One story in particular seems to be stealing an inordinate amount of my attention lately. Anene Booysen was a 17 year old girl living in a small, sleepy town called Bredasdorp- one that I've visited more than once, finding nothing particularly remarkable about it, apart from its proximity to the more desirable beach destinations of the Garden Route. But on February 3rd, the town was flooded with news cameras and reporters when her body was found brutally beaten, raped, and abandoned.
Anene's attack has sparked a wave of public protest calling for meaningful dialogue into the causes of rape and how to keep women and girls safe. In South Africa, on average, a woman is raped every four minutes. In fact, various media reports last year named South Africa as the world's rape capital, and said women were more likely to be raped than educated. A 2009 Medical Research Council study found that one in four South African men admitted to raping a woman.
Here's an article that shows that, despite the shocking regularity with which gender-based violence occurs here, the people of this beautiful country refuse to condone or diminish the problem: South Africa: The World's Rape Capital. The amount of public demonstrations, from university students to inter-faith prayer groups, have been heartening and hopeful. See below some pictures from the silent vigil that I attended with fellow HOPE Africa employees on the steps of St. George's Cathedral on Ash Wednesday.
What we all know, but must not forget is that there's nothing particularly racial nor South African (nor Indian) about gender-based violence. It's a worldwide problem that affects us all as a human race. For members of faith communities, this is about respecting the dignity of God's creation as we have all been made intentionally and uniquely by a loving creator. As Christians, we're called to care for one another and love our neighbors as God loves us; which includes caring for the victim and the perpetrator, the raped and the rapist.
My heart is heavy thinking about the pain Anene Booysen experienced in her last hours and I pray for the repose of her soul in God's hands. I also pray for the men who hurt her because I think to commit such heinous violence against another human being, a person must be experiencing some pretty terrible pain themselves. I pray for those who knew and loved Anene and probably miss her terribly. If they're angry (which I understand), I pray that they find peace and healing. I pray for all the rest of us because, if we haven't yet, we'll all be touched by anger and violence at some point in our lives. And I believe that when we hurt each other, it hurts God the most.
Loving Creator, you teach us that healing and a fresh start are always available to those who truly want to embrace your way. Give courage to all those whose lives are scarred by violence. Give healing and hope to those whose bodies have known terror and violation and to those who have terrorised and violated others. Send your spirit of compassion that those in torment will find your peace.
We ask it in the name of Jesus, our brother and our friend,