Rape Crisis Weekend Away

Rape Crisis is an organisation whose work is for the healing and empowerment of survivors of sexual violence. Our work is founded on feminist principles of advocacy, freedom from patriarchal violence and freedom of choice. Rape Crisis makes visible the needs as well as the experience and disempowering reception and treatment of survivors as they navigate the system in search of help and justice.

Our services are suitably placed in critical spaces which a survivor is likely to access. These spaces are the Thuthuzela Care Centres (TCCs) where we have counsellors who are first responders and provide emotional containment; our three offices in which both crisis intervention and long-term therapy are provided to reduce post-traumatic stress and enhance post-traumatic growth; and at the courts where there are court supporters who offer psychosocial support to assist survivors with readiness for the court processes.

Over time, as a result of work pressures and responding to the burden of gender based violence, we neglected ensuring that visibility and activity levels of feminism within the organisation remained a high priority, and possibly also to our gender based violence (GBV) sector peers. Due to the enabling partnerships we have formed with organisations in the sector and with funders- who support and value the work we do, Rape Crisis became part of the African Women’s Development Fund’s (AWDF) Leadership and Governance Project.

The Leadership and Governance Project entailed a coaching process for Barbara Williams (Counselling Coordinator, Athlone Office) and I, in which we were allocated a coach – Hope Chigudu – who mentored us on personal growth and feminist leadership. The other part of the project entailed training our Board, who discussed the organisation’s status and identified areas for development. We then submitted a proposal on how we would address the identified gaps. We were able to acquire the support of AWDF’s Maanda Governance Grant to dedicate time and resources to the well-being of the organisation and reigniting our feminism.

We embarked on this journey of feminist ‘recovery’ by way of the whole organisation going on a weekend retreat to Waterval Country Lodge in Tulbagh. This served a dual purpose for us, as it was an opportunity for a break (self-care) and a space where we would begin developing our Feminist Charter. As part of the lead up to the weekend away, conversations on understanding feminism and feminism at Rape Crisis were held with all programmes and at all levels of the organisation. 

In addition, a process of assessing feminism in our operations was facilitated with the use of a Feminist Tool, a questionnaire that looked into the visibility of feminism in the organisation, in the work we do for our clients and community, in the work we do in teams, in our management as well as our own individual commitment to Rape Crisis being a feminist functioning organisation. This process will conclude with the formulation of the Feminist Charter which will guide the understanding and expression of our feminism as an African organisation in the GBV sector.

Team building activity: helium pole

This has been an enriching experience: the coaching, the interactions with members of the Rape Crisis family in preparation for our weekend away and revival of our feminism. It all culminated in a wonderful getaway in which we questioned, discussed, suggested, sang-along, danced, shared meals, posed for photos and then walked away with renewed commitment to our work and to strengthening the links between our Road to Justice, Road to Recovery and Making Change programmes.

Written by Neliswa Tshazi, Court Support Coordinator

Photos by Alexa Sedgewick


Why #CSW63 Matters

In our previous blog The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) we described how UN Member States, civil society organisations and UN entities gather at UN headquarters in New York to discuss matters of importance for the rights of women across the world.

South Africa being a member state is represented by Minister in the Presidency responsible for Women, Bathabile Dlamini who leads a government and civil society delegation that includes  Minister of Small Business Development, Lindiwe Zulu. The delegation will present South Africa’s report on the status of social protection system, access to public service, sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in South Africa. Minister Zulu will also participate in some of the ministerial  roundtables, high level interactive dialogue and interactive expert  panels. 

So why is it important to us that they are there? Susan Hutchinson of the Equality Rights Alliance in Australia wrote about this best two years ago when she said the following about why CSW matters:

“It’s an advocacy tool. CSW is an opportunity to bring an international component and lens to issues that organisations and activists advocate on locally and domestically. Having issues you advocate on locally, such as women’s access to affordable housing or access to domestic violence leave, recognised in international frameworks is powerful. This international dimension then adds another point of leverage in the domestic advocacy work we all do. Holding governments to account on the commitments they make at CSW creates additional pressure for policy reform.”

Since CSW presents an opportunity to bring an international component to issues that the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust advocates on locally we would like to take this opportunity to highlight the problem of high rape rates coupled with low conviction rates for rapists in South Africa. Our Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign advocates for the planned and funded rollout of sexual offences courts. These courts are the key to restoring faith in the criminal justice system as well as increasing conviction rates for rape and decreasing the secondary victimisation of rape survivors. Sexual offences courts are sensitive to the needs of the survivor undergoing an intense ordeal. The courts help to get more convictions and send more rapists to jail because they have specially trained court supporters available to support rape survivors when they testify. We need the South African government to provide rooms at courts for court support to take place in private. We need a strong criminal justice system to hold rapists accountable.

With all eyes on CSW63 and our own government delegation attending we hope to make this campaign more visible. You can help us. This is your chance to get South Africa and the issues women face some international attention and leverage.

Social Media Package

  • Check out the RSJC webpage and social media pages on Facebook and Twitter to find out more about this important campaign.
  • Your experiences and ideas on social protection, public services and infrastructure matter. Tell the world how you want to make a difference using #CSW63. Find our selection of Tweets on sexual offences courts in South Africa below and post them throughout the week. * Tag Minister Zulu on @LindiweZulu6, Minister Dlamini on @shahlesonke and of course @GovernmentZA.
  • Some of the South African NGOs represented include Ilitha Labantu, GenderLinks and the National Shelter Movement of South Africa. Follow and tag Ilitha Labantu on @IlithaLabantu,

Colleen Lowe-Morna on @clowemorna from GenderLinks on @GenderLinks and Claudia Lopes on @claudia1lopes and Joy Lange representing the National Shelter Movement of South Africa @NSM_ZA.

Social Media Tools

You can copy and paste this selection of Tweets or Facebook posts in support of improved sexual offences court infrastructure into your Twitter feed this week:

  • Sexual offences courts are important as they are sensitive to the survivor and help to get more convictions and send more rapists to jail. We need the #SouthAfricanGovernment to roll out the necessary infrastructure for these courts now! @RSJCampaign #CSW63_SA @shahlesonke
  • We advocate for specially trained court supporters to be available to rape survivors when they testify. We need the South African government to provide rooms at courts for court support to take place in private. @RSJCampaign #CSW63_SA #CSW63 @CSW63
  • #SouthAfrica has one of the highest rates of rape in the world. This needs to change! We need a strong criminal justice system with specialised courts. @RSJCampaign #CSW63_SA #CSW63 @RapeCrisis @shahlesonke @Government_ZA

-Written by Kathleen Dey

Ramaphosa’s SONA and the issue of gender-based violence

Cyril Ramaphosa will have to explain on Thursday how the state will give effect to majority party January 8 statement commitments in the light of a shrinking fiscus.

Gender-based violence made it into the January 8 statement of the majority party. And not just a mention – a relatively thorough and honest assessment of the state of women and girl children in South Africa, and in particular the unprecedented levels of abuse, violence and murder suffered by them. The president said “we must hang our heads in shame” at the state of gender-based violence and the patriarchal practices that give rise to it in the country.

Indeed. He also asked the men in the stadium to stand and make a commitment to end gender-based violence. Contrast this with no mention of gender-based violence at all in last year’s January 8 statement.

The harrowing stories told by survivors at the recent Summit on Gender-Based Violence seem to have persuaded the party to highlight the issue as a national crisis. The women who took to the streets for #totalshutdown can legitimately claim the summit as a success, and it is very pleasing to see a rhetorical commitment to ending the scourge.

But when the president promised that “the ANC government will continue to scale up the network of Thuthuzela Care Centres and other victim empowerment initiatives” I really started paying attention.

Thuthuzela Care Centres are one-stop facilities, aimed at preventing secondary victimisation of rape and abuse victims, improving conviction rates, and reducing the time taken to finalise cases. There are 55 Thuthuzela Care Centres across the country.

The care centres are proving an antidote to the general level of non-reporting of sexual offences. Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust compared the patterns of reporting at three local Thuthuzela Care Centres that it recorded in Cape Town.

  • In 2014 there were 2,628 cases.
  • In 2015 there were 3,153 cases.
  • In 2016 there were 3,210 cases.
  • In 2017 there were 3,425 cases.

These increases match a decrease in reporting to local police stations. It makes sense – at most care centres counsellors inform the survivor about the complex processes involved in reporting rape: a nurse will counsel the survivor about potential health risks, including potential HIV infection, and prepare them for the forensic examination, which is conducted by a doctor specially trained to collect forensic evidence for the crimes of rape and sexual assault. After this examination, the first responder gives the survivor a care pack containing toiletries so that she can shower, change into clean underwear and brush her teeth.

A police detective takes a statement immediately or escorts the survivor to their home and makes an arrangement to take the statement the next day.

In some care centres, they work with or near a sexual offences court, which provides specialist infrastructure, personnel and services to survivors.

Donors have funded the care centres for some time. This funding will end on the 31st March 2019.

In recent research produced for the AIDS Foundation of South Africa and the Networking HIV & AIDS Community of Southern Africa, they highlight the ending of the Global Fund grant funding for the care centres. “The extensive funding provided the Global Fund to almost all care centres across the country raises concern around the care centres ability to effectively implement the provision of psychosocial services without support from other donors.”

All Thuthuzela Care Centre stakeholders interviewed thought that the ending of this tranche Global Fund grant funding on 31 March 2019 would have dire consequences for the services currently being offered. The withdrawal of Global Fund grant funding at the care centres may result in the loss of a number of NGO services.

So where will the funds come from to sustain the care centres? The president will have to explain how the state will give effect to majority party commitments, in the light of a shrinking fiscus.

Alison Tilley is the head of advocacy and special projects at the Open Democracy Advice Centre.