Too much aggression and testosterone are often factors which get the blame for South Africa’s horrific rape statistics, but one brave survivor has teamed up with rugby sides to turn these integral parts of the game into something beneficial for the fight against violent sexual abuse.
The Jes Foord Cup, which is named after the founder of the Jes Foord Foundation, will be played for on Saturday in Durban between the first teams of the University of KwaZulu-Natal and Durban Collegians. But the day is about so much more than just two rugby teams slugging it out for some silverware.
The University of KZN Rugby Club and Durban Collegians, in conjunction with the Jes Foord Foundation, have formed the Rugby Against Rape charity and the annual rugby day will see eight men’s teams from both the Durban and Pietermaritzburg campuses and four women’s teams in action as not only money but also tremendous awareness is raised about the scourge of rape.
In an incident which shocked KwaZulu-Natal in March 2008, the then 21-year-old Foord was gang-raped by four men at Shongweni Dam while walking with her father, who was forced to watch the awful assault at gunpoint.
But Foord vowed not to allow the terrible incident to destroy her and decided to speak out, forming the Jes Foord Foundation.
“I formed the foundation to help restore lives after rape by way of a number of initiatives and activities designed to change rape victims into rape survivors. I want to educate people and help them realise that there is life after rape,” Foord says.
Her rapists were sentenced to life imprisonment in 2009 and since then the Jes Foord Foundation has helped hundreds of rape survivors regain their dignity and self-esteem.
A bunch of young rugger buggers might seem an odd choice of partner for such a charity, but Foord said the varsity students were the ideal fit for her efforts to increase awareness around rape.
“I wanted to activate young adults and what better target than someone big and strong. When I tell the rugby players my story, I see their faces and they are absolutely silent for the whole talk, they want to be involved and they want to know how they can stop rape.
“I tell them that during one rugby match, in the 80 minutes excluding half-time, 282 people are raped. I tell them to play for them and it breaks their hearts that while they are having fun, running around, so many people suffer rape. I tell them to direct their anger towards helping the survivors and not towards the perpetrators,” Foord told The Daily Maverick.
“At this age, many of them are starting to think of settling down with a wife, but if not, it could be their daughters, sisters or mothers who get raped. In any case, it’s always someone’s daughter, sister or mother who is raped.”
Mark Schulze, a University of KZN Rugby Club executive committee member and former scrumhalf, said the players were thrilled to get the opportunity to help such a worthy cause.
“There’s been a very good response and the guys have jumped at the opportunity to help. They are tjoepstil when Jes talks and the fact that rugby is an aggressive sport fits in perfectly with the target market and the message she is trying to get across. Rape is happening to people left and right and there are a lot of vulnerable people on our campuses. She’s removed the taboo around speaking out about rape very successfully,” Schulze said.
Efforts to help rape survivors have often been marred by the shoddy, insensitive treatment they receive immediately after the attack and ensuring they get special care is a focus of the Jes Foord Foundation.
Because their body is literally a crime scene, rape victims are told not to shower or clean themselves by police, which they are understandably desperate to do.
“After my rape, I felt so dirty. But it’s not just that you have dirt or blood on you, it’s a whole new, deeper level of dirty. You have their smell on you, their sweat. You are desperate to scrub it off.
“I received a care package from a local pharmacy with so many special products in it to help feel clean again. And I thought, what about all those survivors who don’t get this, who just have a bar of soap and a bucket of water?” Foord said.
So Foord instituted the Handbag Project which distributes bags that contain an assortment of toiletry items, a scrubbing brush, sanitary towel, clean new underwear, a personal gift and an encouraging note to let a survivor know she is not alone.
Over 2,000 handbags were distributed by the foundation last year and members of the public can help them reach their target of 10,000 this year by donating supplies, handbags or funds to support the project; volunteering for a handbag-packing day; organising a drive for supplies or a volunteer bag-packing day in your area; or volunteering to become a depot for the Handbag Project in your area.