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.

The difference that a care pack makes

By Shiralee Mc Donald

We would like to extend our gratitude to everyone who responded to our call for care packs for survivors accessing services at the Thuthuzela Care Centers over the holiday season. We felt truly touched and surprised that our ‘wish-list’ was fulfilled to the extent that it was. The first thing one is offered after any type of shock or trauma is a sweet drink yet this is the very last thing that survivors are able to do as it would destroy evidence. So having a snack and juice in the care packs was appreciated because the process can take a number of hours, sugar levels drop and survivors are hungry after the wait.

A donor remarked at the injustice of a child receiving this type of gift at Christmas compared to what her children were expecting. So true and it is very sad that so many children in our communities are sexually abused. What we can say for sure is that because of these care packs, children were able to hold on to something to distract themselves from the trauma of the examination. Counsellors at the Thuthuzela Care Centers spirits were lifted by the fact that there are community members who care that survivors would go home after their forensic examination with a sense of dignity that others thought about their needs during this time. We felt privileged to meet the women and men who felt strongly that they wanted to do something and would like to thank them for all their efforts.

Please remember that there is always a need for care packs and if you are interested in donating please contact Helette at the Observatory Office for more details: 021 447 1467