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Soweto schoolgirls get training to fight off rapists

South Africa

For Debi Steven, a South African rape victim in her childhood, the best way to overcome her trauma is to help others.

Her organization, Action breaks Silence, teaches girls to defend themselves and boys to understand the extent of the problem in a country where more than 130 complaints of rape are recorded every day by the police.

What is incredible about these self-defense workshops is that in fact, we don’t focus on the physical aspect, but on the mental aspect. We use the physical as a tool to strengthen their minds. She explains.

“Rape is an assault, because no one has the right to touch you where you don’t want to. So I have to take out all the anger I have in my stomach, and fight!” says Nunkululeko, 11, a schoolgirl.

“In African culture, boys are taught that they must hide their emotions. Showing them is a weakness,” explains Isaac Mkhize, an instructor who was also raped.

“If you don’t talk, you repress and you will explode and slip,” warns a psychologist, Thabiso Mailula, who has worked with ABS.

A real scourge

In South Africa, rape is a scourge. Official statistics are dizzying. Over the twelve months from April 2017 to March 2018, 40,035 rapes were recorded, or 110 per day.

“In South Africa, two women are murdered every day by someone they love. Not a stranger. Someone they love. I told my mother I was raped, she told me I was lying. As a mother, what do you think? For her, it had to be a lie. Because she couldn’t accept the truth, she blamed everything on me, and we were thinking about it.” Told Debi Steven, founder of ABS and rape survivor.

These classes teach girls “not to keep quiet,” says one mother, Mali Masondo, who was raped in her childhood and forced to remain silent for a long time by her family.

The NGO’s training programme “does not focus on the physical aspect. It aims at the emancipation” of women, explains Debi Steven. Her NGO seeks to develop boys’ empathy towards girls in order to prevent any abusive behaviour.

Convinced by ABS’ approach, which has reached more than 13,000 children in the country, the South African Ministry of Health has just called on the NGO to train 160 anti-rape instructors.


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