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By Citizen Reporter


Research: Help understand issues faced by victims of sexual violence

Sexual violence researcher Gorata Chengeta answers some probing questions about the topic in light of 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children.

As 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children kicks off, nonprofit Quote This Woman+ asked sexual violence researcher Gorata Chengeta some probing questions.

1. Describe your work?

I’m a Wits PhD student researching how people understand their experiences of sexual violence.

2. What is the big picture most people miss in this field?

There’s not enough conversation about how we care long-term for gender-based violence survivors. Together, we need to admit that the problem is not somewhere “out there”.

Many of us have experienced gender-based violence. So have our family and friends. We need ways to support each other. And in confronting the problem, to undo the shame that gender-based violence causes.

ALSO READ: Men’s imbizo calls for self-reflection and action against GBV

3. What is SA doing wrong here that can be done differently?

Often, the gender-based violence cases that get the most media attention are where the person is killed. Critical as these are, it’s also important that the media show how sexual violence survivors recover and move forward. And we as a society need to educate ourselves about gender-based violence.

This means learning how to be sensitive to those in our lives who have experienced it. The emotional impact of sexual violence is profound.

And it becomes worse when those around blame the survivors, not the perpetrators. This compounds emotions like shame, which compounds the isolation of surviving sexual violence.

4. What are you achieving?

My research sheds light on the realities of people who have experienced sexual violation. I want people to better understand the range of issues faced. People who have experienced sexual violence have different needs at different points in their journeys.

I help society understand the ways they can support the survivors. And at the same time, to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach because no two people are the same.

There is also an idea in society that “real victims” of sexual violence will act in specific ways. This idea only harms the many people who have experienced sexual violence but do not fit the stereotype.

My work extends beyond expecting people who’ve experienced sexual violence to all fit into the idea of being “a good victim”.

ALSO READ: Scourge of GBV at tertiary institutions worrying – Nzimande

For example, people expect that if someone has experienced sexual violence, they would go and report their case to the police and secure a conviction in court against the perpetrator. In reality, that path is extremely difficult for many, as they may be traumatised or not trust the police.

I’m also raising awareness that just because somebody does not follow expected steps, like going to the police, their experience is not less valid. There are many legitimate reasons people choose not to report cases of sexual violence to the police. I’m working to raise awareness that there is no correct way to respond to sexual violence.

5. What makes you happy in your work?

My belief that, with the right support and resources, people can move forward from sexual violence and live joyful lives. Healing is possible for everybody and community support is what makes it possible. Sexual violence steals time, connections and happiness from us.

We deserve to reclaim our lives from that pain, rather than live in its shadow. Knowing how deep the wounding from sexual violence can be, I want better for everyone. We all deserve to be safe.

6. Do you feel a lot of pressure to succeed in this work?

I give myself the grace to not have to figure out all the answers. I am one person. I cannot figure out the solution to ending sexual violence by myself.

What I can do is apply myself to my research, offer my perspective, and learn from others. We all have a part to play in building a just society. My research is how I play my part.

• This is the first article in collaboration between Quote This Woman+ and The Citizen

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