How to Write About Rape

Writing about rape. Where do you start?

Such a sensitive topic, so prevalent in our society today. It is therefore so important to write about it, so that we can broaden people’s awareness about rape. We want to write about rape because we want our words, stories and theories to change into actions and understandings. But how do you write about such a painful topic without over-sensitising or re-traumatising people and still putting rape survivor’s everyday lived experiences on the foreground? With this question in mind, I went to the Writing about Rape Workshop, organised by the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust.

I first and foremost have to say, that it was just amazing to be in a safe space, with all like-minded women, that all came to the workshop with the same questions. Nothing is more empowering than a group of women coming together with an open attitude to listen to each other, and all with the same goal in mind; writing about rape to change understandings and actions about sexual violence. And of course, the glasses of wine and the good food, also added to a satisfying learning environment.

The writing workshop mainly focused on our head, heart, and hands. Writing with your head, stands for writing facts, the objective knowledge that you have found about the topic. Writing with you heart, stands for reaching to the reader’s feelings; how can you trigger the reader’s emotions with your words? Lastly, writing with your hands stands for put forward the question ‘what is next?’. How do your words lead to people to wanting to roll up their sleeves and start actively engaging with the topic? In a successful story about rape, one should thus focus on reflecting on facts, emphasising emotions, and triggering actions as an outcome of the story.

These guidelines are of course a helpful toolkit for writing about sexual violence but writing about rape of course remains complicated. At the end of the workshop, an interesting discussion arouse with several intriguing questions that show how important it is for this conversation to be continued. One of the main questions was whether it is possible for feminist writers to remain objective. How can we write about rape, without having an activist agenda? Why is it even necessary for feminist writers to be objective, or to be non-activist? If our goal is to create societal changes towards understandings of rape, isn’t writing about it then inherently an activist act?  Furthermore, when writing about rape, who owns the story? Is it the story of the writer/journalist, or the story of the rape survivor that are brought to light? How do we make sure these personal stories of rape survivors about their everyday experiences are portrayed in a responsible way?

Many reasons thus to continue the conversation on how to write about rape. I am therefore very much looking forward to the next workshop to reflect on their questions. I want to finish this blog with an important concluding message for female writers, shared by another participant of the workshop: if we as writers have the power of picking up the pen, it is our responsibility to focus on the issues that are attacking all women, and we can give an inclusive microphone to those voices that need to be heard. These voices are not put forward by those writers who dominate the writing space now. So, let’s write to take a position in that space. Let’s write from the heart, for all women.

Photos from the event:




By Paula Vermuë

Paula Vermue is an Anthropology student from the Netherlands, who is currently doing research in Cape Town for her research master’s thesis. She has joined the Rape Crisis team as an intern in September 2018.


Engaging Men on Rape

41% of all reported rape cases in South Africa, are against children. Such shocking statistics reflect a need for national introspection and highlight how rape advocacy work requires the inclusion of all society, as this pandemic affects all of us, not just women and children.

There is no clear and singular cause for the high rate of rape in South Africa except the commonality of the perpetrators, who are men. In her book, Rape: A South African Nightmare, Pumla Dineo Gqola says that, “If we are at all serious about making sense of rape’s hold on our society, we need to interrogate the histories of rape in South Africa.” We are all aware of the country’s violent history, which may have created the prevalence of violence, be it structural or otherwise, that the country is facing currently. As the majority perpetrators of rape and gender based violence, male intervention is key if we want to put an end to this extreme burden on our society.

Male involvement is also needed if we are to successfully change the discourse surrounding rape, from one that views rape as solely a female issue. From a very base perspective, rape affects men too as it may be their sister, wife or a female colleague who is raped or in some cases men themselves.

“Men must first acknowledge the privilege their gender gives,” says Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng, sexual health and reproductive rights expert. “They need to understand the issues of gender the same way they understand the issue of race. Men who are against violence must speak to other men. Patriarchy will only listen to itself,” she says on how we engage men on the topic of rape and in rape advocacy work.  Masculinity, patriarchy, entrenched gender norms and cultural beliefs are the barriers that prove difficult when engaging men on the topic of rape. Regional Campaigns and Advocacy Specialist at Sonke Gender Justice, Mpiwa Mangwiro says that it’s key to approach men not as only perpetrators, but as stakeholders, who have a role to play in eliminating the scourge of rape in the country. “It’s beneficial for men to address rape and its root causes as this liberates them from subscribing to certain toxic notions of masculinity. While harmful to women and girls, rape tends to be harmful to men’s wellbeing too,” she says. Informing men on how toxic masculinity and patriarchy are, and that this issue is not only dangerous to women and children, but that is can also shackle men, is key when addressing this debate.

During their Safe Ride campaign which targeted taxi personnel including taxi drivers, owners and queue marshals and that looked at sexual and gender based violence across 22 African countries, Sonke Gender Justice found that, when men were addressed in a manner that didn’t condemn them as perpetrators but demonstrated that they had a role to play in addressing the gender based violence, the feedback and results were far more positive. The current Black Label campaign, #NoExcuse, also seeks to mobilise men to stand up against abuse against women in South Africa and is another example of campaigns that are geared towards engaging men on this topic.

The sexual predation of women in South Africa creates an environment that is unsafe for the female body. There are also certain gender and cultural norms which legitimise men as sexual pursuers and women as sexual conquests ‘to be had’ whenever men want, all of which perpetuates rape culture. Dr. Mofokeng says that consent sensitisation is the first lesson in tackling rape culture in the country. “People won’t understand consent for sex if people don’t understand general consent. If all of us are teaching consent around sex only, we are still falling short,” she says. “People are not naming the issues, they’re talking systemic failures, structural drivers of illness and making the individuals internalise that, as if it is caused by individual failures,” she further explains.

The prevalence of rape is a human rights issue as it robs victims of dignity, safety and autonomy, which are values enshrined in our Constitution. When we approach the issue in this way, we can finally begin to truly grapple with the deep violation that rape is and men can finally understand the role they have to play in eradicating it. “When it is highlighted from a human rights perspective, rape can be seen as perpetuating a culture of violence which, while it predominantly affects women and girls, also affects men, as their loved ones can also fall victim to such harm and be robbed of their sense of security, bodily integrity and joy,” explains Mangwiro. But the most effective way to include men, is the painful reminder that any women or child dearest to them, can fall victim to rape. In that way, the issue of rape becomes personal and close to home, as no one wants those dearest to them in harm’s way.

Men need to accept that rape affects them and it’s definitely better to work at preventing rape than addressing the effects thereof. “Living in a community where women and girls are able to realise their full potential, would be beneficial to everyone, men included,” says Mangwiro, which is honestly what we should all be striving for.

By Zanta Nkumane

Zanta Nkumane is a freelance writer, journalist and ex-scientist. He knows he should be writing his first book but he is preoccupied with life and other stories. He is currently pursuing his MA in Diversity Studies at Wits.

Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault

In recent years, drug facilitated rape (date rape) has become a more prominent cause of
concern in public discourse. Drink spiking has become synonymous with sexual assault, drug
rape and date rape. The typical scenario of drink spiking involves a public space such as a bar, a club, a restaurant, a shebeen or a date setting. It could however also happen in more private settings, such as the home. The perpetrator targets a victim, by secretly spiking his or her drink with a drug. The drug used is often Rohypnol, but also Tik. When the victim becomes incapacitated, the perpetrator could abuse the victim’s vulnerable situation by sexually assaulting, raping and robbing him or her. Tik serves not only to render a victim helpless but also addicted and dependent on the rapist for drug supply thereafter
even after he is convicted and jailed.

Date rape survivors are often very reluctant to come forward as they cannot recall much of what happened to them and this makes them feel very fragile when speaking about it,
because it makes them feel very traumatised. This really is one of the more violating types of
rape because in a sense the rapist “steals” the survivor’s memory of events in addition to
perpetrating sexual violation. It is therefore difficult to say how prevalent drink spiking and
drug facilitated rape is in Cape Town, as many survivors feel ashamed to report at their cases
at the police, as they can’t exactly recall what had happened.

With the festive season approaching, many Capetonians, South Africans and tourists will go out more frequently and find themselves in social settings where drink spiking and sexual assault could happen. It is therefore important to be aware of this issue and to take care of yourselves and your friends when going out. Ways to protect yourself and your peers from drink spiking is to never leave your drink unattended and keep an eye on your friend’s drinks, don’t accept a drink from strangers you do not trust, try to choose bottled drinks that you could open yourself or you can see the bartender opening it. Furthermore, make sure to always surround yourself with people you trust and who would recognise that something is wrong when you lose control over your own body. It is also important to have a plan how to get home, before you go out and that the friends you are with know how you will get home safely.

However, I personally think this is very important, I am not writing this with the
intention to scare women and other possible victims of drug facilitated sexual assault or to
restrain them from enjoying their drinks, dates, or nights out. It is unfair to expect from
women that they must adjust their habits to safely enjoy a space that is supposed to be
enjoying, while perpetrators are not being addressed. This blog is written simply to explain
what drug-facilitated rape is and how you can protect yourself. This should never create space for victim blaming. Rape and sexual assault is never the fault of the survivor. It is
always the perpetrator to be blamed. Therefore, we must also address perpetrators and
peers of perpetrators. If you see or know someone becoming a perpetrator of drug- facilitated sexual assault, please call out on this person, or report this to the police. Let’s all
collectively, create a safe, sexual assault free festive season.

Our helpline number for counselling or advice is 0214479762 and is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and through contacting us we can also link you to our wide range of referral partners as needed, or go here for more.

By Paula Vermue

Paula Vermue is an Anthropology student from the Netherlands, who is currently doing research in Cape Town for her research master’s thesis. She joined the Rape Crisis team on the 1st of September 2018

Helpline & Emergency Numbers

We have put together a list of referral numbers, including national Thuthuzela Care Center’s and national emergency numbers should you wish to contact them. Although it is the festive season, the listed organisations are always here for you and those is need of support. The lists can be found below or downloaded for your disposal.

This is a list of all the Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCCs) in the Country.  Not all TCC’s operate in the same way as Heideveld and Karl Bremer in that not all of them have counsellors on 24/7 shifts.   When in doubt about where to refer someone to, i.e., you can’t find an appropriate referral in the rest of the referral file, you can put the client in touch with the TCC in their area and they should be able to give the client an appropriate referral.

Remember, if you can’t speak to anyone, speak to us.


National TCC Referrals

Helpline Numbers