What does the 16 Days of Activism campaign mean to you?

For the 16th year, South Africa is taking part in the global 16 Days of Activism campaign which promotes ‘No Violence against Women and Children’. This started on the 25 November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and will end on International Human Rights Day on 10 December.

According to Africa Check statistics, in 2015/16 there were 51,895 sexual offences recorded, an average of 142.2 per day.

“While the sexual offences rate decreased from 99 in 2014/15 to 94.3 in 2015/16 this decrease is not a positive result, according to the Institute for Security Studies. “We are deeply concerned about the decrease of 3.2% in sexual offences. Research shows that this crime is underreported and a decrease suggests that fewer people are reporting sexual offences.”

Each year, various organisations and social media platforms are usually found punting campaigns in aid of raising awareness around abuse. This year, Facebook and the United Nations (UN) have teamed up in allowing Facebook users to put a filter on their profile picture stating “I say no to violence against women and girls.”

While quite a few of my Facebook friends have already come out in support by opting for the filter on their profile pictures, it left me wondering how many of them actually believed what they were so publically endorsing.

While South Africa and the 16 Days of Activism campaign, among other all-year-round initiatives, have made strides in raising awareness around abuse of women and girls, there is undoubtedly still a long way to go. While scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed I saw men using these filtered profile pictures but I know that some of these men are disrespectful to women and their bodies and thisgot me thinking on classification of abuse.

For many, abuse is still classified by the wrongful physical violation of someone and their body, and that’s where it ends. For some, emotional abuse is not classified as abuse. So we live on and continue cultivating a generation of men and boys who think that cutting into women with words is okay as long as they don’t lift their hands, as if abuse is only recognised if there is physical scarring.

The age old debate between patriarchy and feminism has and probably will continue to rage on, as both grow more radical in stance. But the fact remains that while socio-economic influences, crime and other more personal factors play a role in rape and abuse culture, the fact that men still police and commodify women’s bodies has only exacerbated the issue.

Psychologist weigh in

“The word abuse has long had connotations of bruises, cuts and black eyes; overt signs that something untoward is happening. In some respects we have all been socialised into believing that, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me.” How wrong these sentiments are. Emotional abuse however, is much harder to detect as its signs can be meticulously concealed by the victim. The victim may often be afraid to open up about what is transpiring for fear of not being believed, being judged or even worse blamed. Instead they learn to wear the proverbial mask where they pretend all is ok,” stated clinical psychologist, Liane Lurie.

South Africa, for this reason, is still home to high levels of violence against its women and children, despite a world-renowned Constitution and a legislative overhaul that safeguards women’s and children’s rights, according to South Africa.info.

Abuse awareness

While the rate of reporting abuse continues to dwindle, South Africans are slowly becoming more aware that abuse happens on different levels.

“The greater publicity around incidents of bullying and its manifestations has contributed to this awareness. However a lack of trust in our justice system or the trauma of being subjected to a protracted court process often serves as an impediment towards victims speaking out,” Lurie added. “Furthermore, because the victim has no physical injuries or the means to explain what is happening to them, they may often believe that they deserve it or are to blame.”

Victim shaming

The common narrative of victims not coming forward and reporting abuse has and continues to be based on the fact that victims often feel ashamed. While others tends to commonly stay due to being isolated by abusive partners, they typically have nothing to fall back on.

“Many victims often stay in emotionally or physically abusive relationships for fear of being left financially destitute if they leave,” highlighted Lurie.

The low report rate then in turn leaves us with inaccurate stats on the prevalence of emotional abuse. “Individuals often believe that if they don’t have physical evidence that some form of abuse is happening, that they will be turned away by the police,” stated Lurie.

Abuse education

In addition to disheartening rape statistics just this year South African universities have been in the spotlight following a number of reported rape cases. From the Rhodes Memorial rapist, to more recently protests at Rhodes University as students collectively stood against the university being dishonest about the number of rape incidents that have occurred and the lack of apprehension, by exposing known rapists on campus under the hashtag #RUreferencelist.

Society has undoubtedly reached boiling point, but is this enough? While we have every reason to be angry, misdirected anger is often as damaging as ignorance.

“We need to create open and non-judgmental spaces in which women and men can share their experiences without being shamed. We need to be very open with our children around what a healthy relationship looks like and the importance of valuing yourself enough to put boundaries in place. It is important that we all learn that the word, “no” should be said with conviction as opposed to guilt. If someone coerces you into anything that compromises your emotional or physical wellbeing it may be classified as abusive. Trust your gut, recognize the red flags and learn to walk away,” added Lurie.

How to support the cause

Active support is the best kind. Here are some ways in which you can get involved and make a difference:

Donate to Rape Crisis Cape Town: Rape Crisis centres, which cares for and provides the necessary support and help for victims, are located in Observatory, Khayelitsha, and Athlone they. Due to the influx of rape and abuse victims, especially over the festive season, volunteers are always needed. The centre in return offers the necessary training to these volunteers. To support them, or become a counsellor visit http://rapecrisis.org.za/ .

Tears Foundation: “It is our aim to make TEARS the 911 helpline for victims of rape and sexual abuse. TEARS has designed a unique programme, in the form of a mobile phone portal and website. Through this system, access to legal, medical and psychological support is available on all cell phone networks, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, free or at minimal charge, to every member of society,” stated the organisation. Contact the organisation, to learn more.

Become an active member of your local police forum: Finding ways to become an active member of your community is always advised. This, to both assist in building a no-violent culture and get to know your rights.

Making contact and finding ways to assist at a local rape crisis centre in your area is also an avenue you could explore.

Abuse for the most part is still something that is considered to be a far removed societal ill that though not condoned is also something that many don’t give a second thought to unless it immediately affects them. This is the exact culture that needs eradicating, and personally that means creating one safe space at a time and actively educating and empowering women. Not only within the 16 Days of Activism period but beyond. The 16 Days of Activism campaign period is a time in which to get real about the way in which our friends, colleagues, sisters, mothers, daughters are being violated and to actively band together in combat.

It starts with you.