New Initiative to Help Victims of Rape and Sexual Assault

ZA Confidential attended the recent Accenture Innovation Awards, and met some of the finalists. One who struck us as a thoroughly impressive individual was Mara Glennie, who is using the cell phone system to help the victims of rape and sexual abuse to seek help, through an initiative called Tears. ZA Confidential chatted to her….

ZAC: What inspired you to set up Tears?
MG: My motivation comes from a deeply personal space. I was a victim of violence and tried to report it at the local Police Station. I was told to come back on a Monday between 8.00 and 4.00. It was 6.00pm, on a Friday! I felt helpless and desperate and did not know where to turn. The memory of that feeling has never left me. So some years later I decided to take action and make assistance easy – for every South African to get help at his or her fingertips – and we are proud to say we launched the service on Women’s Day this year.

ZAC: If someone has been threatened, how does it work?
MG: The first phase of our assistance is reactive – what to do if the assault or rape has already occurred. Where to get help is not as easy as people think, as the places are either non-existent in some areas, or difficult to locate in other places. Tears is a bridge between the victim of rape & sexual abuse and a service provider. At Tears we have an existing database that has been carefully researched and we are still adding to it on a daily basis, thus making it easier for the victim/survivor to find help. Included in the next phase of the mobile assistance system will be an option for an emergency. In case of a life-threatening situation, you would dial 2 for Emergency. The message will be sent to a call centre where agents will contact the victim back, assess the situation and respond accordingly by phoning the authorities – ambulance, police, or even getting hold of a family member.

ZAC: What has the response been like so far?
MG: We had over 3000 “hits” in the first 9 weeks, and had not yet publicized the number nationally. We believe that once the service has received national coverage, this will increase vastly. A rape occurs every 25 seconds in our country. Victims of sexual assault require comprehensible, gender–sensitive health service in order to cope with the physical and mental health consequences of the experience and aid their recovery from an extremely distressing and traumatic event.

ZAC: For many poorer South Africans, having airtime on their cells is an issue. Does a lack of airtime prevent them from raising the alarm?
MG: We have developed our service across all platforms. At present you have to have 20c on your phone to use the service. We have made relevant applications to change and have offered to pay the fee. However, currently, that is not able to be implemented. We are aiming to provide this service free for the end user. The information can be accessed on our web site www.tears.co.za

ZAC: Have the authorities given you any support, or given you any encouragement?
MG: No support has been received from the government or parastatals. We sincerely hope that once the relevance and need for a national data base of rape and abuse survivors is acknowledged, the Tears initiative will receive the funding we so badly need. It is a first of its kind in Africa.

ZAC: Have you made much of a difference yet?
MG: The potential of reaching out to victims in South Africa is untapped and although we have helped individuals we have not yet make a real difference. It will grow with awareness that the number needs to be on every South African’s phone. The service is still in its infancy stage.

ZAC: What is needed to really grow Tears?
MG: Tears’ reactive service, the Help Line, is the bridge to give victims the access to the much needed help and support they desperately need to help the healing process begin. Tears’ proactive service is an educational game – LifeBoard: This fun educational game can be adapted to any age, gender or social group. The game educates on all levels about inappropriate behaviour, rape, sexual abuse, communication, making a difficult subject easy to talk about and learn through laughter. In order to make both of the above services available to every member of the rainbow nation we need funding. There are no companies in South Africa that we have been able to identify that have a CSI profile to assist rape. Generally, funding is scarce. Not only are companies cutting back on funding but those funds that are available are not allocated to combatting ape and abuse. To date most of the funding is self-funded – hence this stands in the way of Tears developing its true potential.

ZAC: You were one of the finalists for the recent innovation awards. What did that recognition mean to you?
MG: I believe it went some way to show to the sceptics (and there were many) that the service is really a unique innovation and can (and does) work. It does and it was a wonderful experience to be amongst the amazing innovations, and I hope that it will now open doors for the future.

ZAC: What comes next?
MG: We are planning an emergency Service Call centre – which is under development. We will then extend the service to provide more information, and will launch a cell phone application.

Tweets of the Day:
Hantus Mostert (@CDS_VINTEC): The world loves South African wine. It’s liquid ☀ and some say liquid poetry.

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