I have seen cases of 2 year old girls being raped, 5 year olds, 14 year olds, babies. I have seen cases in which the children are raped by their loved ones; grandfathers, fathers, brothers, uncles, friends, neighbours, and those that are raped by strangers. Cases in which the children have been beaten, threatened at knife point, threatened at gun point, bribed and sold into rape. Cases where the child and the perpetrator have been alone, or where siblings or family members are forced to watch, or different men take turns to repeatedly rape a child. Cases of boys and girls. Cases or ‘corrective’ or ‘curative’ rape. Cases where victims are pulled into bushes on their way to school, abducted whilst walking to a local shop, followed by a stranger, raped in their own homes. Cases of HIV infection, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Cases where children are forever traumatised by their rape, where children can die from their injuries or in some cases take their own life to escape their pain.
I have been with Bobbi Bear for three weeks now. That’s right, three weeks. The volume of new rape cases that tirelessly pour through the doors of the organisation is beyond anything I could have previously comprehended. I feel conflicted in my emotions of sadness, pain, hope, respect, love, and bewilderment.
I cannot understand why rape statistics in South Africa are soaring and why nobody seems to be able to control, let alone reduce it. There is an impressive suit of South African laws, some of which are constitutionally bound, to protect and uphold fundamental human rights (Bill of Rights, Chapter 2 of the South African Constitution, South African Human Rights Commission Act 2013, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, Convention on the Rights of the Child) and explicitly protect citizens from sexual abuse. In every police station, hospital or school I visit, graffitied on walls and advertised on billboards, I see pleas urging South African’s to unite against sexual abuse, rape and violence against women. There are NGO’s, activists and feminists all over the country campaigning and fighting for equality and an end to the rape epidemic. Where in the societal construct are these messages getting lost? Something is not working here, something is enabling and allowing this situation to continue, we need to stand strong and admit that. I am desperately trying to understand what is causing this anomalistic attitude.
Only an estimated 1 in 9 rapes are reported here and the general consensus amongst the many differing professionals and locals I have spoken with seems to point towards a unapologetic lack of faith in the Justice System. Why is this? The criminal justice system are fully aware of the scale of the problem, and whilst I have met some fantastic employees of the government there are those who don’t appear hugely interested in their positions of law enforcement. Many of these workers are overstretched and underpaid. This is not to excuse their actions but to further explain the situation here. They too have families in need of food, clothing and love and struggle to ascertain the financial support from government wages to do so. These people are often desperate and see no other way out, so resort to ‘alternative’, sometimes illegal forms of supplementing their income.Corruption and bribery rates are seemingly high and are resultant in the dilution of effective policing nationwide. Could it be that these rapists are raping because they can? What is the true social cost to raping? Are South Africans living in a society which makes it permissible for men to rape?
My own personal construct of what constitutes rape, the portrayal of a rape victims and rape perpetrators has been abruptly smashed during my short time here and I have been left trying my best to better understand the messages which are fed to the citizens of a patriarchal South Africa. I have had to unfetter my own cognition to fathom these cases as they fall outside of my previous western preconception of ‘rape’. Rape does not present in the same way, nor do the survivors behave in the same way – each case is entirely different in its particulars, and each victim is entirely different in their response to rape. One constant is indisputable, rape is rape, and the brutality, trauma and suffering inflicted on rape survivors scars them all.
I have hope that there is a way in which the children of South Africa will one day be unencumbered by the ties of rape, but I must dig much deeper into the countries history, laws and culture if I am to discover and comment on any sort of solution.
Want to help Bobbi Bear? Get in touch with Volunteer Invest here.