Working for Change 339
How a community in South Africa organized against rape
Early one Saturday morning, a 59-year-old woman was raped and stabbed by a man
who had raped other women in the past.The victim pointed the rapist out to the police.
He was arrested and the woman was taken to the hospital. But the police released the
rapist the same afternoon. He was not charged with rape or assault—he was free.
We women of the township were very angry. The police had protected a man who
made women afraid to walk alone on the streets. The township’s women’s organization
decided to organize a protest.
Most of us work as domestic servants for rich white women who live in a nearby city.
So all of us stayed away from our jobs, demanding that the police charge the rapist with
rape and assault, before we would go back to work.
We also asked the women we worked for to come to speak with us. We wanted
to show and tell them about our problems. We know that all women, black and white,
fear rape. We felt the white women might understand and be sympathetic to us. We
also wanted the women whose husbands worked for the police to explain our problems
to their husbands and how bad it was for them to release a violent rapist back into the
But the white women were not sympathetic—they just got angry. We think they were
upset because they had to do their own housework. When the Employers’ Federation
came to see about the protest, we told the men, “Please do not speak for us. This is a
women’s problem. Men do not get raped.” The Employers’ Federation would not meet
with us, but after a week, a group of white women came to talk to us. We showed them
around the township, and they decided to meet with us again. We called off the protest,
even though the rapist was only charged with assault, and not rape. But people in the
township were so angry that the rapist could no longer live there.
The police arrested several of us who had organized the protest. They did not believe
that women had organized the protest. They think men are behind everything that
women do. But we women had become very strong.
It is very important to talk openly about the problem of rape. Most people don’t talk
about rape—they feel ashamed and shy. Often the family of the raped girl or woman
does not want to talk about it.
But here it is different. We started organizing in the community for education, child
care, pensions, and so on. We started talking about all the problems and things that
we need to change. So we talk about rape, and any sexual assault on a
woman. People now see sexual assault as another kind of oppression.
Men and women think the same about this; we are united in the
A raped woman is trusted. If she says she was raped, we support
her, no matter who she is. Even if she is a drunkard, a rape is still
a crime against her. In fact, it is worse because she was in a weak
position. Our women and men do not blame a woman for a rape.
We do not say that the rape was the woman’s fault. So women
can talk about sexual violence openly and they will get community
Where Women Have No Doctor 2012