At a shooting range in the suburbs of Johannesburg, Karen Brown, 38, discharges her semi-automatic pistol at metal targets. On her black t-shirt, orange flames outline the silhouette of an armed woman. A year ago, Karen joined the “Girls on Fire”, an association which teaches women how to use weapons.
Under their flamboyant t-shirts, many of them have suffered violence: rape, armed robberies, attempted murder. Their stories are grimly varied. They share their wounds, and the same determination: to no longer be defenseless victims.
“It really helped me overcome my trauma,” says Karen, who no longer goes out without her pistol. And it helps me to know that if something happens again, I can handle it. »
Distrust of the police
Taking up arms, in the literal sense, the solution may seem extreme, but for Lynette Oxley, the founder of the association, great evils come with great means. “We encourage them to avoid shooting as much as possible. But if there is no other option, the gun puts us on par with men. Our justice system is not great, neither are our police and our conviction rate. It’s time we stood up for ourselves. »
According to the latest police statistics, the country has ten feminicides and 111 women raped every day. These figures are chilling and below reality because, it is estimated, a very small proportion of rapes are reported to the police.
“Many victims are afraid of going to the police because they are afraid of having to pay bribes, or of wasting their time», Explains Lisa Vetten, the lawyer for a group of young girls victims of a gang rape in 2022. Faced with the general indignation caused by this tragedy, the police arrested 80 suspects. But due to lack of evidence, they were all released. “It appears the police simply arrested every man they found on their way there, hoping to find someone guilty. After this fiasco, she gave no further news on this affair. »
Don’t give in anymore
The ineffectiveness of the police was compounded by a blunder, a few days after this collective rape: due to a leak within the police, the names and addresses of the eight victims were broadcast on the networks social. Since then, they have lived in fear of being found by their attackers. Despite these serious failings, these young girls continue to fight for justice. Like them, many women no longer want to let the authorities’ mistakes go unnoticed.
Olivia Jasriel is one of his committed women. At the head of the Foundation that bears her name, she helps victims of rape and sexual violence in the sporting world. “More than 1,000 clients to date and a 100% conviction rate,” she says proudly.
An efficiency that she owes to her experience. In 2015, she managed to convict the famous tennis player Bob Hewitt, her coach when she was a child, 33 years after being raped by the champion. “During the five years of procedures, I had no support, I had to fend for myself. »
Hewitt’s historic conviction led to the lifting of the statute of limitations on rape. Other victims then asked him for advice. And Olivia Jasriel ended up leaving her job to devote herself entirely to their defense.
In a country where the circulation of firearms, legal and illegal, is the cause of much violence, their use is not popular with all women. Other activists seek to reestablish a relationship of trust with the police.
“There’s no point just criticizing the problem, we need to find a way to fix it,” says Risha Patak Harie, founder of i-Lead, an organization that has launched self-defense workshops in rural and poor communities. most affected by violence. “We invite local actors, in particular police officers. We thus establish a link, the women know who they can contact. We want them to no longer be afraid of going to the police station. »
Faced with the extent of violence against women, the government ended up announcing investments to fight against this scourge. But this “epidemic”, as South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called it, has still not started to ebb.