Giving victims a fighting chance

2018-02-13 06:00
Community worker Joanie Fredericks in her home office in Tafelsig. PHOTO: Samantha Lee

Community worker Joanie Fredericks in her home office in Tafelsig. PHOTO: Samantha Lee

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An organisation aimed at being proactive rather than reactive has made several strides in achieving that goal.

The Mitchell’s Plain Impact Association (MPIA) was founded last year by community worker Joanie Fredericks, who has been working in the community of Mitchell’s Plain and surrounds for more than 20 years.

“This was bound to happen. Constantly running from case to case, picking up the pieces, is not who I am. I am solutions driven, but in order to find the solution we first need to tackle the problem and find a new way of thinking about the problem,” she says.

Constantly being asked about the spike in rapes encouraged her to not only start the organisation, but also to do formal research alongside academics both in South Africa and abroad. “We need some credible research that will give us, not just this organisation but others and even government, a starting point to have some clue to where to spread our resources. The research is imperative. We will continue to campaign for no bail and speak to policy makers, but we need these findings to inform our decisions on the problematic work,” she says.

“Something has happened in the minds of men. Anyone is free to disagree with me, but what happened last year was unprecedented. Sexual violence has always been a problem but hopefully we, together with all the people who really care enough, can make a difference and put an end to it,” she says.

“We have always had rapes both reported and unreported and I don’t think the spike is only because more people are reporting it, because the nature of these violent rapes last year was brutal. There was no way to hide it because many of the children were killed as well. It was complete madness that happened last year and that is problematic because we have nothing to base our response on. It does not make sense that people run to find funding for a problem when they don’t know or understand it.”

The brutal nature of the rapes and the increase in incidents in recent months was the turning point for Fredericks.

She has been working in the sector on various platforms, including sexual harassment in the workplace and rape and abuse on farms in the Western Cape.

She has also campaigned for the rights of women, men and children who have become victims of abuse both on a national stage and abroad.

“I have seen my fair share and I am not a newcomer. This is why I confidently speak about the issue of violence against women , children and men. There have not been any findings or history that indicates anything like this ever having happened in South Africa before. Yes we have seen horrible cases, but we have not seen them one after the other in such a short period of time so we need to find out what happened,” she says.

Speaking from experienceFredericks grew up on farms in Grabouw and as a young girl was the victim of rape and abuse. This has aided her passion in the fight against this scourge.

“This was and is a deeply personal thing. I have seen abuse in my home. My father and the whole community were involved in violence against women and for me it was unacceptable but it was the norm. It was okay for men to be the wonderful fathers during the week when they were sober and then become a different animal at the weekend when they drank alcohol. This was normal in the community because men were encouraged to operate like this,” she says.

As a result, Fredericks dreamt of becoming an international human rights lawyer.

“This dream never materialised but the fight against violence is deeply seeded and coupled with that I am a rape surviver. When I stand on a platform and speak about these issues, I know what I am talking about because I was on the other side,” she says.

Recent spikes in mob justice attacks also has Fredericks speaking out against community violence.

“When I express my disagreement with mob justice attacks, I can speak confidently because I know what it is like as a rape victim to be given or not given the opportunity to forgive your perpetrator. There is a different side to the story that people don’t understand. They think they are helping the victims but sometimes the only thing standing between complete healing and utter destruction is the opportunity for a victim to decide if they want to forgive the person or not and communities are taking that away,” she says.

“This mob justice is a personal crusade for me because I know what it was able to give me to forgive my rapist on his death bed. I can stand tall and fight this fight.”

She says she is not discouraging community participation and says residents should continue to stand together stating it is long
overdue.

“We have a democracy and unfortunately democracy and justice do not always go hand in hand but we must at least give justice a chance, especially when we look at our recent violent history and how the death penalty that people are calling for was used as a tool of oppression,” she says.

“People are calling for the death penalty to be reinstated, I don’t think they understand exactly what it means.”

Fredericks remains passionate about fighting for the rights of victims. “I know what it is like. I was on the other side staring down the barrel of a gun, being forced to perform oral sex and being raped,” she says.

She says her story is not used to run her work but feels it is important for victims to know they are not alone.

She encourages parents to also listen to their children. “I tried to commit suicide three times because no one believed my story. My brother was the only one who believed me and found me help. The power of someone believing my story was the turning point for me,” she says.

Benefit of the doubtShe adds that it is improbable for a victim to lie about rape. “The assumption in society is that the victim did something wrong if they were raped so it takes a lot for victims to come forward and it is true that still now, women are being crucified for opening their mouths, so give that person the benefit of the doubt. Disbelief is sometimes worse than the rape,” she says.

Their sub-objectives will be to continue supporting families and cases that are at court.

Fredericks has a board up in her office that has the details of at least 17 cases involving six suspects that are appearing in court for rapes and/or murders. The board keeps track of court appearances, the investigating officer, age groups of both the victims and suspects and additional information relating to their cases.

“Our main aim is to find the root causes of sexual violence in communities and we believe that the patriarchal system has a huge role to play in the cause of the sexual violence. We have broadened our mission because we believe that men are part of the problem and therefore we believe that they should be part of the solution,” she says.

“Men are the perpetrators but they are also victims. I have never seen anything work or be fixed when the problem was outside.”

Joining Fredericks on the executive of the MPIA is Claude Davids and Elouise
Russouw.

V For more information on the organisation, their projects or to assist them visit their Facebook Page: Mitchell’s Plain Impact Association or call Fredericks on 076 921 6767.

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