Lobbying for change

Applications for the new Rape Crisis Activist Training course closes tomorrow, Friday May 19.

While some statistics indicate a 3% decrease in the number of reported sexual offences in the country by the end of last year, the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust in Observatory believes this should not be interpreted as a decrease in the incidence of rape.

Communications officer at Rape Crisis, Miles Collins, said from their experience, there is still a significant problem with under-reporting of rape in the country, with rape myths and stereotypes resulting in the “victim-blaming of survivors”.

“Friends, family, partners and even the criminal justice system itself can re-traumatise survivors when they blame survivors for their rapes,” Mr Collins said.

The goal of Rape Crisis is to promote an end to violence against women – specifically rape.

Mr Collins said that rape survivors are key to successful convictions and their empowerment is based on “safety, respect, support and the ability to make informed choices”.

“We aim to reduce the trauma experienced by survivors and encourage them to report rape. We support communities in challenging high rape rates and flaws in the criminal justice system. Our mission is to promote safety in communities, to empower women, to promote gender equality, to strengthen the criminal justice system and to work actively to address flaws in legislation,” Mr Collins said.

Rape Crisis has now embarked on a new training programme for community activists looking to build their organising skills and abilities, with the course dealing with the political aspects of rape The course trains people to organise and lobby for change.

The training is part of their Rape Survivors’ Justice Campaign, an advocacy project that holds government accountable for the roll-out of specialised courts to handle sexual offences cases.

Co-ordinator of the campaign, Jeanne Bodenstein, said sexual offences courts ensure higher conviction rates and less secondary trauma for survivors.

“We know that community members know the issues in their communities best and therefore want community activists to join our organisation as volunteers,” Ms Bodenstein said.

“If you are actively involved, either in your own community or on social media, and you care about violence against women then this course is for you. We are looking for people with a wide range of skills and abilities, but if you think you have leadership skills and like to organise other people and events then, this will be a big advantage,” she said.

The trust was formed in Cape Town in 1976 and is the oldest organisation in South Africa offering services and support to rape survivors and their families.

Mr Collins said that rape myths and stereotypes normalise and excuse rape, resulting in what the trust refers to as “rape culture”.

“There are many examples of ‘rape culture’ prevalent on social media and in popular culture as a whole. It’s an ongoing challenge to address these issues in an impactful way, due to the instant and fast-paced nature of social media,” he said.

Since the launch of the campaign, the trust have conducted community training workshops; worked with their coalition and community partners; demonstrated during the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign; made submissions on important legislation; visited Parliament and lobbied decision makers.

Ms Bodenstein said projects like these are important because it is aimed at bringing about structural change in how the criminal justice system deals with rape and other sexual offences cases. The training programme is important because it equips communities to work towards bringing about such change.

“Over the years, Rape Crisis has trained counsellors, community educators and activists from the communities we serve in the hope of leaving a legacy that strengthens and empowers the women of these communities to respond to rape and to stand up for their rights,” Ms Bodenstein said.

“By the end of the course our advocacy volunteers should be able to engage with and persuasively communicate with groups of people, be able to take initiative and plan advocacy actions well and be able to work in a team.”

To get your application form and for more information about the training, contact Ms Bodenstein at jeanne@rapecrisis.org.za or 021 447 1467.

Applications close tomorrow Friday May 19.