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. 

 

 

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Youth for Change.

STOP THE BUS DAY THREE

It’s already 30deg. Celsius this morning the temperature is going to rise everyone is getting ready. Sun hats! check, water bottles! check, sun block cream! check.  It’s off to Rawsonville police station to meet up with Sergeant Hurling Jordan from the crime prevention team. Sergeants Williams and Ferreira accompanied her to join the team to do door to door on the farms.

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Speaking to ladies in town.

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DSCN0871 DSCN0875 DSCN0897 DSCN0908 DSCN0975 While waiting on the sergeants the team took the opportunity and gave out pamphlets to passersby and also dropped  off some Rape crisis booklet at the police station.

The first farm Gabriere then it was Merwede. All the farm workers have return to work after the strike. The people who were at home received us well and invited us into their homes. They felt free to ask questions around rape and all types of abuse. The team also gave out pamphlets with the Rape Crisis contact numbers.

You would never had said that there was unrest in this area until the bus pulled off at the side of the road. Vineyards  were set alight on Tuesday during the strike.

Then it was door to door in Da Nova an Informal Settlement in Rawsonville. People in this area claim that they have no rape, domestic violence and abuse, but while others say there is.This community was encouraged to report crime and to break the silence.

The team has to do an interview at slot at 12pm  Valley fm Radio.The Topics were Myths, how to support a survivor.   Shaamiela, Tuthu and Thobeke explained what the survivor has to go through if there is no support for her.This talk was done in Xhosa, Afrikaans and English.Listeners  were encourage to support the survivors and not to protect the perpetrators. DSCN0981The team  left for  Zwelethemba a community just outside Worcester. The leader of this youth group a lady social worker named Thembeka, invited Rape Crisis. There were 27 youth, ages 14-20 years.The youth does outreach in this area and is involved in many projects.  This group Zwakala Youth for Christ engaged in the talk ask questions and showed much interest. They wanted to know why survivors feel emotional at court, when are survivors ready to testify, can men be rape, when to disclose and when is it a gang rape, these are the type of questions the group asked.The two facilitators Evelynne and Tuthu answered all their questions and  addressed all their concerns, they were also encouraged to network with other Organisations.

It’s 5pm the team is off to our accomadation to debrief and to pack for the next day.

Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust wishes to thank our donor Department of Social Development (DSD)  that made Stop the Bus 2012 possible.  Department of Social Development Provincial Logo

Awareness, responsibility and blame

By Jen Thorpe

Safety is a difficult thing to contemplate in a country where nowhere is really ‘safe’.  It is hard to pretend that we don’t know.  We can’t ignore the high crime statistics, and police commissioner requirements of stomach in chest out.  It’s almost impossible to meet anyone who doesn’t know anyone who has been victim of crime, or hasn’t been one themselves.  We don’t live in a safe place.  We should all be aware of danger.

I think perhaps this assumption that we should be aware of danger, or the belief that we all know that we live in a context of risk, comes with a strange social requirement that we must manage that risk.  Our walls are high, marked by an acoustic array of electric fencing, sirens and lasers.  We put alarms and bars across the windows, we lock our doors, and we have household-safes and money under our mattresses. We are afraid of strangers.  We take out insurance and the insurers bank on the fear economy that we live in.  We take on the responsibility for our protection.

For many the first question you are asked when you are a victim of a mugging was ‘Where were you walking? Was it at night? Were you alone?’ For a victim of a high-jacking we ask ‘Where were you driving? Were your doors locked?’ For rape survivors we ask ‘What were you wearing? Did you fight them off?’ What we’re really asking is ‘How are you to blame? Why didn’t you try harder to protect yourself?  It’s a complex blame game.

We can acknowledge that we live in a world of violence, that some areas and contexts are fraught with danger. But we must surely also be able to acknowledge that everyone has the right to be free from violence, and that blaming victims for crimes means that we don’t blame perpetrators.  We must acknowledge that entering into a dangerous situation doesn’t mean that you are the cause of that danger.

Sexual violence is fraught with stigma, shame, and social myths about women’s sexuality and women’s rights.  In sexual offences cases victim blaming is particularly prevalent because we see that there is complexity in all sexual situations, and that consensual sex is rarely as simple as saying yes.  South African norms of sexuality complicate our awareness of the crime because say that women say ‘no’ when they really mean ‘yes’, and that women who dress, live or fuck in a particular way deserve what they get.

Society expects women to take the same risk management strategies with their bodies as we take with our homes.  So when we hear about women being raped, society tells us the question we should ask them is why they didn’t try harder to protect themselves and prevent their own rape.  Our logic is so fixed by fear, that we can only blame the victim and be proud of ourselves for keeping safe.

This logic also convinces us that only some men rape.  That we can anticipate who those men are, and that we should therefore work harder to avoid them.  But in SA, statistics show that the men that women should be trying to protect themselves from, are the meant they know.  Worse, they are most likely their family members, fathers, uncles and brothers.  These are South Africa’s rapists.

It is possible to be aware that SA is dangerous, but I think the jump from awareness to responsibility and blame is a bigger one than we have acknowledged it to be.