Last week I had the pleasure of joining the WAR Campaign on their school tour. This tour involves visiting various schools around Cape Town where they speak to high school students about rape while dispelling myths and stereotypes present in South African culture. When I arrived at Hillsong Church last Monday I truly had no idea what to expect from the experience- I had never attended Hillsong Church before and had never even heard of the WAR Campaign until the week previous. My first impression was how large, modern, and beautiful the building was and also how young the members of the campaign were- I myself am 24 years old, but I was not expecting for them to be in their twenties as well. This sparked my interest. They all gave off this very cool, hip, down to earth vibe which I assumed would greatly benefit their campaign since I expected that the high school students would see them as people that they could either relate to or view as great examples of who they could one day become. We all shared introductions, collected the campaign posters, stickers, pamphlets and the sound system, and all then piled into the van to drive to the first school in Mitchells Plain.
When we had all settled in comfortably and were well on our way the group agreed to join together in prayer to “bless the experience and the afternoon.” This was when I realized that the WAR Campaign was a religious-based organization. The reason I see this as worth mentioning is because I myself am not a religious person and do not identify with a particular religion, giving me somewhat of an interesting point of view for the afternoon. As the group was praying, many thoughts flooded my brain. I was curious to see how religion would influence the content of what was being shared with the high school students. I also wondered if abstinence would be a message on the agenda. Then I remembered that this group is clearly very progressive since they are acknowledging rape and speaking out about it to try to help others. Regardless of anyone’s backgrounds I am open and willing to observe their presentation and hear their perspective. I may not agree completely with the entire message but listening to other people’s points of view allows you to consider a shift in perspective which can either bring you clarity to a new way of thinking or reconfirm beliefs that you already held. Because of this, I was even more interested to observe the presentation since it would be a completely new experience for me.
When we arrived at the school there was a lot going on- there were many kids just arriving since it was 8:00 in the morning, there were groups of teachers engaged in conversations with one another, and among the chaos our small group was anxiously trying to figure out where exactly we were expected to set up. Once we were led to our respective rooms (male students in one room with the male presenters, and female students in another room with the female presenters), the students began to pile in… and in… and in. There were so many students! Around 150 students sat on the gymnasium floor looking up expectantly at the three WAR campaign presenters, the counsellor from Rape Crisis, and me. I could not believe how many students there were, and therefore I continued to become more and more interested in how the WAR campaign would present their material to this many students.
Once everyone was seated, one of the presenters began to boost the energy in the room by welcoming everyone and sharing her infectious excitement. She gave a brief overview of the WAR campaign, explaining that their goal is to, “raise awareness and provide education on the injustice of rape specifically in South Africa,” and that today they would talk about rape openly and honestly. Before diving right into the discussion everyone engaged in a fun icebreaker where one girl beat boxed while the rest of us mimicked another girl’s dance moves. This appeared to help dissipate some of the nervous and awkward energy in the room, and allowed the girls to feel more comfortable for the heavier material that would be discussed. One presenter opened up the discussion of rape through recalling her own personal experience of being raped by a friend and how she was treated afterwards. She expressed the guilt she felt and how she believed that it was her fault since she had been drinking when the rape happened. She then recalled how another one of her friends had also been raped and when she approached her mother for guidance the mother offered no sympathy and simply told her that it “was a part of growing up.” To this, the entire gymnasium gasped with surprise and disgust. Clearly, everyone was engaged and listening intently. The presenter then challenged both situations and dispelled certain myths surrounding rape by explaining that no one ever deserves to be raped and that there is never an excuse for rape.
After this the female presenters and the male presenters switched so that the females would present to the male students and the males would present to the female students. I stayed in the same gymnasium with the female students and was curious to hear what message he would share with the group. His message was essentially apologizing for anything other males have done to this group of girls; that women should be protected and honored rather than exploited and abused. He mentioned how the objectification and sexualisation of women in the media can distort our expectations of relationships and sexuality, among many other things. He encouraged the girls to be their own unique person and to stand up for themselves. The teacher who organized for the WAR Campaign to visit the school then spoke for a couple of minutes about her view about rape and gender equality. She expressed how she, as a science teacher and someone who is very interested in nature, sees it as very unnatural for men to disrespect women in this way since, in the wild, female animals are typically protected and honored. She expressed the importance of sharing our experiences and talking to someone if we have been raped. The presentation went by very quickly since the presenters were only allotted a short 30 minutes, so once the teacher shared her message she told the girls that there was a counsellor from Rape Crisis available if anyone wanted to speak with her, and how there would be stickers and pamphlets handed out to them on their way out the door.
Around ten girls approached the Rape Crisis counsellor for support, which was both encouraging and upsetting to see. It was encouraging because it demonstrated that the presentation’s message got through to them and that these girls were finally seeking out support and taking control of their situations. It was also upsetting because it was apparent how large a problem this is in their community. Some girls spoke of multiple rapes and carrying suicidal tendencies because of what happened to them. If the WAR Campaign hadn’t presented at their school and they weren’t allowed an outlet for their situations who knows what would or could have happened to these girls. With only 15 minutes to get to the next school we unfortunately had to respectfully interrupt to explain how we had to leave, so the counsellor provided the girls with pamphlets for Rape Crisis where they could find further support and guidance.
Jen is an intern in the Training and Development department at Rape Crisis’ Athlone office. She is originally from the smallest state in the United States, and holds a B.S. in Expressive Arts Therapy and Holistic Psychology. She has come to Cape Town in the midst of her soul nourishing journey and continues to be inspired by this magical place.