Last year about 53 000 rapes were reported in the country – a crime an Observatory-based organisation has been tackling for the past four decades while offering assistance to survivors of rape.
Founded by Anne Mayne, a survivor of both domestic violence and gang rape, Rape Crisis was established in 1976 and is the oldest organisation in South Africa supporting recovery and seeking justice for survivors.
Director for of Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust (RCCTT), Kathleen Dey, believes the true number of rapes is far higher than the reported number due to the extent of underreporting and said: “It would be a mistake to assume that a lower number of reported rapes means that less rapes occurred. If we use the one in nine estimate from the South African Medical Research Council, the number of rapes in South Africa is closer to half a million per year. Our experience shows that many survivors don’t report due to threats from the perpetrator and their family, rape myths, stigma or re-traumatisation when officials aren’t properly sensitised.”
RCCTT empowers rape survivors in the province on their journey to recovery and along the road to justice. They also work to prevent rape in communities, supporting survivors speaking out about rape and to bring about law reform through working in partnership with other organisations across the country.
“We are contacted by an average of 300 callers and 400 new face-to-face clients every month. There are few resources available to women who have been raped and Rape Crisis Cape Town is one organisation that provides comprehensive services right the way through to the end of the rape trial and beyond,” Ms Dey said.
According to the trust, the topic of rape has been a particular point of discussion in the past few months, with student protests and media coverage being testament to that.
In 1996, when Carol Bower, the first director took over, she recruited a board of trustees to oversee the vision and mission of the organisation and they formally constituted the organisation as a trust in 1997.
RCCTT offers support to reduce trauma at every stage of the journey – whether rape survivors want to take the case to trial or simply want counselling. They have dedicated counsellors operating a 24-hour crisis line, as well as free face to face counselling in all three of their offices based in Athlone, Observatory and Khayelitsha. The trust also offer court support services, as well as trauma counselling in three Thuthuzela Care Centres or forensic units at hospitals. Some survivors choose to tell their stories to raise awareness and to find solidarity with other survivors by joining their Speak Out Project. In 2012, when the organisation hit a major funding crisis all but one staff member was retrenched, yet they continued to work in the organisation for six months with no pay. Ms Dey said it bears testimony to the extraordinary passion and commitment of the people in this organisation.
“Funding is always a challenge but also the ever-changing political landscape and the ever-present threat to women of rape culture and how the myths and stereotypes about rape promote violence against women and other vulnerable groups such as the poor, sex workers, the elderly, the disabled and the LGBTI ( lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) community,” Ms Dey added.
She also believed that without organisations such as these, rape survivors would have nowhere to turn for assistance in managing the criminal justice system, no where to turn for healing and no one to champion their cause in holding government accountable for upholding their right to live free from violence as enshrined in the Constitution.
Ms Dey commented on the organisation’s reaching its 40th anniversary, by saying: “We are the most long standing organisation of our kind in the world and the oldest organisation in South Africa dealing with the rape of adults – so it is a huge achievement.”
Over the next five years, the trust will be looking to continue its organisational growth, increase its national footprint and make itsservices accessible to rape survivors. The trust also wishes to see their advocacy campaign have greater national visibility.
* For further information on the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, visit http://rapecrisis.org.za/history/ or visit www.rapecrisis.org.za or call the 24-hour helpline on 021 447 9762.