‘… too many rapists do not view their actions as wrong, too many girls are made to feel shame when they should only feel outrage, and too many people – neighbours, parents, colleagues, teachers – are standing by while this happens, encouraging rape with silence. Some even blaming the victim.’
TAC Campaigner (Treatment Action Campaign) – Mandla Majola
Rape is all too often not treated with the seriousness it deserves in South Africa and Africa in general. Given the high rates of rape, as high as 1 every 26 seconds in South Africa, tackling general attitudes is almost as important as providing the professional emergency follow-up treatment and long-term counselling that is essential for rape survivors. Without the support of loved ones and surrounded by unsympathetic sentiments, many survivors sink into a deep sense of shame, depression and other mental conditions commonly known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or more specifically as Rape Trauma Syndrome. This psychological condition often becomes entrenched and affects every aspect of a survivor’s daily life and becomes hard to escape in the long-term.
As a photographer, I wanted to contribute in a small way to raising community awareness and have a positive impact on this all-to-often hidden but rampant disease that has taken a cold grip on Africa as a whole.
Each survivor prepared to come forward was photographed at a location of personal significance and with an item or person which they singled out as having been the greatest source of strength during their long journeys from their appalling ordeals. This was anything or anyone, from their children, a counsellor to a book of poems or religious artefacts symbolic of their strong faiths. I hope firstly to empower the victims and to convey the notion that life after rape can be positive and that there is no shame to be felt in this appalling act, which should rest squarely with the perpetrators.
By standing up tall in front of a camera and lights, I hope to firstly convey the message that there are people that are touched by their ordeals. I hope to bring out in each and every photo the one undeniable fact that true beauty lies not on the surface but stems from deep inside those with the courage and strength to face their worst nightmares – something which many around the world look up to as a source of strength in their own lives, including myself.
In fact, this project has become the most important piece of work, purely on a personal level, that I have undertaken. Its genesis came from having been indirectly affected by this issue during my time in Kenya. I remember the extreme sense of helplessness I felt during that time and the project has become a small personal way to try and regain some of my own power and sense of purpose in the only way I know how. It is amazing now that I look back from what seemed like an overwhelming negative at the time, so much that is positive has come from this project for me personally. First and foremost, I have had the honour to meet such an amazing group of people and have been privileged enough to hear each and every one of their intimate stories:
The lady from the Cape Town township of Khayelitsha, who because of her sexual orientation, was attacked with her girlfriend at her home, and who was left for dead miles away in a forest while her partner was brutally raped and killed. But has nothing but unconditional love for the for the child borne out of this horrific event. Or the gentleman whose terrible early life experiences and the extreme anger and rage that built from that lead him into the brutal killing fields of Angola with SA special forces and ultimately to the murder of a civilian in South Africa. But who has come so far and has done everything in his power to atone for his past and who can now freely admit that crying for the first time in counselling has been the single greatest achievement of his life.
All their stories have touched me to the core.
At the end of the day, I undertook this project with one simple notion. I hope through these pictures to help encourage and empower others who have been too scared or ashamed to come forward to talk and face their own personal ordeals. By seeing confidence and strength in fellow rape survivors, I hope that they will begin to feel less isolated. If just one of my pictures inspires a single survivor to come forward, I will have deemed the project to have been a success.
‘Victims musn’t keep quiet about their rape. There are lots of kids who are raped out there. I want rapists to know that yes, they may be raping us but at the end of the day they are going to pay. We will not keep quiet.’
Fumana – A survivor who was willing to come forward and be photographed for the project.