One Rape is Too Many

“SA shocked by murders and rapes”…“Spate of women and child murders-a crisis!”

These are just some of the headlines we have seen over the last month in the media, focusing on telling the stories of violence and horror inflicted on women and children.

The immediate reaction for many is one of shock, despair, anger and panic. For many South Africans, their first point of call for expressing these emotions is social media.

News stories are often shared on Facebook and accompanied by comments such as “rape in SA is getting out of hand,” “government is failing us,” etc.

The other reaction is a “knee jerk” one, which begs people to ask, “How did this happen?” Others immediately think, “How can we tackle this crisis?”

But let’s just stop and examine the facts before panicking and throwing around this word “CRISIS”. 

A few weeks ago marked the annual Child Protection Week or as I like to call it “a week where children get some focus from both government officials and the media.” 

Any crimes committed against children take precedence during this time. Newspapers place these stories on their front pages, bulletins feature these stories at the top- often with sensationalist headlines. Many government departments place it at the top of their agenda and host a week of events where they invite the media to provide coverage, of course.

This leads to ordinary people jumping to the conclusion that these crimes are on the rise. But are they? 

After speaking to many experts in the child rights sector, they would most likely say NO. The number of rapes being committed is not increasing. Prove it? Well, that’s easier said than done. It is difficult to conclusively say that rapes are on the rise because police statistics are problematic on its own (but that could be a subject of a whole new blog). Also, there is a challenge of under-reporting due to the nature in which these crimes are handled by police and prosecuted.

So, just to set the record straight….

Rapes are taking place all over the country, every day, but the reports seldom make it into the public domain. The main culprit is the media who choose when and how often to report on these cases. Similarly, officials in government also choose when to make public declarations about rape. They often take action when a case gains traction in the media.

The most recent example is that of Courtney Pieter’s, a three year old girl who went missing for over a week and was later found dead in a shallow grave near her home. The perpetrator was none other than someone she knew. The media coverage of this case and the events surrounding it escalated its national importance. Perhaps it was due to the nature of the crime or perhaps it was because of the timing of events (close to Child Protection Week). Either way it gained enough attention for the President himself to visit the family of Pieter’s and the community, Elsies River. The gestures made by Jacob Zuma outraged some community activists who have actively fought against these crimes for years. 

There are times when some rapes don’t make it into the media because they are not “gruesome” enough. They don’t have the shock factor because South Africans have become desensitized.

Shouldn’t we be saying that rape is rape no matter what the circumstances. It is disheartening when a brave victim chooses to speak out and tell their story, only to discover that their story has fallen through the cracks because it wasn’t deemed newsworthy.

While it is important that the media report on cases like Courtney Pieter’s to highlight a culmination of multiple social ills in that community, the media nonetheless has a responsibility to report consistently. 

We shouldn’t wait for another Courtney story to be outraged. Nor should we wait for confirmation of a crisis. 

One rape is too many.                           

                                             TheJusticeLady

TheJusticeLady is a writer who wants to give a voice to the voiceless. She is an advocate for the rights of rape survivors. She keeps a close eye on the courts, the media and the role they play in shaping the manner in which society sees rape.

 

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#MenAreTrash

When I first became aware of the #MenAreTrash hashtag it was never a stand-alone thing. The hashtag always preceded or followed a story, in less than 140 characters on Twitter, about why men are trash. Every reason for using the hashtag was real. Horrific stories of rape and abuse shared the hashtag with downright rude stories about men dissing women and girls for how they looked, dressed, spoke. One tweeter used #MenAreTrash to describe the total stranger who flooded her with unsolicited dick pics. Another posted a picture of her black eye. There was the one who addressed her harasser personally, and another who posted a thread of daily incidents of harassment she had experienced since puberty. It was a long list. Sometimes #MenAreTrash was the single word answer to a tweet that was sexist or inappropriate or ugly towards women.

When I first encountered the hashtag I had no idea how it was going to be taken up, or how much it would trend. But, more importantly, I had no idea how fierce male resistance to it would be.

Close friends of mine took the hashtag personally. Sane men, who understand white privilege and systemic racism; men who have spoken out in defence of #BlackLivesMatter and who took pains to explain the wrongness of the #AllLivesMatter backlash, struggled with #MenAreTrash. They couldn’t help themselves. They took it personally. I was shocked. I was forced to explain #MenAreTrash more than once to those who were hurt by the hashtag and the message behind it.

This is how I explained it. If you are white and you have been working to understand racism and privilege and you see #WhitesAreRacist you should, after a moment to digest the usual default knee-jerk response, be able to walk on by, acknowledging that for the most part it is true, but that you don’t have to take it personally. Same thing for #MenAreTrash. If you are a man who works hard to break down the gender stereotypes, who has a clear conscience regarding the objectification of women, and a man who keeps standing up and calling out men who behave inappropriately towards women, then you should be able to walk on by, acknowledging that men are trash does not mean you.

Unfortunately, men have been outraged by #MenAreTrash. A lot more outraged by far by that hashtag then by the reasons behind it. Hysterical, loud and vitriolic responses have included trolling, threatening and even physically harming women for using the hashtag. See the irony there?

And it is a never-ending cycle.

Here is my advice to men. Keep quiet for a moment and listen. Hear what is being said. And hear why it is being said. Hold off on your outrage for a little bit, and then see if you can redirect it. We need you to be outraged. We need you to be outraged by what is being done to us, by men. We need you to help us fight this fight. We need you men to move yourselves away from the denial, the whining voice of the hard done by and misinterpreted, and to get over yourselves for long enough to identify what the problem is, and to hear why #MenAreTrash is a rallying cry.

Show us it isn’t so.

Megan Furniss

Megan Furniss is a South African born playwright, actor, writer, director, blogger and improviser. She likes to find spaces to let her big mouth and big opinions be heard and seen. She lives and works in Cape Town. It’s a love hate relationship.

After the Worst has Happened

It is the end of my Honours year. I am at a party to celebrate. I am shivering, despite the warm evening as I stand with a group of my classmates on the patio. We are anxiously waiting to hear if the two girls who left the party to go for a walk and did not return, have been found. Someone comes running towards us out of the darkness. He takes a breath, “the worst has happened”, a pause… “they have been raped”.

I have thought of those words many times in the last five years. I have been recalled to them again in the past few weeks as another spate of highly publicised rapes (and murders) infiltrate my consciousness:

RAPE IS THE WORST THING THAT CAN HAPPEN TO A WOMXN

I hear this message echoed in the words of Judge Kgomo as he hands down sentencing to serial rapist Christian Cornelius Julies in the North West. “It is unquestionable that if he was not stopped in his tracks, belatedly though, the devastation of girls and women’s lives would have continued”.

I hear it in the numerous posts on Facebook that recur on my news feed which proclaim that “my biggest fear is being raped”.

I am torn as I write this because it was my biggest fear -so much so that at the moment that I was being dragged into the bushes I thought to myself “oh god this – the worst thing – is finally happening to me”.  But what does it mean for me now? What can I do now that the worst has happened to me?

According to this narrative my life has been devastated, I have been violated in the most extreme way imaginable, I am worse than dead. I have struggled under the weight of this for 18 months now. I have tried to reconstitute myself amidst the constant echo that this is not actually possible – that I will never be whole and unbroken ever again.

I am not denying that being raped is terrifying and terrible. How could I deny this? It was terrifying and terrible – so terrifying and terrible that I left my body for a while and just hovered above myself, trying not to look down on what was happening.

BUT I am concerned about how the dominant narratives about sexual violence, including the one that being raped is the worst thing, impact on the ability to move beyond the terrifying and terribleness of rape.  How is it possible to heal when disclosing an experience of trauma is met with “Oh my goodness! That is my worst fear!”? How are those who have been violated supposed to heal when they are constantly reminded that they have been dehumanised in the most severe way?

I am not suggesting that we should not continue to call out the horror that is sexual violence. All instances of sexual violence are unacceptable and need to be plainly rendered as such.

But I am asking that we think more carefully about how we do this so that we do not reinscribe pain and horror on the bodies, psyches and souls of those around us.

Rebecca Helman 

Rebecca Helman is a PhD candidate at the University of South Africa (UNISA). Her PhD, entitled “post-rape subjectivities”, examines the ways in which rape survivors are able to (re)constitute their subjectivities amidst the discursive and material politics of sexual violence in the South African context. Rebecca is also a volunteer counsellor at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust’s Observatory office. 

 

 

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