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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Stop the Bus to End Violence Against Women

The 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were decades of fear and civil unrest in the Dominican Republic. Rafael Trujillo, the unelected military strongman and President of the nation, orchestrated a reign of terror through a government sponsored genocide, and suppression of civil liberties. Many political dissidents kept quiet for fear of incarceration, torture, or death, but four powerful, and brave sisters, undeterred by the harsh restrictions on political demonstrations, fought on against the ruthless dictator. Through their courageous action, the Mirabal Sisters won the support of their nation’s people and began a social and political movement to collectively dismantle the regime’s power. Recognizing the threat the sisters posed to his authority, Trujillo had them assassinated on 25 November 1960 but rather than eliminating the sisters’ influence, he unknowingly made them heroes and martyrs of the people. In honor of the Mirabal Sisters, the general population began demonstrating in larger numbers and more often, which quickened the end to the bloodiest period in the Dominican Republic’s history.

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Thirty-nine years after the assassination of the Mirabal Sisters the United Nations General Assembly voted to designate 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in the sisters’ honor. The day marks the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism, a period of awareness raising campaigns about the negative impact of violence against women and children, and the need for greater support for survivors of abuse. During the 16 Days individuals are encouraged to show their support for the movement by wearing a white ribbon, a symbol of peace, volunteering for or donating to NGOs that offer support for survivors of abuse, and speaking out against gender and age-based violence. The 16 Days of Activism concludes on 10 December, International Human Rights Day, which celebrates the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

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In 2013 the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust will be commemorating the 16 Days of Activism with our Stop the Bus Campaign. A crew of nine, which includes one counsellor, three community educators, one research fieldworker, one Rape Crisis staff member, two interns from York University in the United Kingdon and a driver, will set off from the Rape Crisis office in Athlone on 24 November and return on 2 December 2013. This year the Stop the Bus crew will stop in Bredasdorp, home of the late Anene Booysen, Swellendam and Barrydale. They will meet with community members, rape survivors and community leaders to discuss the gaps within the Criminal Justice System, the rights survivors have within the Criminal Justice System and the resources and services available to rape survivors in the area. The crew will also assess police, health, and court facilities along the route for their compliance with sexual offences legislation and ability to effectively deliver services to rape survivors.

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To follow the Stop the Bus Campaign’s progress, please check the Rape Crisis Blog for daily updates from the Bus bloggers.

Organisations and community members that wish to participate can contact the Stop the Bus coordinator Barbara Williams (barbara@rapecrisis.org.za) for more information.

 

 

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.

 

 

Stop the Bus 2011 – Day 3 (Trip 2) – Making a difference

Children arriving for the christmas party

Children arriving for the christmas party

Today we started the day by going to Buffelsjagsbaai together with Siswe from Badisa where we did our door to door campaign. This part of the Overberg region is poverty stricken and the need for social support is startling. The unemployment rate is mammoth in this small community (approx. 1,000 people live in this area). Even though, the team was met with warmth and friendliness by the locals, which made us reflect upon how self-absorbed we in our own little bubble can be when facing the difficulties other people have to struggle with in their daily lives.

Afterwards we went to Baardskeerdersbos where we did a talk around about understanding rape at the Family in Focus volunteers Diploma Ceremony and Christmas party, and then we e.g. were entertained by the children singing Christmas songs.

The team all agreed upon being tired today as it had been a challenging day and a lot of us were emotionally drained.

Thobeka tête-à-tête with a male resident in Buffelsjagsbaai

Thobeka tête-à-tête with a male resident in Buffelsjagsbaai

Eleanor and Sizwe together with the locals

Eleanor and Sizwe together with the locals

The team having fun with the locals

The team having fun with the locals

Some of the team members and the participants from the ceremony at Baardskeerdersbos

Some of the team members and the participants from the ceremony at Baardskeerdersbos

Woman from Buffelsjagsbaai

Woman from Buffelsjagsbaai

Eleanor informing the participants about understanding rape

Eleanor informing the participants about understanding rape