Support Thuthuzela Care Centres #EnditNow

By Kathleen Dey

I’m listening to a rape survivor tell a conference room filled with people the story of how she was raped at the age of 14, shot, shoved into a pit latrine and left for dead. How she didn’t die. How she lived. How she crawled to safety. How she named her assailant and sent him to jail for life. How she lives with a bullet in her neck. How she prevailed against thoughts of suicide by finding the Rape Crisis counselling service. How she wrote a book about her experiences called Dear Bullet or a letter to my shooter. Many in the audience are in tears. Others are shocked even though they are experts in this field. As she ends she says, “We need to stop rape. We need to save rape survivors by helping them to talk.” Her name is Sixolile Mbalo.

Dear Bullet

In the 20 years since Sixolile was raped South Africa has escalated its response to gender based violence, combining criminal justice, medical and mental health related services in an innovative model called the Thuthuzela Care Centres. At these centres, based in hospitals around the country, counsellors called first responders meet each survivor as they arrive to greet them, calm them down and contain them until they are composed enough to be able to absorb information. They then inform them about the complex processes involved in reporting rape and walk them through the process step by step: 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 will either take a statement immediately or escort the survivor to their home and make an arrangement to take the statement the following day. Before they leave the nurse will make sure that if the HIV test was negative that the survivor has Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) medication to prevent HIV, pregnancy and STIs. The first responder will make sure the survivor has contact details for ongoing counselling services for future reference as well as an information booklet on recovering from rape. As this case makes its way through the criminal justice system it will be supervised by a specially trained prosecutor and investigated by a specially trained detective. As they adhere to the PEP regimen survivors are followed up to ensure they complete the full course and do not seroconvert and become HIV positive.

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Thuthuzela Care Centre Coordinator, Nomnqweno Gqada with the care back bags rape survivors receive at TCC’s.

At the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust we see over of 3 000 rape survivors a year at these centres. We see the extraordinary impact this care has on survivors, making sure they don’t struggle and suffer as Sixolile did but get the help they need right from the very beginning in the hours immediately after the rape. We see the incredible collaboration between medical teams, police officials and NGOs. These NGOs are gathered today to discuss the future of the Thuthuzela Care Centres.

A future that seems suddenly uncertain. The South African Government has not given any clear signs that it will continue this project once foreign donor funding comes to an end. With 50 centres across the country the budget for maintaining these services is high. Where will the funding for this budget come from? Foreign donor policies are moving towards prevention and away from care, seeming to ignore the preventive role that care plays in the cycle of violence. The impact on economic development of gender based violence is significant, with women, who are still bearing the main brunt of these crimes forming a major portion of the workforce or supporting that workforce. The Thuthuzela Care Centres represent the state’s most comprehensive response to gender based violence especially when coupled with specialised sexual offences courts. Yet many donors are unwilling to subsidise services they consider the responsibility of the South African government.

The fact is that these services remain dependent on a strong collaboration between donors, both local and international, the government and civil society. The goals of each of these three sets of actors complement one another perfectly while their roles in achieving free, accessible services post rape to survivors are different. If this three way partnership were to fail, with no commitment from donors or from the state to continue to support survivors in the years to come, what will be the fate of these survivors?

One thing is certain. South African civil society is strong. The conference hall is full, the audience attentive. Many have been in the sector for long years and have accumulated a wealth of experience and expertise. Panel after panel present successful results and in depth research. The evidence is rich and absorbing. With such success to hand this partnership should never fail. Sixolile’s message should be heard. #EnditNow

 

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Kathleen Dey is director of the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. 

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Reclaiming the Body: A Six-Week Course for Survivors

As sexual trauma is held within the body, it can leave you feeling numb, disconnected or overwhelmed by emotions. Rape Crisis is offering a course using a combination of simple body movement, breathe work and mindfulness techniques to help you reconnect to your body in a safe and gentle way. Learning how to reconnect to your body after sexual trauma is a powerful step on the road to recovery.

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Speak Out member Mercia Isaacs. Pic: Alexa Sedge

This course is open to adult women survivors (18yrs and older) who are past, present or possible new clients of Rape Crisis. Being in counselling is recommended, but not necessary as a counsellor will be present at each session. Participants are asked to commit to the full 6 sessions.

When:  Weekly every Thursday, starting the 4th May until 8th June 2017

Time:  10:30am – 12pm

Venue: Observatory

Cost: Free

Spaces are limited to 10 participants so please call to book by 26 April 2017:  Angela or Khabo on (021) 447-9762 or email volunteersobs@rapecrisis.org.za

Taking the time to breathe

 

We all have times where we feel overwhelmed. Whatever your struggle, passion or duties may be, there can be moments that simply feel impossible. At times like these, to suggest that you should prioritise taking care of yourself seems ridiculous. But the truth is that self-care can make you stronger, sharper and more able to cope with whatever life throws at you. It’s not indulgent to invest in yourself.

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For me, my go-to self-care strategy is yoga. Yoga acts like a ‘pause’ button on a life that often feels like it’s on fast-forward. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the honour of working with Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust staff who have been creating space in their schedules to practice yoga together. Strength, flexibility, balance: all the elements we work towards in yoga are also useful for a successful day in the office. And by letting go of tension before it builds up, we are more resilient to external stresses.

Stress comes from many sources. Every headline can be a cause for concern. Local, national and international news make us feel like everyone should be in a constant state of anxiety. Droughts and fires make is seem as though even the natural elements want us to be in a heightened state of nerves. Even positive events can see activists working overtime coordinating campaigns. And all this on top of daily concerns: caring duties, money worries, household responsibilities.

It’s not unusual for these burdens to be particularly heavy for women, who often bear the duty of care for others, as well as the weight of disproportionate impact from the negative political or economic changes that dominate the news. As such it can be especially hard for women to carve out the time needed to care for themselves. Yet self-care is important for building the mental, physical and emotional energy we all need to flourish.

Self-care can be anything that helps you feel more like yourself: chatting with friends, getting a massage, reading a detective novel. Your strategy could be something that makes you laugh, or relax, or feel energised. I like yoga because it reminds me to be entirely in the present, instead of worrying about what happened earlier or what’s going to happen later. I close my eyes, breathe into my belly, and unclench my jaw. In doing so I begin to unwind.

The staff at Rape Crisis work exceptionally hard, in challenging conditions. It would be understandable if they felt that their work is too important to take a break from, their cause too pressing to pause. But for an hour a week, they’re taking the time to reconnect with their breath and their bodies, and in doing so they’re practising more than just yoga. Their practising an approach to self-care that hopefully leaves them more resilient to stress and more able to focus.

Whether you’re fighting the patriarchy or fighting fatigue, take a moment to reflect on what you need to renew yourself to continue giving it your all. Nobody benefits if an activist burns out, and right now we need as much positive energy as we can muster. Self-care is a strategy to strengthen your cause as well as yourself.

 

Rose Longhurst0e0ed89

Rose has extensive experience working in international fundraising, advocacy and development. She currently lives in the UK and is passionate about human rights and social justice work. She is also a qualified yoga teacher.