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. 

 

 

Mandela Day Care Pack Drive

The spirit of giving and helping others is epitomised in Mandela Day (Saturday, 18 July), when scores of South Africans come together and dedicate a portion of their day to doing good and the legacy of Nelson Mandela.

This year, Rape Crisis has set aside an interesting and exciting project for our 67 minutes. Year after year, women and men face the harrowing experience of surviving sexual assault and rape with very little to no support. The process of going through to the police station and undergoing the process of forensic examination can leave many women feeling violated from the start. Thus, in the spirit of giving back and supporting rape survivors with resources to regain their dignity, the organisation has put together a care pack drive where volunteers and allies can assemble care packs for rape survivors.

In an effort to be provide adequate support, please note that brand new donations are required and will be the only donations accepted.

The care packs consist of the following:

  • Underwear (all shapes and sizes for men/women/children)
  • Sanitary pads (no tampons)
  • Toothpaste and toothbrush
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Nappies

The reality of this care pack drive is mobilising our volunteers while simultaneously ensuring that rape survivors are able to experience kindness in the simplest of forms – like being able to put on a fresh pair of underwear or wash their hair. In the spirit of Mandela Day where South Africans pledge to give back 67 minutes of their time (representing the number of years Madiba spent in jail fighting for revolution and freedom) to pay it forward and give, we urge others to come and participate in our drive.

Not only that, volunteers are able to meet with like-minded individuals and get to know the people behind Rape Crisis as well making connection with some new faces.

Find all the details and sign up here. 

Looking for the when and where?

Venue: Mowbray Town Hall | Main Road | Mowbray

Time: 10am – 3pm

Date: Saturday, 18 July 2015.

We hope to see you there!

Dr Genine Josias in the examination room at one of the Thuthuzela Care Centres

Dr Genine Josias in the examination room at one of the Thuthuzela Care Centres

Mandela Day Care Pack Drive

Meet Abigail, learn about the work she does, and find out why the care packs we will be preparing on Mandela Day are so important to our survivors.abigail blog post

Rape Crisis: Tell us about yourself

Abigail: My name is Abigail and I’m 32 years old. I’m a Rape Crisis first responder at the Thuthuzela Care Centre in Athlone.

RC: What is your relationship with Rape Crisis?

A: I started with Rape Crisis in 2009, when I did the training to become a volunteer counsellor. Since then I’ve been very involved and active within the organisation: I’ve done training with Stop the Bus, our community outreach initiative where we went out to empower women by educating them about their rights, rape, and what to do; have also helped with training new counselling volunteers and I’m also very active in the Observatory office where I have been a pieceworker, meaning I’ve answered the crisis line, booked client appointments, and offered support to people who call Rape Crisis, informing them about rape and what their options are.

RC: What is the Thuthuzela Care Centre?

A: The Thuthuzela Care centre is a one stop centre where rape survivors go to for forensic examinations and the medical treatment after rape. There is a forensic doctor who does the examination, a nurse, and also a counsellor at the centre. Often the investigating officer brings the survivor to the centre to undergo a forensic examination to collect evidence for the case, but they also receive important medication that prevents HIV, pregnancy and other sexually transmitted infections. Sometimes the investigating officer will also take their statement there. It’s a place for them to go to and receive medical attention and examination after they have been raped

RC: What is a care pack?

A: A care pack contains a washcloth, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, tissues, underwear, and sometimes a snack. We give these packs to rape survivors so that they can shower or bath if they want to after the forensic examination.

RC: What impact does this have upon the survivors?

A: The care pack us shows survivors that we care about them, especially after they’ve gone through this horrific and traumatic experience. For them, some of them don’t even have the means to buy basics like sanitary towels, so we try to help from our side. Being able to wash after the examination and remove the evidence of the crime is very comforting to survivors, and this is possible thanks to the wonderful people who donate care pack items to us.

RC: How can people help and what can they donate?

A: You can sign up and  join our Mandela Day care pack drive. Collect toiletries and join together with us on 18 July to create beautiful care packs to show your support for rape survivors.

We always welcome donations of soap, bodywash, facecloths, toothbrushes, toothpaste, sanitary towels, underwear and nappies.

We hope you can join us on Mandela Day.

A typical care pack for a rape survivor

A typical care pack for a rape survivor

The difference that a care pack makes

By Shiralee Mc Donald

We would like to extend our gratitude to everyone who responded to our call for care packs for survivors accessing services at the Thuthuzela Care Centers over the holiday season. We felt truly touched and surprised that our ‘wish-list’ was fulfilled to the extent that it was. The first thing one is offered after any type of shock or trauma is a sweet drink yet this is the very last thing that survivors are able to do as it would destroy evidence. So having a snack and juice in the care packs was appreciated because the process can take a number of hours, sugar levels drop and survivors are hungry after the wait.

A donor remarked at the injustice of a child receiving this type of gift at Christmas compared to what her children were expecting. So true and it is very sad that so many children in our communities are sexually abused. What we can say for sure is that because of these care packs, children were able to hold on to something to distract themselves from the trauma of the examination. Counsellors at the Thuthuzela Care Centers spirits were lifted by the fact that there are community members who care that survivors would go home after their forensic examination with a sense of dignity that others thought about their needs during this time. We felt privileged to meet the women and men who felt strongly that they wanted to do something and would like to thank them for all their efforts.

Please remember that there is always a need for care packs and if you are interested in donating please contact Helette at the Observatory Office for more details: 021 447 1467