Today there has been a lot of media coverage for the #stoprape awareness campaign in remembrance of the Anene Booysen tragedy. And I am conflicted by it. I am glad that it is being covered by the media, as something that is horrific and needs to end. But I don’t like people saying that South African’s are numb to rape and violence. My experience is the opposite. South African’s choose not to talk about rape and violence because it hurts them. Deeply. My problem with these rape awareness campaigns, is that they are not continuous throughout the year. According to Lead SA, a rape is committed every four minutes in this country. That is 15 rapes an hour, 360 rapes a day. That is insane. And we only pay attention to it today, and sometimes during August (Women’s Month).
But I really am happy that the public is being made aware of how serious this rape problem is. That there have been so many reported rape cases already since the beginning of the year (4196 according to Leas SA). Primedia (the only avenue I am aware of) is once again providing a ‘safe’ space for anonymous callers to tell their stories, often for the first time. (They did the same thing last year, for a full week)
These stories are both good and bad. If the listener is unaware of the impact that rape and Gender Based Violence (GBV) has on its victims, it provides some insight for them. It also can create a sense of “I am not alone” if the listener has been a victim, and is ready to hear the stories of others.
However, if the listener has been a victim, and is still emotionally raw from their experience, these stories can be huge triggers. The listener may not be ready to hear others’ stories, which may re-traumatise her or him. I must admit, I don’t listen very closely to the radio on #stoprape campaign days, so I am unaware if listeners are given direction with regards to where to find help if they have been a victim, or if these stories are traumatising to listen to. If there is no such direction, that is a problem for me. How can we traumatise people by making them listen to these stories, and not tell them where to find counselling to deal with how these stories have affected them? Yes, anyone can do an internet search and find a rape crisis centre, and Lead SA has a list of resources on their site. I can only hope that these resources are mentioned often during this day of sharing rape experiences.
These stories can also be traumatising for people who have not been raped. Probably because when they hear these stories, they can almost feel the victims’ fear and terror in the situation. My clients tell me that they are scared to tell their friends and families that they were raped. They desperately would like the emotional support that these people could provide, but they are scared of getting the third degree. Of being told that they could have, somehow, caused the rape to happen. Some of my clients are brave enough to tell their friends, and are surprised that their disclosure is sometimes met with anger. Wanting to beat up the rapist doesn’t make the rape unhappen. Wanting to find and kill the rapist doesn’t take my client’s immediate pain away.
If your friend is brave enough to tell you that they were raped, be a friend to them. That is what they are looking for. Not anger, they possibly have enough of that going through them. Don’t ask the typical questions about what they were wearing, or doing. Let your friend tell her (or his) story. Hug them if they want. Make them tea. Be a supportive friend. Hearing that someone you care for has been raped is bound to make you angry, and you are entitled to those feelings. You are welcome to tell your friend that their story makes you angry, but be very clear that your anger is not directed at them, but because someone violated them. Your friend needs to feel that you care about their well-being.
However, if you feel that their story has deeply affected you, talk about it. With other people whom your friend has disclosed to. But that could be difficult, because it is your friend’s story to tell, not yours, and you need to make sure that the people you talk to already know about the incident. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to people you know, find a counsellor or therapist who you can talk to. It is important that you work through these feelings, so that you are able to give your friend all the support they need, and still feel supported yourself. Encourage your friend to seek counselling too. If you are in counselling, they may not feel that your suggestion is because they can’t cope, or because something is wrong with them, but because you find that talking to a professional helps.