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Cape Town rape crisis trust faces risk of closure

Katharine Child

The Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, which has helped more than 5000 women in the past two years, may be forced to reduce its services -- or close.

The Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, which has helped more than 5000 rape survivors in the past two years, is facing a severe financial crisis that may force it to reduce its services or even close.

The nonprofit organisation, based in three locations in Cape Town, is the oldest centre of its kind in South Africa. It provides counselling for survivors and helps them negotiate the justice system to improve the conviction rates of rapists.

Director Kathleen Dey says in the past year the organisation lost four international donors, all based in Europe, leaving funding reduced by R1-million.

“The provincial department of social development also cut R400000 over the last two years,” she says.

According to the trust’s survival plan, this paints a bleak picture of its future.

Dey says that since the recession European governments have cut their funding to many nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) in South Africa. They are donating money to poorer African countries, or they are using the money for organisations in their own countries that deal with issues such as substance abuse or migrants, she says.

She says the centre is not alone and that many local NGOs have been struggling financially since the global recession began.

The Embassy of Finland closed its Cape Town office and is no longer administering grants to civil society organisations.

The Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, which administered money from the Norwegian government to NGOs, has stopped issuing most of its grants.

NGOs can’t turn to banks the way businesses do. Dey says this is a big problem. As the crisis centre does not turn a profit it cannot take loans or use an overdraft facility to tide them over till things improve.

More need now than ever
But as rape figures in South Africa continue to rise, the centre’s services are sorely needed.

When crime statistics for the 2010/2011 year were announced in September by the Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, murder and robbery rates were down but rape figures had increased from 55 097 to 56 272

“We cannot say we are seriously winning the war against rape,” admitted Mthethwa.

And Mthethwa admitted that police rape figures were not a true reflection of the number of rapes committed in the country. “Based on international trends, rape is often under-reported,” he said.

But the centre says the difficulties rape survivors face negotiating the justice system is a reason for people who have been raped choosing not to open criminal charges.

“The barrier to reporting that Rape Crisis explores most deeply in our advocacy work is the rape victim’s lack of faith in the South African criminal justice system to protect her, to treat her with dignity and respect and above all to support her claim to justice and act as a deterrent to rapists,” according to an organisational profile.

The centre profile says rape survivors “know little about the complex (justice) system before they enter it and find it almost incomprehensible at times”.

“The system is fragmented, with one part unlinked to the next in the overall service chain from police to forensic unit to court room, and many cases fall between the cracks and are weakened,” the organisation’s profile says.

The trust says rape conviction rate in Gauteng is only 4% and 7% in the Western Cape.

“The resulting culture of impunity can only drive the number of rape incidents upwards, thus seriously denying women’s right to live free from violence”.

So the trust tries to change this.

But Dey says the centre currently faces a shortfall of R600 000.

It is very hard to know what the future holds, she says. “But we are not about to close. We can limp along til the end of January.”

Survival plan
Staff may have to take pay cuts and have been advised to look for alternate work, volunteers can work without stipends that cover transport expenses and services to rape survivors would be reduced.

Dey says Corporate Social Investment grants support the centre. But, she adds, local companies’ donations just don’t equal the amount of money foreign donors gave in dollar or euro denominations.

Founder Anne Mayne started the centre after she was gang-raped in a park in the early Seventies, and had no one to turn to for support.

“Apart from a very few friends who I told, I struggled on alone—not knowing that I had all the classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, plus rape trauma syndrome. I was in such a bad state that I nearly committed suicide by jumping out of the ninth-floor window of the office where I was working.”

Her experience and time spent meeting feminists in America prompted her to start the group in Cape Town in 1975. Four women attended the first meeting.

The centre today has branches in three areas of Cape Town; Khayelitsha township, Observatory and Athlone.

To keep them running ordinary citizens can give once off donations or donate R100 a month in the trust’s 1000 hearts campaign.

More information about how to help is available on the centre’s website

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