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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Women: listen to your inner voice and act

As #MeToo sets the stage for how things should be, rather than how they have been, I’m thinking of how, for so long, prevention of sexual assault has been aimed at women. Don’t walk there, don’t wear that, don’t go out alone, don’t stay in alone. Read the signs. Notice the behaviour. Tell them it’s not okay.

For far too long.

Too late we’re changing the discussion and placing the responsibility where it should lie: with the choices men make. Simple. Just don’t do it. Don’t make up excuses in your mind for why it is okay generally, or specifically, or just this once. Just stop cat-calling, leering, staring, touching, trying your luck, and forcing your will. Just stop.

That said, there is one more responsibility I do want to put on women: act on your gut and act fast. If you don’t listen to your Mentor Within, to your inner wisdom, you won’t be safe. And if you don’t act fast you’re more likely to be in danger. I have been listening to the themes that have emerged over the last few days in the media, and apart from the relief that the secrets are out, and the outrage that trusted men can behave this way, there is another theme that is emerging. Women just want it to stop, but they don’t want anyone hurt in the process.

This is one of the reasons for the silence. Yes, there’s humiliation, and the real fear of losing a contract or a job, or of breaking up the family, but more than anything there is a belief that people are essentially good and if we play fair, surely the men will too. But they won’t. Not these kinds of men. Not the men who are entitled, narcissistic conquerors. Not the men who really don’t care. They’ll sooner throw you under the bus than admit their behaviour, and they’re not about to stop unless they are forced to.

I remember when I was travelling many years back, aged 19. We were being taken back to where we were staying by a taxi driver. Half way to our residence the taxi driver stopped on the edge of a lake. I asked him why he was stopping, and he said in broken English that the car had trouble. I had heard this man speaking English earlier and it wasn’t nearly as broken as it was as he tried to give us a reason for stopping in this deserted spot. I could feel the hair standing up on the back of my neck and a rush of adrenalin, which I knew was there to keep me safe. “There’s nothing wrong with the car,” I told him, as he asked us to move to another car. But he insisted we had to change cars.

He was messing with the wrong woman. “We’ll go with that car, but you’re staying here. We’re not going with two men”, I said. “Also, the guys who put us in the taxi took your registration number and they know who you are. We told them your name. So one wrong move by your friend and you’ll both have a lot to account for. Now make sure he gets us there fast as we are being expected by our hosts and if we don’t arrive by 7pm they’ll be out looking for us.”

I could see his resolve crumble. Whatever he’d had planned was just a bit too inconvenient. He spoke to his friend in a language I couldn’t understand, and with a few nods, the friend took us swiftly back to where we were staying.

Throughout, my friend hadn’t said a word. Like three other occasions I can remember when I was with another woman in danger, if I had not acted fast, decisively and on the front foot who knows what would have happened?

Women won’t always be able to get out of dangerous situations but sometimes by making a scene we can avert atrocious behaviour. Far more often, though, women either panic and freeze or don’t want to draw attention or blame someone when they might be wrong.

At no other time is it more appropriate to “act now and ask forgiveness if you’re wrong”.

Just do it. Trust your gut, and act fast when there’s a threat. Don’t do it the nice way, don’t take your time about it, and don’t be scared to call it out and draw other people’s attention.

“Scream

So that one day

A hundred years from now

Another sister will not have to

Dry her tears wondering

Where in history

She lost her voice.”

Jasmin Kaur

 

Rosemary Shapiro-LiuRosemary Shapiro-Liu is the director of Triple Win Enterprises in Sydney, Australia, and the author of The Mentor Within. She is a facilitator, conference strategist and coach. In South Africa she was one of the National Directors of NICRO, and the national manager for Restorative Justice, and in Australia she works with thought leaders, social entrepreneurs and business authors. She is one of the founding contributors to Smallville.com.au for small business owners who think big.

Take Action If You Said #MeToo

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Speak Out member, Chipo. Photo by Alexa Sedge.

By Kathleen Dey

I appeal to anyone who posted or followed #MeToo on social media to join our I ACT Campaign and donate R100 every month to fund our free counselling service to rape survivors.

The #MeToo campaign was initially used by North American community organiser Tarana Burke in 2006 as part of a campaign to promote “empowerment through empathy” among black women who had experienced sexual abuse, particularly within underprivileged communities.

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Tarana Burke (via justbeinc.org)

It gained global momentum after accusations of sexual harrassment – and rape – were brought against Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein in 2017. Actress Alyssa Milano encouraged posting the phrase as part of an awareness campaign to show the scale of the problem.

She tweeted Tarana Burke’s call to action: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote #MeToo as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

According to Wikipedia the phrase was used by more than 4.7 million people in 12 million posts during the first 24 hours.

I am aware of so many women who posted #MeToo on social media platforms and told their stories of harassment, violence and abuse – and many more who were moved by the trend but for good reason did not post the hashtag or tell their painful stories. If each of these took action by donating R100 a month Rape Crisis, we could kick start the I ACT Campaign, a campaign designed to address some of the enormous helplessness and anger we feel when we see how widespread and severe the scale of the problem is. #MeToo demonstrated this only too well.

There were some strong posts from men in support of the women who posted #MeToo, many were shocked by the prevalence and some men said #MeToo as survivors themselves. This is a campaign that men can support just as well. What better way of showing support than a tangible gesture? Many can then say, “I ACT for women’s empowerment” and mean it.

Members of the LGBTQIA community could say an even stronger #MeToo having experienced the intersecting trauma of being sexually harassed and being targeted because of their sexuality, sexual orientation or gender identity. Many have not posted because #MeToo did not recognise this but only saw violence through the eyes of women. The fact is there are many intersections in our society that most people are completely oblivious to. Black women might not have the luxury of posting #MeToo but many of the rape survivors we see at rape crisis experience these multiple forms of harassment. On behalf of all of them we say #MeToo and ask you all to say #I-ACT in return.

Just R100 ensures a one hour counselling session for a rape survivor including transport money if needed. In this space where survivors feel safe to tell their stories they find their own coping strategies, learn to move forward, make well informed decisions and connect more closely to others. Please take action to support them so we can all say I-ACT.

 

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Kathleen Dey is the Director of the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust.

On #MeToo

By Sam Waterhouse

We are posting with different private meanings and experiences behind that phrase. Many of us are talking about rape, assault, and abuse as well as ‘harassment’. We are talking about sexual violence. We are publicly exposing something deeply personal, for some of us we know we are also being political, and in the posting we are being more socially connected about experiences that we mostly share in smaller spaces. If we share it at all. There is, even for me, some discomfort in the choice to #MeToo, I hesitated and waited – for what purpose? Am I going to hang this out on the line to be minimised, looked over, celebrated, commiserated, diminished, pitied? My personal and social meanings collide in the choice.

And then I saw women I perceive as powerful, who I respect and aspire to posting and I was enabled. #MeToo

I’m interested in seeing who posts and who doesn’t. I’m interested in who doesn’t because my Facebook is not only linked to feminists, to women who are alive to the scaffolding that holds sexual violence up and seek to name it, dismantle it and build networks of compassion and power. My Facebook people are also girls, women and men who live in other ways and who have lived sexual violence. Many of these are not participating in this public way. May you continue to do what keeps you safe, may some of you be emboldened, may you choose what’s best for you.

I’m interested in who reacts. On mine so far all women. On some other posts I see the smattering of woke men who perhaps understand better or who feel they have permission to react. So this seems to me to be another exercise of women speaking to women about something that men and our society creates. And I pragmatically see the value of women talking to women. There is power there. But I get pissed off because we are not posting this only for other women. Angry because I think most men are turning away from this pervasive reality and then also considering (generously?) maybe they don’t know if they can react or how to.

I’m interested in how I’ve reacted to posts and how I’ve felt about the reactions to mine. Depending on the content and my closeness to the person who posts I react differently. I do this because experiences of sexual violence do not invoke one set of static feelings. We have different meanings at different times. I think for many of us posting we have built strength around the experiences. For me the sad face is uncomfortable I don’t want people to be sad for me. I am not sad now. I didn’t post in sorrow. I posted with heart and with defiance. But I also know the sorrow and the loss and the sense of weakness and I know that for some you are posting – or not posting – with those feelings closer to the surface.

May we have these conversations more openly after this flash of activity.

 

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Sam Waterhouse works at the University of the Western Cape’s Dullah Omar Institute. She was a counselling volunteer at Rape Crisis in the mid 1990s and went on to run our court support project as an advocacy coordinator before continuing as an actvist against violence against women in a broad range of spaces including Facebook, where she originally posted this piece.