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.

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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.”

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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.

 

Rape does not start in the bedroom

She wants to run but has nowhere to go. She wants to scream but has no voice. She wants to cry but has no tears. She is alone. Walls. Walls. That’s all she has. Four walls surrounding her, covered in cracks and mould. No picture frames. No light. Just walls. She lies curled up on a worn-out mattress and clutches her knees to her chest. The mattress smells like him. Her stomach churns and she chooses to lie on her back. She hates his scent. She tries not to focus on the smell and instead focuses on listening. There is a faint rustling of leaves outside and the occasional humming of birds but aside from that, there is silence.

But silence on the outside does not escape her from the agonising noises inside her head. Her inner screams, cries for help, voices of desperate longing and praying that he won’t come back. Her thoughts about him come in like a cancerous invasion. Every time she tries to take control of her mind and think of something different, those thoughts come back stronger and multiply. They haunt her. They never leave her alone.

The door suddenly latches open and makes her jump. She quickly turns around and prepares herself for what she already knows is going to happen. Her nose is hit by a strong stench of beer. She remains completely silent. She does not scream. She does not cry out for help. The only sound she can hear are those agonizing screams inside her head. Those agonising screams which become louder and louder as he drops his beer to the floor and pulls down his zip. He’s back.

Raping someone is not a spontaneous act, but a preconceived plan. Rape is not caused by alcoholism or drug intoxication or being part of a gang; it is caused by a person feeding their mind with inappropriate sexual thoughts. Rape is not just sex, it is violence. Violation. Power. Dominance. Control. Hatred. It does not start in the bedroom, it starts in a person’s mind. It is not a sudden moment of irrational thinking, it is a well-thought out decision. A person who chooses to rape has fantasized about rape long before they choose to do it. No, you cannot blame a woman because she is wearing provocative clothing. No, you cannot blame a little girl for taking a different route to get home late at night. No, you cannot blame a male victim for being in a prison cell full of other sex-hungry men. No, you cannot blame a homosexual person for choosing to love a person of the same sex as them. No, you cannot blame her because she is a prostitute. No, you cannot blame a wife for disobeying her husband. No you cannot get away with rape because you have good manners. No you cannot get away with rape because you’re a doctor, or a priest, or a family man. There is no situation in this world which makes rape okay, no person in this world who “deserves what he/she got”, no rapist in this world who deserves to get away with what they’ve done.

So what is the solution? How do we stop this sexual violence from happening? How do we create a society which will not tolerate rape under any circumstances? Maybe we could create awareness.  Maybe we could stop drug trafficking. Maybe we could prohibit alcohol. Maybe we could create safety procedures and protection services for those who are at risk of being raped. Maybe we could imprison rapists. These are all effective ways of reducing the instances of rape, but there is only one thing which can prevent rape.

The tongue.

The tongue is a very powerful tool. We can all control what we say, how we say it, who we say it to. Rape does not start in the bedroom. It starts with language. How are we talking about women? Are we sexualising their bodies or treating them with respect? Are we condoning sexual violence or condemning it? Are we discussing rape as a sign of strength and “machismo” or a sign of weakness? Are you talking to women as though they’re you’re equals or your inferiors? Are we saying that rape is justified if a person has a different sexual preference to us?

“She is my wife and she disobeyed me, she needs discipline man! I can’t just allow a person to get away with not listening to me, especially if she is a woman!”

“That chick deserved what she got. What was she thinking walking down an alleyway by herself? And she was basically wearing underwear!”

“Why do these women gott’ complain man? These days they always want to be stronger and better than a man. But they will never be better. The man is always above the woman under my roof.”

The tongue.

Let’s challenge rape culture by controlling our language about rape, sexual assault, harassment, violence, women and children. Let’s create a community where any human being can walk home and feel safe no matter what time they’re going home. Let’s create a community where rape is not tolerated. And let’s certainly create a community where rapists are not tolerated either. Let’s build a culture of consent by remembering where rape starts.

 

Lauren Pechey                                                          

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Lauren is currently studying Psychology at the University of Cape Town which has allowed her to put her heart and soul into understanding people, rape culture, gendered violence and women studies. She believes that every experience of womanhood is unique and intricately linked to one’s background, religion, race, culture, sexual orientation, disability, age and so on. She hopes to continue to speak out against gendered oppression and to one day provide adequate support to to people from all walks of life who have been victims of it