funny.

According to Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust’s website, myths about rape have the following negative effects for survivors:

  • Increasing the trauma experienced by the sexual offence victim.
  • Encouraging prejudice regarding the liability of both the victim and the accused in the matter.
  • Slowing down or preventing the recovery of the victim.
  • Discouraging victims from reporting the offence.
  • Hampering society’s understanding as to the causes of sexual offences and the seriousness of its effect on victims. Through this, victims are denied the support and assistance that they need, to heal from the experience of sexual violation.

In other words, the promotion of social norms that encourage violence increase the likelihood that a survivor will suffer secondary trauma and will experience rape trauma syndrome. 

Social media has become a new zone where messages promoting violence against women can be rapidly dissemminated.  It’s easy to put hateful dangerous messages out there behind the face of a brand, or anonymously. Earlier this year we had to deal with #itsnotrapeif, Facebook pages that encouraged men to ‘ride her gently so she doesn’t wake up’ and many other revolting messages that aimed to make violence against women a joke. If you are sick of these types of messages, as I am, why not take back the tech?

If you’re not sure what you can do this 16 Days to support women who have survived violence against them, why not try the following:

  1. Do not forward violence: don’t laugh at sexist jokes, don’t retweet sexist tweets, don’t diminish stories of sexual violence, don’t join Facebook groups or pages that promote violence
  2. Boycott companies that promote violence – perhaps a nice way to start here would be by boycotting DurexSAuntil they issue an apology (in the mean time, please make sure you replace them with another brand. Make sure the sex you’re having is safe and consensual)
  3. Support organisations that work to fight against violence against women, such as Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, or the organisations that make up the Shukumisa Campaign. Go to their fundraisers.
  4. Talk to your partner about the ways that you both might reinforce unequal gender roles and sexism. This can happen in heterosexual and hom0sexual relationships.
  5. Speak out about violence against women. Tell your story of violence. Support pro-women media.

The 16 Days is a time for all of us to realise how important it is that sexism comes to an end, that violence against women comes to an end, and that we never, ever, ever, give up.

Sexual Assault and Harassment in the USA

The US News

By Sammie Moshenberg

Sexual assault and harassment is big news here in the US, including in the Sports section of the newspaper! In October, we marked the 20th anniversary of the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings in the US Senate. Anita Hill who took a great personal risk by going public with her humiliating story of sexual harassment by her boss, Clarence Thomas, who had been nominated for a life-time seat on the United States Supreme Court. Although her story did not move the US Senate sufficiently to defeat Thomas’ nomination, it did inspire a nationwide discussion on sexual harassment at work and probably gave other women the courage to confront their workplace abuse.

Recently, workplace harassment has been in the news again as Herman Cain, a contender for the Republican nomination for US President, was accused by several women of sexual harassment. Once again, a man in the spotlight publicly denied the accusations, belittling and lashing out at the women who shared their stories.

Finally, Joe Paterno, the revered coach of one of the best college football teams in the country, Pennsylvania State University, lost his job because he did nothing to stop one of his staff members’ from alleged child sexual abuse. Despite eye witnesses and police investigations of repeated and horrifying abuse by Coach Sandusky who reported to Paterno, nothing was ever done to discipline Sandusky or get justice for his young victims. While it is true that many people are condemning the alleged crimes and the cover-up, there are many others who are angry that their beloved Coach Paterno has lost his job!

These stories are not only getting newspaper and TV coverage, but they are generating conversation far and wide. On the one hand, it is troubling that in all three cases there are people who are angry at the victims who have come forward, disparaging their stories and defending the powerful men who have been accused. On the other hand, the news has raised awareness of the persistence of sexual harassment and abuse. Hopefully this awareness and resolve to tackle the problem won’t be just tomorrow’s big story!

Sammie Moshenberg works for a women’s organization in the United States and has lived on and off in Cape Town for 16 years. She and her husband are proud supporters of the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust