Of Rape and Refuge

Have you ever been merrily going along with a conversation when it suddenly takes a turn that leaves you no longer wanting to nod and smile?  (I cast my mind back to something that happened in my first year in Polokwane…)

A young woman turned up on our church doorstep.  She had found out the day before that her husband back in Zimbabwe had just died.  When she was returning to where she was staying to pack up her belongings, some men raped her.

One of my colleagues met her that morning on our doorstep, heard her story and quickly discerned it was the real deal.  He then called a woman in our church to join him and together they went to the nearest hospital.  The hospital couldn’t help our victim until she had opened a case at the police station.  So they went to our central police station, where they left her in the hands of a trauma counselor.

Our victim arrived back on our doorstep in the afternoon with a woman police constable. PC Plod explained to me that our victim wanted to return to Zimbabwe as soon as possible.  However, the two police vans repatriating Zimbabweans had left their police cells that morning so our victim had missed her ticket home.

PC Plod then explained that because our victim wanted to go back to Zimbabwe no case would be opened.  This meant she couldn’t get medical treatment at one of our government hospitals, she said, but could get it in Zimbabwe. Anyway, no progress would be made on our victim’s case for at least three months, because that is how long the samples would take to be sent to the lab in Gauteng, processed and then returned.

PC Plod’s punch-line was that it was good that a case was not opened because then it wouldn’t become a statistic, because we know how high the rape stats are in South Africa!  (As an afterthought she told our victim not to return to South Africa because next time she could be killed.)


Is it just me or did something illogical and slightly insane transpire at that moment in the conversation?

When we asked around we discovered it is an official insanity.  Police commissioners of each province get rated and get performance bonuses according to their crime stats.  So if something cannot be officially reported, you will be endearing yourself to the entire chain of command, right to the top.  And parliament will be happy when it is reported that crime stats show a decline.

Jesus reserved the strongest language and judgment for this type of situation where a self-righteous concern over how things look on the outside trumps a true righteousness and a concern for justice.   Choice language like “white washed walls”, “brood of vipers,” and “unmarked graves”  comes to mind.  But who of us can truly claim that we are without hypocrisy in all of actions?

In my frustration and even anger at the helplessness of our victim in the face of this hypocrisy there was a small voice whispering that the same seeds are within me, us.  Treating people differently.  According people different respect, depending on their means, education and even looks.  Endearing ourselves to the more powerful and influential people within our churches and communities…

We saw our victim off at a bus station, where she would return home to Zimbabwe that night.  PC Plod returned to the police station, problem solved.  Those of us involved were left wondering how to change a system.

We also heard subsequently that refugee women, especially those here illegally, are becoming targets of rape because they have less recourse to justice, whatever little justice there may be.

Other blogs on similar topics:

3 thoughts on “Of Rape and Refuge

  1. Peter – Sometimes the law seems like a crime! Thanks for the story.

    Like Steve said, don’t forget to add the synchroblog links. One of the greatest things about synchroblogs is the opportunity we have to post each other’s links and encourage others to hear from a variety of voices and perspectives.

  2. peter, thank you so much for sharing. the injustice gets me so riled up. and yet we all know how common it is, across cultures & systems. in the midst of the insanity of it all, may the love & kindness you showed her somehow linger…

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