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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Empowering women to advocate for change in South Africa

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #BeBoldForChange. Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust has embodied this by launching our Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign in 2016 to lobby for a significant change in how South Africa’s criminal justice system deals with sexual offences cases. The Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign calls for access to sexual offences courts for all survivors and holds the government accountable for the national rollout of these courts, as was promised in 2013.

These Sexual Offences Courts are crucial in ensuring justice, because they focus on the needs of the survivor and aim to provide survivor-centred justice. These courts have specialised personnel, services and infrastructure. Some of the special features of these courts, are that the sexual offences courtrooms have separate entrances so that survivors do not have to walk past the defendant on their way to the courtroom. In addition, the survivor is able to testify from a separate room using CCTV. We believe that these courts will provide support to survivors throughout the court process and Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust provides court supporters at 5 courts in the Cape Town. These court supporters are trained to help survivors navigate the criminal justice system and offer much needed emotional support to survivors.

The specialised personnel and services that makes up a sexual offences court is centred around the survivor and we therefore refer to it as survivor-centred justice. These resources also include a friendly, welcoming environment that makes it easier for survivors who are children and/or mentally challenged to testify, because it reduces the secondary trauma that survivors experience as a result of entering the criminal justice system.

Pelisa who has been a court supporter at Parow Magistrates Court for six years knows the importance of Sexual Offences Courts. She first got involved with the court support programme because she recognized a “need” for change after hearing stories from community members in Khayelitsha, where she lives. Pelisa is a passionate supporter for survivors of sexual offences who has always helped others heal and become stronger. Her role in the court support programme has been to explain to the survivor why they are there, how they can handle the situation better and, most importantly, help them “learn to love again”. According to Pelisa, her favourite parts about being a court supporter is “when [she] sees a smile on the survivor’s face” and “when [she] talks to them and sees that they have become free and strong”.

Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust welcomed the promise by government to re-establish sexual offences courts. These services, personnel and infrastructure are vital to survivors seeking justice. Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust has continually been in the forefront of empowering women to advocate for change in South Africa. However, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. There are only 49 Sexual Offences Courts, and other services offered to survivors of sexual offences are still inadequate. A donation to Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust will go a long way to help us continue our work to hold government accountable for the rollout of sexual offences courts and to offer much needed support to survivors through our counselling and court support services.

Image above: Pelisa Nokoyo – Rape Crisis Court Supporter

Written by: Adam Kirschner – Communications Intern at Rape Crisis

If you would like to contribute to our programmes, Donate now and find out more here: http://rapecrisis.org.za/donate/