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.

 

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Making Change as a Rape Crisis Peer Ed

Being a peer educator (peer ed) is so much more than just a label that was given to me because I completed a course. It’s a responsibility that I need to fulfill with the utmost seriousness. Many might feel that being a peer ed is a burden; I see it as a privilege.

I, Monique, am a Rape Crisis Peer Educator and I am proud hereof. When starting this program, I was unaware of the impact it would have on me. I must admit when entering this programme, I was anxious and scared to an extent. Being around a group of ‘strangers’ made me a bit uneasy.

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Obstacle course at the Peer Ed camp in Simonstown. Pic: Alexa Sedge.

I can remember when we were told to do our ‘River of Life’ activity – 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 had 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. 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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Athlone Peer Eds Pic: Alexa Sedge

Throughout this programme, I learnt something valuable from each session. I learnt to trust others which is something I do not often do. When we did role plays, 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, responsibilities, and the rights of survivors. We were given many worksheets throughout, which we had to read, but personally the worksheets on how to help and assist survivors were the most important. There was a lot of information that was given to us, from contraceptives to our menstrual cycle, but the most important thing I learnt was that rape is a serious offence. I therefore want to be part of the change because many cases go unreported.

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 molding new leaders. Although my course is complete, my journey as a peer ed has just begun.

Monique Booysen 

Monique is one of our Athlone high school Peer Educators. She is an active change-maker, challenging myths and stereotypes and changing attitudes around rape. 

 

Our Peer Education programme is made possible through the generous support of Oxfam Germany and BMZ.

 

 

 

 

 

Bridgetown High is getting some new change-makers

At Bridgetown High School in Athlone, a group of 15 students gather in an empty classroom after school to meet three Rape Crisis facilitators. 

These students have been selected to participate in Rape Crisis’s Peer Education initiative, a programme run in collaboration with high schools identified as at high risk for sexual violence.

For the next seven weeks, they will be covering a wide range of topics in their training course, and the knowledge they gain will equip them to become role models in their schools and communities.

The session today will cover ‘Sex and Gender’, two concepts that most students had never thought about as separate before. 

The group starts with an icebreaker, a lively dance led by Princess that gets the whole group moving and singing.

Next, the facilitators begin a group discussion. “I’ve never thought about the difference between sex and gender before” says Tricily, “I’m learning lots of new things that I want to share with my friends.”

Although shy at first (there is a collective giggle when the facilitator first says ‘penis’), the learners are soon intent on the exercise in front of them, which asks them to decide whether a statement is related to sex or gender. They are deep in discussion until the very last moment.

In coming weeks, the course will begin to address other complex topics like drug abuse, Rape Trauma Syndrome and the legal processes relating to rape. They will also learn new skills like team work, public speaking and how to organise a campaign. 

The session ends with some feedback from the students. “It’s been interesting and enjoyable” says Kgotso, “I’m excited to continue with the lessons.”

Once they graduate, the new Peer Educators will be able to help oppose rape culture through challenging the myths and stigma often associated with sexual violence; raise awareness amongst their peers; and provide support and signposting to those who have experienced it.

We thank Oxfam Australia and the MATCH International Women’s Fund for funding this important work.

Author: Emily Whiteside

Photographs: Brittany Broderick

Oxfam

matchfund

Child protection is a feminist issue (and not because we’re the mothers!)

This year Child Protection Week/Month[1] takes place within a global context of heightened awareness of the extent and long-term negative costs (financial and other[2]) of violence against children. And violence against children is something we should be paying special attention to in South Africa, given our very high rates.

  • According to the World Health Organisation, South Africa’s child homicide rate is more than double the global average;
  • In the 2013/14 year, 846 children were fatally assaulted and a further 869 were the subjects of attempted murder; and another 11,104 children reported assault with the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm — that’s 12,819 assaults perpetrated against children in one year, at a rate of more than 35 a day, or nearly 1.5 every hour;[3]
  • In the same period, 22,781 police reports of child sexual abuse were recorded — that’s a rate of more than 62 a day, and constituted 44% of all reported rape cases;[4]
  • Corporal punishment is still legal in the home, used by over 50% of parents (with the age of highest risk of being hit at all being 3 years and of being hit with an implements being 4 years);[5]
  • Although illegal, corporal punishment is still widely used in schools: the 2012 study on violence in South Africa schools carried out by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP) found that seven out of ten primary school learners, and almost half of secondary school learners reported that they were physically beaten, spanked or caned when they had done something wrong at school.[6]
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One of Rape Crisis’s peer educators who challenge rape culture and assist rape survivors to promote the safety of children in their schools.

But why is this a feminist issue? Doesn’t that kind of argument reinforce the notion that the nitty-gritty of child-care is the province of mothers?

I think gender-based violence is rooted in the way we raise our children. In the hierarchy that constitutes the stereotypical family, the children are at the bottom of the heap. It is in the way we think about and treat our children that we sow the seeds for the adults they will become. We teach them that bigger people are more powerful and that men are the biggest people, and hence the most powerful. We teach them that it’s OK to hurt someone who is smaller and weaker, and that lashing out is an appropriate response to disagreements and conflicts of opinion. And we do this by demonstrating it to our children every day, in our own behaviour and interactions.

Of course, there are many, many families (in the broadest sense of that word) where children grow up seeing adults who use reason and debate to resolve differences, and who are self-disciplined and protective of the rights of others.

But, for a significant number of our children, such parents are rare and the contexts into which they are born and raised reinforce social constructions of masculinity as dominant and in control and femininity as subservient and indecisive.

The so-called defence of reasonable chastisement is part of the problem. This is the defence within our common law available to parents or caregivers who assault their children (although this right of parents has been argued against on the grounds that it violates our Constitution and Children’s Act, and the ratification of international child and human rights treaties).

While legal assault in the form of corporal punishment is perpetrated against both boys and girls (i.e. make it arguably not a women’s rights issue), children living in homes where they are corporally punished learn the lessons that many will play out in the adult lives. Boys who are corporally punished are more likely to become abusive partners and girls more likely to seek re-victimisation within their intimate relationships. The confusion of love and pain (“I’m only doing this because I love you” and “This hurts me more than it hurts you”) is hard to get past for many who have grown up where casual violence is the norm.

The socialisation of children lies at the root of gender-based violence through the constructs of masculinity and femininity which they see around them, in the home and outside of it and the lessons they are taught about power and control (and who has it and why). This is about how boys and girls are raised.

In this Child Protection Month, along with the fanfare and events and back-slapping that accompanies such commemorations, let’s remember that the best way to protect children is to prevent abuse, neglect and an upbringing characterised by interpersonal violence as the default option whenever something is not to our liking, and that masculinity is more prized than femininity.

Because if we can give most children a happy childhood in which they are respected, listened to, and taught by example how to manage themselves and their interpersonal relationships in a way that respects the value and dignity of everyone, then we will have gone a long way to achieving a society comprised of adults who appreciate diversity, respond to differences and disagreements without resorting to violence and who understand that our human value is not determined by our gender.

And that’s why child protection is a feminist issue.

Carol Bower

Carol Bower has worked to end violence against women and children for almost all of her professional life. She now lives in the middle of nowhere fulfilling the ageing hippy dream and making as much trouble as she can. She is currently working with Sonke Gender Justice on improving attitudes towards and the practice of parenting as a key strategy for preventing the sexual and physical abuse of children. Carol is a previous director of Rape Crisis.

[1] Since 1997, the last week of May each year and the whole of June are dedicated to child protection in South Africa. This week, Child Protection Week lasts from 31st May to 7th June.

[2] Economists estimate the cost of child assault, not just from the obvious costs of increased child welfare interventions, but also from the well-documented loss of future earnings from an assaulted child. The total global cost reaches an astounding $3.5-trillion annually. For South Africa, the cost is estimated at $82-billion (see http://mg.co.za/article/2014-10-30-violence-against-women-and-children-costs-sa-173bn

[3] South African Police Services National Crime Statistics.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Dawes A, Kafaar Z, de Sas Kropiwnicki Z.O, Pather R, and Richter L. 2004. Partner Violence, Attitudes to Child Discipline & Use of Corporal Punishment: A South African National Survey. Cape Town, Child Youth & Family Development, Human Sciences Research Council.

[6] Burton P. 2012. Snapshot: results of the CJCP National Schools Violence Study. Cape Town: CJCP