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 

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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.

#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.

After the Worst has Happened

It is the end of my Honours year. I am at a party to celebrate. I am shivering, despite the warm evening as I stand with a group of my classmates on the patio. We are anxiously waiting to hear if the two girls who left the party to go for a walk and did not return, have been found. Someone comes running towards us out of the darkness. He takes a breath, “the worst has happened”, a pause… “they have been raped”.

I have thought of those words many times in the last five years. I have been recalled to them again in the past few weeks as another spate of highly publicised rapes (and murders) infiltrate my consciousness:

RAPE IS THE WORST THING THAT CAN HAPPEN TO A WOMXN

I hear this message echoed in the words of Judge Kgomo as he hands down sentencing to serial rapist Christian Cornelius Julies in the North West. “It is unquestionable that if he was not stopped in his tracks, belatedly though, the devastation of girls and women’s lives would have continued”.

I hear it in the numerous posts on Facebook that recur on my news feed which proclaim that “my biggest fear is being raped”.

I am torn as I write this because it was my biggest fear -so much so that at the moment that I was being dragged into the bushes I thought to myself “oh god this – the worst thing – is finally happening to me”.  But what does it mean for me now? What can I do now that the worst has happened to me?

According to this narrative my life has been devastated, I have been violated in the most extreme way imaginable, I am worse than dead. I have struggled under the weight of this for 18 months now. I have tried to reconstitute myself amidst the constant echo that this is not actually possible – that I will never be whole and unbroken ever again.

I am not denying that being raped is terrifying and terrible. How could I deny this? It was terrifying and terrible – so terrifying and terrible that I left my body for a while and just hovered above myself, trying not to look down on what was happening.

BUT I am concerned about how the dominant narratives about sexual violence, including the one that being raped is the worst thing, impact on the ability to move beyond the terrifying and terribleness of rape.  How is it possible to heal when disclosing an experience of trauma is met with “Oh my goodness! That is my worst fear!”? How are those who have been violated supposed to heal when they are constantly reminded that they have been dehumanised in the most severe way?

I am not suggesting that we should not continue to call out the horror that is sexual violence. All instances of sexual violence are unacceptable and need to be plainly rendered as such.

But I am asking that we think more carefully about how we do this so that we do not reinscribe pain and horror on the bodies, psyches and souls of those around us.

Rebecca Helman 

Rebecca Helman is a PhD candidate at the University of South Africa (UNISA). Her PhD, entitled “post-rape subjectivities”, examines the ways in which rape survivors are able to (re)constitute their subjectivities amidst the discursive and material politics of sexual violence in the South African context. Rebecca is also a volunteer counsellor at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust’s Observatory office. 

 

 

Help fight violence against women by giving your Mandela Day minutes to rape survivors

Last year was great, let’s make this year even better!

Rape Crisis counsellors offer 24 hour support to rape survivors undergoing a forensic examination in the hours immediately after rape. They treat each case with the utmost seriousness. They give clear information about what will happen next. They allow the rape survivor to make her or his own decisions and then support those decisions and offer emotional support throughout the process. They make sure the person has access to justice and knows what is required of them step by step throughout the journey.

Medical personnel offer treatment to prevent HIV infection, to prevent other sexually transmitted infections and in the case of women, to prevent pregnancy. A detective from a specialist unit takes a full statement.

This is a difficult ordeal to go through immediately after rape. You can imagine how desperate survivors are to have a shower as soon as all these procedures have been completed. That’s why we give each one of them a care pack containing toiletries, a change of underwear and other personal items.  These items are contained in a beautiful bag sewn by rape survivors in our sewing project. As one rape survivor said: “I felt so comforted by the toiletries and I am amazed that someone took the time to create such a beautiful bag just for me.”

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On Saturday 15 July we need your help to put these care packs together.  The contents of the packs are all ready and the bags we pack them into have been hand made by our Change a Life sewing project, a group of rape survivors striving for economic empowerment.  We need your help to pack 1 300 bags for women, men, girls and boys. What better way could there be to celebrate the spirit of Mandela Day than by giving your 67 minutes to support rape survivors?

On the day a rape survivor will be telling her story, our director, Kathleen Dey will be talking about the work of Rape Crisis and there’ll be a crafting space where you can make something special to put inside a care pack. Some people make cards while others knit or crochet small hearts to go into the packs.

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Please will you diarise now:

Date:  Saturday 15 July 2017
Time:  10.00am to 15.00pm
Venue:  Rosebank Methodist Church Hall, 2 Chapel Road, Rosebank
(Click here for map to venue) 

Please sign up by clicking here now to let us know that you will be joining us on the day.

Tickets will be sold at the door for R67 each. If you can’t make it, you could sponsor a care pack instead, by clicking here now. Every gesture of support counts in surviving rape. Each care pack costs us R120 to make up. Please use the reference #RCMandelaDay.

Refreshments will be on sale over the course of the day. Please click here if you have a food stall and would like to register to be a vendor on the day or phone Zeenat Hendricks on 021 447 1467.

Thank you for making Mandela Day meaningful by helping to fight violence against women.