The Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust recently held a writing workshop about the importance of writing about rape in a way that is not harmful to rape survivors, also empowering those who have undergone this traumatic event.
Sexual violence in South Africa is rife. According to Statistics South Africa, the rape of South African women is among the highest in the world, and a total of 250 out of every 100 000 women were victims of sexual offences, compared to 120 out of every 100 000 men. What’s more, over 40% of all rapes in South Africa are committed against children.
But how should journalists report on this epidemic? The Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust recently held a writing workshop about the importance of writing about rape in a way that is not harmful to rape survivors, also empowering those who have undergone this traumatic event.
The writing workshop was facilitated by director of Rape Crisis Cape Town, Kathleen Dey and hosted by counselling coordinator Barbara Williams. It was open to all members of the public. The main focus was to teach people how to write about sexual assault, as well as blog writing styles that would assist with this type of reporting.
The facilitators gave us three main points to remember when writing about rape: head, heart and hands. In short: make sure that you have a clear mind when writing, so that you can clearly think about what you are writing and who you are writing for. Be sympathetic towards the type of traumas you are writing about and use your hands to write, write, write.
In South Africa, being aware of how you write about sexual assault is incredibly important. In a country where sexual violence is a daily reality and newsrooms are faced with these stories at an alarming rate, journalists need to know how to write about sexual assault, but also about the justice system that all too often fails rape survivors. Journalists like Eusebius McKaiser have often tackled how to talk about sexual assault and myths about rape that do the rounds when stories surface. Journalist Ra’eesa Pather wrote in 2015 about how the terms “bullying” and “sodomy” are often used instead of “rape” when it comes to boys being raped.
There are tons of other useful guidelines all over the internet about this very issue. The Nation addresses issues like victim blaming in the media. Youth Ki Awaaz provides seven rules when writing about sexual assault including protecting the survivors identity, how to use quotes and being aware of the gender spectrum. The Coloumbia Journalism Review also has some great tips when it comes to how to use language and statistics.
The writing workshop was not only for journalists, but also for survivors of sexual assault. The workshop was aimed at helping survivors use writing as a tool to spread awareness and as a way to deal with trauma through starting their own blogs. Blogs are incredibly useful for writing about sexual assault because the platform is accessible and allows for the expression of thoughts and opinions without being limited by publishers. A blog can also be used as a support system for rape survivors and can be used for advocacy.
It is extremely important to continue reporting about rape so that we can create awareness. But it is also important for rape survivors to feel empowered to create their own platforms, start their own blogs and write their own stories, enabling them to become advocates and support centres for people who have had similar experiences.