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THE HISTORY OF RAPE CRISIS

International feminism was a catalyst for South African feminist organisation to address violence against women. In 1975, Anne Mayne, a survivor of both domestic violence and a gang rape, attended the UN International Year of the Women Conference in Mexico City and subsequently visited the US – experiences which were pivotal to her subsequent involvement in rape crisis services (Russell, 1989). In 1977, following their attendance at the first International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women in Brussels, Belgium in 1976, Rape Crisis Cape Town (RCCT) was formed the following year (Russell, 1989; Maconachie and van Zyl, 1994). Two years later Gabby Marcus, a RCCT counsellor moved to Johannesburg where, in collaboration with others she started People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) in 1979.1 Of the two organisations, POWA had the stronger emphasis on domestic violence (Russell, 1989) and established the first shelter specifically for abused women in 1984. A second shelter was opened in the Western Cape in 1986 by RCCT (Anderson, 1988).

Organisations like POWA and RCCTT, as a matter of principle, also did not seek funds from the state due to the restrictions placed around the provision of services (such as counsellors being permitted to only provide services to people of the same racial group).2 Even so, rape and domestic violence services of the time were still shaped by apartheid practices. Because shelters had been established in white areas, the Group Areas Act served to limit their accessibility to black women. The service model adopted by rape crisis centres also mitigated its adoption by black women. Observed Mayne at the time: “We’ve tried for years to encourage black women to set up Rape Crisis services in their own communities. We share our information and discuss the process and hope they will adapt what we do to their situation. Because many of them don’t have phones or cars, they need to work out a different system from ours. But because they work very long hours and are forced to live very far from their work, they don’t have time for volunteer work, so almost nothing has happened so far” (Russell 1989: 234).

The way white violence against women organisations’ structured their arrangements also revealed a certain class-blindness. While Anne Mayne remembers black professional women attending many of RCCT’s training programmes, the combination of long working days and commutes, combined with the practice of holding meetings in the evening, meant that many black women were unable to attend meetings and thus played a minimal role in influencing policy. Attempts were made to sometimes meet in Mitchell’s Plain but the combination of distance (for white women), the dangers of townships (negotiated by black women daily), and the absence of meeting facilities in township areas, requiring people to congregate in modest township homes instead, meant this practice fell away. As a result meetings largely took place at a child guidance clinic in a white area (Russell, 1989).

RCCT did not initially define as feminist, some women concerned that their association with its politics would diminish the organisation’s credibility. So when the organisation, three years after its inception decided to explicitly claim the term, non-feminist women left. The decision to affiliate to the anti-apartheid movement also led to the departure of women of a more liberal feminist bent (Russell, 1989). As was largely the case internationally, radical feminism became the core theoretical position of violence against women organisations in South Africa (Hassim, 2006). In terms of a radical feminist analysis, violence was central to maintaining women’s oppression, with women’s subordination within the family the template for their subordination in the political, economic and social realms (Hansson, 1991). In countering such violence women were required to organise separately and autonomously to prevent their struggles being co-opted by patriarchal organisations (van Zyl, 1991). Organisations favoured flat, non-hierarchical structures chiefly composed of volunteers who, in the main, provided telephonic assistance to women.

This feminist perspective on violence, coupled with the adoption of feminist principles that resisted the professionalisation of services to abused women, ensured that mainstream professional organisations were antagonistic towards these organisations and viewed their efforts with some scepticism (Segel and Labe, 1990). Still, feminism had permeated the voluntary sector, both in the form of individual social workers within organisations such as FAMSA, as well as in the programming of organisations such as the National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Rehabilitation of Offenders (NICRO). In fact, in their earlier incarnation as the National Institute for Crime Prevention, NICRO had lent its support to RCCT’s work, so granting the organisation a certain weight and credibility. Other women’s organisations such as the National Council of Women also provided a public platform for the organisation at the time (Russell, 1989).

The way white violence against women organisations’ structured their arrangements also revealed a certain class-blindness. While Ann Mayne remembers black professional women attending many of RCCT’s training programmes, the combination of long working days and commutes, combined with the practice of holding meetings in the evening, meant that many black women were unable to attend meetings and thus played a minimal role in influencing policy. Attempts were made to sometimes meet in Mitchell’s Plain but the combination of distance (for white women), the dangers of townships (negotiated by black women daily), and the absence of meeting facilities in township areas, requiring people to congregate in modest township homes instead, meant this practice fell away. As a result meetings largely took place at a child guidance clinic in a white area (Russell, 1989).

RCCT did not initially define as feminist, some women concerned that their association with its politics would diminish the organisation’s credibility. So when the organisation, three years after its inception decided to explicitly claim the term, non-feminist women left. The decision to affiliate to the anti-apartheid movement also led to the departure of women of a more liberal feminist bent (Russell, 1989). As was largely the case internationally, radical feminism became the core theoretical position of violence against women organisations in South Africa (Hassim, 2006). In terms of a radical feminist analysis, violence was central to maintaining women’s oppression, with women’s subordination within the family the template for their subordination in the political, economic and social realms (Hansson, 1991). In countering such violence women were required to organise separately and autonomously to prevent their struggles being co-opted by patriarchal organisations (van Zyl, 1991). Organisations favoured flat, non-hierarchical structures chiefly composed of volunteers who, in the main, provided telephonic assistance to women.

This feminist perspective on violence, coupled with the adoption of feminist principles that resisted the professionalisation of services to abused women, ensured that mainstream professional organisations were antagonistic towards these organisations and viewed their efforts with some scepticism (Segel and Labe, 1990). Still, feminism had permeated the voluntary sector, both in the form of individual social workers within organisations such as FAMSA, as well as in the programming of organisations such as the National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Rehabilitation of Offenders (NICRO). In fact, in their earlier incarnation as the National Institute for Crime Prevention, NICRO had lent its support to RCCT’s work, so granting the organisation a certain weight and credibility. Other women’s organisations such as the National Council of Women also provided a public platform for the organisation at the time (Russell, 1989).

By the decade’s close, in addition to POWA and RCCT, a further five feminist rape crisis organisations were in existence in Pietermaritzburg, Durban, Grahamstown, and the ‘coloured’ areas of Heideveld and Belhar in the Western Cape (van Zyl, 1991), with annual meetings of the various centres taking place throughout the 1980s. A further four rape crisis agencies had also been established by 1991 in Port Elizabeth, George, Pretoria and Bloemfontein – but these were characterised as working within an individualist, welfare paradigm, rather than a feminist framework (van Zyl, 1991). By 1989 black women forming part of Women Against Women Abuse (WAWA) had established a shelter in the ‘coloured’ area of Eldorado Park (Park, Peters and De Sa, 2000),

What also emerged at the tail end of the 1980s in the Western Cape was Co-ordinated Action for Battered Women (CABW), the first regional network established to address domestic violence. Established by RCCT and NICRO Cape Town and comprising some 28 organisations based in the Western Cape (Anderson, 1989), its formation in 1989 belies Meintjes’ assertion that the first regional and national networks addressing violence against women were only formed in 1994 (2003: 148). CABW was in fact the fore-runner of the Western Cape Network on Violence Against Women.

In CABW also resides the first evidence of organisations approaching the state to “make life easier” for battered women. While Sheila Meintjes suggests that a second set of strategic alliances between feminist organisations and the apartheid state re-emerged in the late 1980s in the form of the Western Cape Attorney General’s Task Group on Rape, which led to improved treatment by the courts of rape and domestic violence matters (2003: 147), CABW’s efforts are not to be confused with this claim. It is clear from both Meintjes’ single, original source (Hansson, 1992), as well as a second article (Hansson, 1994) that this relationship was only initiated in 1992 and was instituted with the sole purpose of improving the position of rape survivors (Hansson 1992; Hansson, 1994; DoJ, 1999). In 1989 CABW’s efforts appear to have been directed chiefly at the level of local state structures, with CABW making recommendations to the South African Police (SAP) and court personnel around responding more effectively to women seeking their protection (Anderson 1989: 65). A pilot project was also established at Cape Town’s magistrate court to refer women wishing to withdraw assault charges against their male partners to Department of Health and Welfare social workers at the court. CABW was also proposing training for the Department of Manpower (as it was then named) intended to assist its officials help abused women to find employment. Perhaps in hope of the political changes to come, ‘democracy begins at home’ was the slogan adopted by CABW.

 

References:
Anderson, P. (1988). ‘Cape Town rape crisis shelter for battered women’ Agenda 3: 62-64.

Anderson, P. (1989). ‘ “Another drop in the ocean” Co-ordinated action for battered women’ Agenda 5: 65-66.

Hansson, D. (1991). ‘Working Against Violence Against Women: Recommendations from Rape Crisis (Cape Town)’ in Susan Bazilli (ed) Putting Women on the Agenda. Johannesburg: Ravan Press.

Hansson, D. (1992).

Hansson, D. (1994). ‘Interim reflections on the Cape Attorney-General’s task group on rape’ in Saras Jagwanth, PJ Schwikkard and Brenda Grant (eds) Women and the Law. Pretoria: HSRC Publishers.

Maconachie, M and van Zyl, M. (1994). Promoting Personal Safety for Women. Pretoria: Human Sciences Research Council.

Moolman, B. (2009). ‘Race, Gender and Feminist Practice: Lessons from Rape Crisis Cape Town’ in Hannah Britton, Jennifer Fish and Sheila Meintjes (eds) Women’s Activism in South Africa Working Across Divides. Scottsville: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.

Russell, D. (1989). Lives of Courage: Women for a New South Africa. New York: Basic Books.
van Zyl, M. (1991). ‘Invitation to Debate: Towards an explanation of violence against women’, Agenda 11: pp66-77.

1Personal communication Anne Mayne 13 March 2013.
2Personal communication Anne Mayne, 13 March 2013.
1Personal communication Anne Mayne 13 March 2013.
2Personal communication Anne Mayne, 13 March 2013.

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