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.

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The Journey of a Counsellor

By Robyn Raymond

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.

 

 

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Robyn Raymond 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.

Stop the Bus! – Day 6 (Trip 2) – Time to say goodbye

Stanford - the final day of the workshop

Stanford - the last day of the workshop

This morning we headed to Stanford where we continued with the workshop. The topic today was care for the caregiver.  We also had a networking meeting in Hermanus where the needs, problems and resources within the Hermanus, Gansbaai, Pearly Beach and Stanford communities were identified and to build better capacity and finding ways of broadening the network of support for rape survivors. Moreover, we visited the hospital, the police station and the Regional Court in Hermanus in connection with the Shukumisa campaign to see whether the rape survivors’ rights and services within the system are followed.

The team has found this journey very rewarding and interesting and we all agreed that the needs for the support of rape survivors in the area visited were vast. We will close this enlightening journey with a quote from Soren Kierkegaard: “To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself”.

From the networking meeting in Hermanus

Some of the participants from the networking meeting in Hermanus together with Eleanor

Goodbye and thank you!

Goodbye and thank you!

Stop the Bus! – Day 5 (Trip 2) – Understanding rape

Catherine having a talk about myths and stereotypes regarding rape

Catherine having a talk about myths and stereotypes regarding rape

Today we continued with the capacity building workshop from day 2. The main topic for discussion was understanding rape. Also the pathway through the Criminal Justice System, the legal definition of rape, the new law on Sexual Offences which was implemented in 2007 as well as myths and stereotypes regarding rape such as “all rapists are mentally ill” were addressed.

At around 14 am. some of the team members went to the Community Health Centre in Stanford where we met the operational manager. She informed us that the services for rape victims were poor in this area and the survivors were sent to the hospital in Hermanus. Moreover, this Centre does not do the forensic examination, but it is done by the police station. The only services they render to the victims are that they give them PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) which is an anti-HIV medical treatment, and this has to be taken within 72 hours after the rape in order to have its effect. Also they get offered medication for the side-effects of PEP at the Clinic.

After this very challenging and rewarding day the team closed the evening with having our debriefing and planning for the grand finale tomorrow.

Jemima giving an excellent presentation of victimization

Jemima giving an excellent presentation of victimization

Peliswa and Eleanor together with employees at the Stanford Clinic

Peliswa and Eleanor together with employees at the Stanford Clinic