25 November marks the start of the 16th annual 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women & Children. This is an international campaign that seeks to raise awareness of the plight of many women and children who suffer violence as a regular occurrence. Here in South Africa, the rape capital of the world, the campaign has particular poignancy.
Gender-based violence and HIV
While 16 days of activism is nowhere near enough to tackle the serious issue of violence against women and children in our society, we commend the campaign for the role it plays in keeping the issue of gender-based violence firmly on the political and social agenda. It is significant that the 16 Days encompasses World AIDS Day, on 1 December, because the face of the HIV epidemic in South Africa is the face of a woman. Not only is prevalence higher among women, particularly young Black women, but violence against women and gender inequality fuel the epidemic.
Under-reporting of rape
Police crime statistics for 2014-15 were released last month. They showed a 7.4% drop in sexual assaults since 2008-09. While this may appear to be good news, a number of organisations have warned against taking this statistic too literally. Both the Institute for Security Studies and the Shukumisa Campaign, a project dedicated to advocacy against gender-based violence, say that the recently released figures “cannot be taken as an accurate measure of either the extent or trend of this crime.”
Their concern is rather that rape survivors have decreasing levels of trust in the ability and willingness of the police to take rape charges seriously. It is estimated that only one in 13 rapes is actually reported to the police. According to the Mail & Guardian (02/10/2015), “Results of the National Victims of Crime Survey found that the proportion of victims who report their rapes to the police decreased by 21% between 2011 and 2014. This is shockingly alarming.”
Children are particularly vulnerable
If it is difficult for an adult woman to report a rape, it is even harder for girls and young women who have not yet learned how to assert themselves, or who may be intimidated into staying silent. The Mail & Guardian goes on to report, “… a University of Cape Town study found that, by the time South African children are between 15 and 17 years of age, one in five of them will have experienced sexual abuse.” This is not only traumatic for those children, and a damning indictment of our society, it also contributes to a recurring pattern of abuse. Studies have shown that women who were abused as girls are more likely to be abused as adults; and men who were exposed to abuse as children are more likely to be violent as adults.
We all have a part to play
Ending the cycle of violence and abuse in our country,particularly against women and children, involves all of us. We all have a duty to speak out against gender-based violence and to advocate for a fairer and more equitable society. You may be fortunate enough not to have been a victim of violence, but it is very likely you know someone who has. If your friend or family member is a rape survivor, one of the most important things you can do is simply to listen … and believe her. Many survivors are not believed, or are subjected to ‘victim-shaming’. “She was asking for it in that skirt.” “She should have known not to walk there.” These are just some of the comments that rape survivors endure.
Encourage a survivor to report the rape to the police, even after the fact. While it is very important to report a rape without delay, so that evidence can be gathered, it is better to report it late rather than not at all. It is only when all rapes are reported to the police that we will know the true extent of the crisis facing this country.
Support the survivor to seek help in dealing with the psychological trauma of rape. In Cape Town, the Rape Crisis Centre offers free counselling and other services to rape survivors.
There is also a good guide to supporting a survivor here: http://rapecrisis.org.za/information-for-survivors/supporting-a-rape-survivor/.
The Rape Crisis Centre can be contacted on:
Observatory 021 447 9762
Athlone 021 633 9229
Khayelitsha 021 361 9085
SD Law & Associates can help
If you are a rape survivor, or you are supporting someone who is, contact us for expert legal advice. We will bring your case to court and support you through the process with compassion and sensitivity. We understand that rape is one of the most traumatic experiences a woman can undergo, and we will ensure you feel supported and cared for throughout.