Who is Responsible for Providing Essential Services to Women?

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa enshrines the rights of women to live free from violence. If that right is violated they have the right to recourse and to be protected from the consequences of that violence. If realised, this enables women to take up their lives again, to re-enter the economy or the education system and to continue to function within their communities thus preserving ‘the fabric of society’.

Women weave and are woven into the cloth of everyday life.  Yet, the state is failing to ensure that women have access to justice and to essential services in the face of violence. In August, we celebrate Women’s Month, but can we truly celebrate?

Rape Crisis in the Western Cape has a vision of a South African justice system that supports all rape survivors. We work towards a justice system where rape survivors suffer no secondary trauma as they walk the long road from reporting a rape, to undergoing a forensic medical examination, to testifying in court and, hopefully, to seeing the rapist convicted and sentenced.

This is an imperative that everybody in this province should agree on, particularly because the Western Cape has the second highest incidence of sexual offences in South Africa and Cape Town has been dubbed the ‘rape capital’ of the world.  Police crime statistics state that a total of 9 299 sexual offences were reported to the South African Police Services in the Western Cape in 2010/11. The actual rate is much higher, as studies confirm that the vast majority of rapes go unreported.

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007 makes no provision that ensures survivors of rape have access to psychosocial care. It assumes that women have the financial and emotional resources to see a rape case through - from reporting to sentencing. It also assumes that survivors will get the support needed to do this from their family, friends and communities. At Rape Crisis, we know that the reality for women who are raped is very different.

Our mission is to act as a bridge between the survivor and the justice system so that she is able to strengthen the state’s case against the perpetrator and thus ensure a greater chance of conviction. Successful convictions act as a deterrent to rape and encourage other survivors to report rape.

Rape Crisis supports and empowers survivors throughout this process by offering a range of services. These include counselling at our three offices in Khayelitsha, Athlone and Observatory; court support at five regional courts; and crisis intervention, immediately following a rape, at Thuthuzela Care Centres in Cape Town.

Providing these services reduces the inevitable secondary trauma that survivors face when reporting rape to officials. They also empower survivors to make informed choices and to understand their role in strengthening the state’s case against the perpetrator.

The organisation also acts as a bridge between the survivor and the community. Stigma about rape is still rife in most communities and the shame of being exposed as a victim of this crime is great. Rape Crisis plays a critical role in public education aimed at addressing the myths and stereotypes associated with rape and how damaging these can be.

These misperceptions often prevent survivors from reporting rape, and from accessing the services they need and have a right to from the criminal justice system and from non-governmental organisations.

Rape Crisis also assists government in assessing the prevalence of rape beyond the reported statistics, and in analysing its causes and consequences in South Africa. This enables government departments to plan for and allocate funding to the provision of essential services. It allows departments to set realistic targets for service delivery and to allocate budgets appropriately.

When these services are effectively provided to all rape survivors, the state will have met its obligations to offer recourse and protection to victims of violence, and to support women’s right to live free from violence. At least, that is the theory.

However, rather than receiving adequate state support for the provision of essential services for women who are raped, Rape Crisis must look to others to fund its work. Government has not adequately gauged the extent of the problem of violent crime, particularly violence against women.

As a result, the state’s funding allocations are not adequate to the task of delivering services at the required scale.  The Western Cape Department of Social Development only funds Rape Crisis to provide direct services to 2 000 rape survivors annually.  In 2010/2011 we provided support to over 2 700 rape survivors, and this number increased to beyond 5 000 in 2011/2012.  How could government be so off the mark?

Funding through local corporate social investment does not increase year on year and these donations are tied to the performance of the economy and diluted in an increasing pool of beneficiaries.  Philanthropic organisations and development agencies are hardest hit by the changing economic landscape. Many have withdrawn their funding to South Africa in order to absorb the costs of responding to their own social problems, or in favour of much needed support to poorer African nations.

International aid agencies and organisational donors have an interesting logic in funding NGOs. With the aim to make a difference from a political or strategic point of view, they only fund what they call “project spending”, thus excluding basic organisational overheads such as rent, maintenance, telephone costs and administrative salaries. They expect these core costs to be raised by the organisation itself, as evidence of its sustainability.

It is these core operations that make an organisation run effectively and efficiently, and therefore its ability to support strong projects that will deliver high impact results.  But who is expected to foot the bill for these core costs?

Many donors assume that this forms part of the state’s responsibility because, while NGOs can generate a certain amount of income by charging for their services, Rape Crisis’s service users are poor women. They can barely afford the transport cost to reach our offices.

While our supporters in giving are passionate, they are few - we are simply not a cause that inspires millions in pledges. What tends to happen is that we are forced to use our self-generated income as a cushion against cash flow problems and funding crises.

NGO financial planning is a very different animal from other kinds of organisations. Formal grant applications, if successful, can take anything from three to eighteen months to result in banked cash. When applications are unsuccessful the NGO is often not informed, and this makes income projection a challenge.

It is small wonder that NGOs encounter either cash flow or funding difficulties, or a crippling combination of the two, with nothing to tide them through times of economic upheaval.

The funding of community development demands a certain kind of funder practice. Are government and other donors having the right conversations to ensure that their funding policies and practices secure continuity and sustainability of essential services to women?

Rape Crisis’s current predicament, bitterly ironic as we celebrate Women’s Month, is testimony that such conversations are not happening. We urgently need a public debate to generate new ideas about ways forward. The future of services for rape survivors in the Western Cape depend on it.

- Kathleen Dey is director at the Rape Crisis.

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