Rape survivor turns tragedy into triumph
Businesswomen might know how to make a profit but are not always clued up on their sexual rights or what to do if someone close to them has been raped.
This prompted the Cape Town chapter of the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa to connect its members with rape survivor Jes Foord from Durban.
Five men attacked Foord and her father in 2008 when they took their dogs for a walk near their home in Durban. Four of the men raped Foord.
This was shortly after Foord had celebrated her 21st birthday. On Friday, Foord moved businesswomen to tears as she recounted her ordeal at a gathering in the city.
“Those men forced my dad to watch how four of them held me down and raped me… One of them held a knife to my neck and his penis to my lips,” recalled Foord.
Foord told Weekend Argus that she has “taken ownership of the situation and turned it into something positive”.
“I was raped but I have overcome it… When someone rapes you they take your body. There is nothing you can do about that. But the rest of your life is in your hands. You’re in control of it.”
Foord said that her rapists may have “won on that one day” but were handed long-term jail sentences in 2009.
“For the rest of my life, I’m going to win. I’m going to make sure that I live to the full. I have put it behind me, moved on and will use it to help other people. I just try and get as many people out there not to be ashamed of being a victim but proud of being a rape survivor,” said Foord.
Shortly after the rape, she launched the Jes Foord Foundation to assist women, children and men who have been raped. The foundation has so far issued 3,000 survivor kits in Durban and Johannesburg to persons who have been raped.
Foord says this kit is placed in a handbag that women countrywide have donated to the foundation.
“You’ve been raped. You feel dirty and ugly. You want to get clean. The handbag has shampoo, a toothbrush, toothpaste and any toiletries that you’ll need to get clean. There is also a little gift and note from the person who donated the bag. The note is just some words of encouragement to let them know that they are not alone,” says Foord.
The foundation has also teamed up with the St Augustine’s Hospital in Durban to set up a centre where anyone who has been raped can access free 24-hour medical care and counseling. The centre staff also reports the incident to the local police.
Foord meanwhile conducts motivational talks at boys and girls schools as well as public events.
“So many young girls still think that it’s okay for daddy to touch them. They don’t discuss this with their friends. Nobody has ever told them that it’s wrong. We teach them about sex, drugs and alcohol,” says Foord.
“Many girls don’t know that rape is a crime. They think that it’s a man’s right to have sex with them. They think that a woman is just there for pleasure. I explain to them that a woman is precious. They must know their rights.”
Foord says that women and men approach her after public talks to speak about their rape for the first time.
“A 58-year-old woman came up to me and told her that she was raped when she was 15. She had never told anyone. I am still in contact with her. Someone else like her could be sitting in this room. I want to help them realise that they haven’t done anything wrong and there is nothing to be ashamed of,” says Foord.
“A young man in his 20s came through our centre as well. He told us that he was at a club and was raped by another guy.”
Foord says that strangers also sometimes ask her “whether I hate men now”.
“I say no. You buy a bag of apples and one’s ‘vrot’. You don’t throw them all away. There are millions of men in South Africa. Just because those five were bad doesn’t mean they’re all bad,” she says.
“I’m now married and I was very open with my husband about the rape. If we do get into an intimate situation and I freak out a bit then he knows everything and understands to be there for me. Rape has an impact and you have to be open about it.”
Nina Joubert, chairwoman of the BWA in Cape Town, says that talking about rape with businesswomen was meant to empower others.
“Businesswomen are not just about business. We have to balance all the aspects of our lives, including family. This is about something very personal. Women work in careers and high-powered jobs but what are we doing to educate our daughters about these issues? How are we educating our sons on how to treat women?” she said.
“Hopefully women will walk away knowing that they have rights that they might not have known about before. We create an environment where women feel that they are empowered to do something in their lives or community.”
Desima Beukes, one of nine directors at VanderSpuy (CORRECT) attorneys, said that Foord’s talk had “moved a lot of us to tears”.
“It was very emotional. She’s a remarkable woman for the manner in which she has dealt with the experience that she’s had,” said Beukes.
“She has used the experience to enrich the lives of others. Every woman here is empowered to spread this message to people who are not as privileged as we are. There are women who don’t know about this help that is offered. We now know where to refer people.”
Zahida Ebrahim, director at Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs law firm, said that businesswomen would likely not want to talk about being raped because “people think it shows weakness”.
“We are ashamed of the things that happen to us. There are women who need these services but are inhibited by fear and misperceptions,” she said.
“We are privileged in a way that grassroots people are not. Now we have awareness that there is support for others. This makes it okay for businesswomen to seek these services that they have at their disposal rather than hide.”