The Journey of a Counsellor

On paper, it’s relatively easy to counsel. Rape Crisis and other counselling courses teach that the main components of effective counselling include active listening, observational skills, body language, counsellor self-awareness and empathy. All of these skills allow for the opening up of a field of healing – a space where the client is the central focus and as a counsellor, you become a facilitator of healing in this safe space.

The difficult part of counselling comes in the form of having to manage your responses to the pain people offer you to hold for them. The number one question I am asked is ‘that must be so heavy. How do you deal with that?’ well, Rape Crisis had us trudge through our own hurts, our histories, our responses and our triggers, to essentially build a protective barrier. This boundary acts and looks like a stronger version of ourselves so that we are solid when the bricks of another’s identity try to intercept our foundational truth. Those bricks are heavy, and they tend to fly in from nowhere, unannounced.  

It is only when faced with a survivor, who has their own histories and hurts and foundational truth, that we realise there is universal pain. Regardless of their background, gender, race or sexual orientation, something in their honesty or their world-views will trigger a feeling in you. And that is because of the magic of empathy- the ability to feel someone else’s reality so deeply, that it appears to be your own. There have been moments with a client when they say ‘It made me feel so gobbledegook- like a spider with a tail’ and all of a sudden, you know what a gobbledegook is, you know what that tail feels like, you can see where that feeling sat in their body and suddenly it’s sitting there in yours. It’s pure magic. Pure, terrifying, electric magic and it can hurt you if you do not know yourself enough to facilitate this person without having them change you fundamentally. You must have deeply planted roots, support and self-care!  

Rape Crisis taught us the value of being able to hold ourselves. We were told early on, that when things feel too chaotic in your own life, look after yourself first. There is no way that you can effectively hold the space for another person when it’s cluttered with your own pain. This is where self-care comes in- the ability to make time for yourself and your own needs, the ability to check in with yourself regularly and ask yourself what you need right now to make yourself feel safe, loved and happy.

Rape Crisis as an institution has a mandate of empowerment, and that is where the difference lies between it and other organisations. Every aspect of the counselling at Rape Crisis is a response to a survivor having had their power stolen from them by a perpetrator. As humans, we instinctively wish to fix what’s broken- but telling people how to heal after being raped, or telling survivors what their pain should look like, is the most disempowering thing you can do. There is no ‘how to’ guide on finding your strength, or telling your family what has happened to you, or having to face your rapist in court.

The most profound thing Rape Crisis taught me is that everything the client feels is legitimate and normal and important. Everything. The path to healing and empowerment will therefore look different to everyone, and will happen in its own time. As counsellors we do not fix, because a survivor is not broken. They are some of the strongest people I will ever meet, simply because they walked through the doors and asked for their power to be echoed back through the safety and support of others.

My journey as a counsellor has only just begun, but I know now that counselling someone is more than just learning how to listen, or learning to be comfortable with silence, or learning how not to give advice. It is a humbling responsibility and turns you towards yourself in such a beautiful and frightening way, that really, the survivor heals the counsellor as much as we may offer them the space to heal themselves.

Act now! Help us train more counsellors like Robyn by making a donation towards our counselling service here. For 24-hour counselling support, call our crisis line on (021) 447 – 9762.

 

Robyn Raymond 

IMG_5425

Robyn moved to Cape Town from Johannesburg to study psychology in 2011. Having completed her Honours degree and a number of counselling courses through various NGO’s, she is now a counsellor at Rape Crisis’ Athlone office. She is also currently volunteering at an early intervention centre for children with autism. She hopes to pursue a career in the advocacy for mental health in South Africa, with a specific focus on access to mental healthcare structures for Womxn and Queer-identifying individuals.

Advertisements

Help Us Build a Culture of Consent

I have a vision of a South Africa where women feel safe in their communities. But can you truly imagine it?

I can’t. At Rape Crisis we see the most extreme result of discrimination against women every day. We see a woman after a man has raped her. In the immediate aftermath, or some months later, or after years and years of isolating silence. A silence built on the stigma of being a rape survivor. On the fear of being blamed for wearing a short skirt, or for being out after dark, for being drunk, or for changing her mind in the middle of a sexual encounter. In South Africa these myths are strong enough and the stigma is high enough to stand in the way of this vision.

We believe that the best way to challenge these myths and build a new set of beliefs based on mutual respect for consent is to support communities so that their capacity to address the problem of rape is strengthened. We believe that doing this with teenagers while they are still at school means they are more likely to challenge their own ways of thinking and take that challenge to their peers. Teenagers love to challenge the adult norm.

Monique is a Rape Crisis trained peer educator at Athlone High School. She completed a course that allowed her to support other learners at her school who needed help if they had been raped or sexually assaulted and were too afraid to tell an adult. It also taught her different ways of challenging rape culture among her peers and teaching them new ways of thinking, a new attitude and a new norm. To celebrate Youth Day 16 June 2017 she wrote a blog for us.

“Being a peer educator is a responsibility that I need to fulfil with the utmost seriousness. I am proud to be a peer educator,” she said.

20161208_121

Obstacle course at the Peer Educators’ camp in Simonstown December 2016. Photograph by Alexa Sedge.

The course kicks off with a well-known exercise called the River of Life. It is designed to help participants tell the story of their lives in order to get to know one another at a deeper level and, in sharing this experience as a group, to develop a bond as a team.

“Fear immediately settled in me. Not because I had to speak in front of 21 strangers but because I had to show others who I really was. I had to show others all the things which made my childhood not so pleasant: all the things that I had locked away and although I wanted to throw away the key, I couldn’t. So there I was, revealing what I had kept inside for years – it was scary. I hated the fact that I had to be vulnerable. However, as each of my peers went up, I could see that we all had a dark past and that sunshine was scarce. What I learnt from that activity was that we need to scratch open our old wounds in order for them to heal properly. I realised that in order for me to help others, I had to help myself first.”

Empowerment starts within. Each facilitator on this course is a trained Rape Crisis volunteer. They go through a similar journey of confronting their fears as they learn to carry the huge responsibility of taking a group of young people on a journey fraught with intense emotions. But if we think of how damaging it is when an entire community believes even just one myth about women, about gender non-conforming people or about rape then we can see how serious it really is to make the attempt to challenge that myth.

“That activity made me realise something else as well: that’s what rape survivors have to go through when telling complete strangers about their traumatic experience, trusting others with what they would perhaps have kept to themselves.”

20161208_171

Photograph by Alexa Sedge

“Throughout this programme, session by session, I learnt to trust others and I learnt of the stigma related to those being raped and how they are judged. I also learnt many things about HIV and AIDS and the stigma related to those who are positive. I learnt of our rights, our responsibilities and the rights of survivors.”

If you would like to support the journey of a peer educator like Monique please donate here or share this post with someone you think might want to contribute.

“Being part of the Rape Crisis family has been really great for me. We laugh together, cry together, and share a lot of memories. I want to thank the facilitators for doing a super job. Keep inspiring others and moulding new leaders. Although my course is complete, my journey as a peer educator has just begun.”

Please help us promote a culture of safety in our schools or sign up to get updates about this and other projects at Rape Crisis. Because challenging just one myth helps to challenge the culture that gave birth to it; the same culture that gives rise to discrimination and violence against women.

Thank you so much for being part of the process of building a culture of consent.

 

One Rape is Too Many

“SA shocked by murders and rapes”…“Spate of women and child murders-a crisis!”

These are just some of the headlines we have seen over the last month in the media, focusing on telling the stories of violence and horror inflicted on women and children.

The immediate reaction for many is one of shock, despair, anger and panic. For many South Africans, their first point of call for expressing these emotions is social media.

News stories are often shared on Facebook and accompanied by comments such as “rape in SA is getting out of hand,” “government is failing us,” etc.

The other reaction is a “knee jerk” one, which begs people to ask, “How did this happen?” Others immediately think, “How can we tackle this crisis?”

But let’s just stop and examine the facts before panicking and throwing around this word “CRISIS”. 

A few weeks ago marked the annual Child Protection Week or as I like to call it “a week where children get some focus from both government officials and the media.” 

Any crimes committed against children take precedence during this time. Newspapers place these stories on their front pages, bulletins feature these stories at the top- often with sensationalist headlines. Many government departments place it at the top of their agenda and host a week of events where they invite the media to provide coverage, of course.

This leads to ordinary people jumping to the conclusion that these crimes are on the rise. But are they? 

After speaking to many experts in the child rights sector, they would most likely say NO. The number of rapes being committed is not increasing. Prove it? Well, that’s easier said than done. It is difficult to conclusively say that rapes are on the rise because police statistics are problematic on its own (but that could be a subject of a whole new blog). Also, there is a challenge of under-reporting due to the nature in which these crimes are handled by police and prosecuted.

So, just to set the record straight….

Rapes are taking place all over the country, every day, but the reports seldom make it into the public domain. The main culprit is the media who choose when and how often to report on these cases. Similarly, officials in government also choose when to make public declarations about rape. They often take action when a case gains traction in the media.

The most recent example is that of Courtney Pieter’s, a three year old girl who went missing for over a week and was later found dead in a shallow grave near her home. The perpetrator was none other than someone she knew. The media coverage of this case and the events surrounding it escalated its national importance. Perhaps it was due to the nature of the crime or perhaps it was because of the timing of events (close to Child Protection Week). Either way it gained enough attention for the President himself to visit the family of Pieter’s and the community, Elsies River. The gestures made by Jacob Zuma outraged some community activists who have actively fought against these crimes for years. 

There are times when some rapes don’t make it into the media because they are not “gruesome” enough. They don’t have the shock factor because South Africans have become desensitized.

Shouldn’t we be saying that rape is rape no matter what the circumstances. It is disheartening when a brave victim chooses to speak out and tell their story, only to discover that their story has fallen through the cracks because it wasn’t deemed newsworthy.

While it is important that the media report on cases like Courtney Pieter’s to highlight a culmination of multiple social ills in that community, the media nonetheless has a responsibility to report consistently. 

We shouldn’t wait for another Courtney story to be outraged. Nor should we wait for confirmation of a crisis. 

One rape is too many.                           

                                             TheJusticeLady

TheJusticeLady is a writer who wants to give a voice to the voiceless. She is an advocate for the rights of rape survivors. She keeps a close eye on the courts, the media and the role they play in shaping the manner in which society sees rape.

 

#MenAreTrash

When I first became aware of the #MenAreTrash hashtag it was never a stand-alone thing. The hashtag always preceded or followed a story, in less than 140 characters on Twitter, about why men are trash. Every reason for using the hashtag was real. Horrific stories of rape and abuse shared the hashtag with downright rude stories about men dissing women and girls for how they looked, dressed, spoke. One tweeter used #MenAreTrash to describe the total stranger who flooded her with unsolicited dick pics. Another posted a picture of her black eye. There was the one who addressed her harasser personally, and another who posted a thread of daily incidents of harassment she had experienced since puberty. It was a long list. Sometimes #MenAreTrash was the single word answer to a tweet that was sexist or inappropriate or ugly towards women.

When I first encountered the hashtag I had no idea how it was going to be taken up, or how much it would trend. But, more importantly, I had no idea how fierce male resistance to it would be.

Close friends of mine took the hashtag personally. Sane men, who understand white privilege and systemic racism; men who have spoken out in defence of #BlackLivesMatter and who took pains to explain the wrongness of the #AllLivesMatter backlash, struggled with #MenAreTrash. They couldn’t help themselves. They took it personally. I was shocked. I was forced to explain #MenAreTrash more than once to those who were hurt by the hashtag and the message behind it.

This is how I explained it. If you are white and you have been working to understand racism and privilege and you see #WhitesAreRacist you should, after a moment to digest the usual default knee-jerk response, be able to walk on by, acknowledging that for the most part it is true, but that you don’t have to take it personally. Same thing for #MenAreTrash. If you are a man who works hard to break down the gender stereotypes, who has a clear conscience regarding the objectification of women, and a man who keeps standing up and calling out men who behave inappropriately towards women, then you should be able to walk on by, acknowledging that men are trash does not mean you.

Unfortunately, men have been outraged by #MenAreTrash. A lot more outraged by far by that hashtag then by the reasons behind it. Hysterical, loud and vitriolic responses have included trolling, threatening and even physically harming women for using the hashtag. See the irony there?

And it is a never-ending cycle.

Here is my advice to men. Keep quiet for a moment and listen. Hear what is being said. And hear why it is being said. Hold off on your outrage for a little bit, and then see if you can redirect it. We need you to be outraged. We need you to be outraged by what is being done to us, by men. We need you to help us fight this fight. We need you men to move yourselves away from the denial, the whining voice of the hard done by and misinterpreted, and to get over yourselves for long enough to identify what the problem is, and to hear why #MenAreTrash is a rallying cry.

Show us it isn’t so.

Megan Furniss

Megan Furniss is a South African born playwright, actor, writer, director, blogger and improviser. She likes to find spaces to let her big mouth and big opinions be heard and seen. She lives and works in Cape Town. It’s a love hate relationship.