CAPE TOWN (SOUTH AFRICA)
Independent Online (IOL.co.za) [South Africa]
August 21, 2021
By Bulelwa Payi
She’s been vilified by detractors and revered as a heroine by sexual assault survivors for challenging the silence of perpetrators.
Anglican priest Rev June Dolley-Major has embarked on two hunger strikes and been resourceful in her use of social media to garner support and help other victims as she took on the powerful Anglican church to hold her alleged rapist accountable.
Hers is a struggle shaped by an alleged raped in 2002 by a fellow priest with whom she had travelled to Makhanda at the time.
“The rape still haunts me. I once tried to commit suicide. Silence kills,” she said.
She recounted the events of the day to a tribunal set up by the Anglican Church this month.
The accused, also an Anglican priest, allegedly came into her bedroom.
“I asked him what he was doing. He did not respond. He proceeded towards me and forced himself on me. I asked him to stop. But he continued to force himself. I was numb and crying. A part of me died,” Dolley-Major told the tribunal.
But it was a conversation with a family relative in 2015 that triggered her action to break the silence.
“He wanted advice on what to do about the rape of his child. I told him to report it to the police. I realised then that I was a hypocrite. I had been silent all these years about my own rape. Just like my cousin was trying to protect his family, I was also protecting my spiritual family,” she told the tribunal.
She opened a case with the police and the case was thrown out in Grahamstown after one of the witnesses “denied everything”, she said.
“Regardless of the outcome of the tribunal, I am determined to continue the fight to break the silence on rape perpetrators. Just because the justice system decided not to prosecute based on whatever reasons doesn’t mean that the rape did not take place,” Dolley-Major said.
In September she plans to embark on a 871 km walk from Cape Town to Makhanda to raise funds for the establishment of an advice office to help rape survivors.
“I also want to highlight the loneliness and the silencing suffered by rape victims. I would also like to meet up with survivors along the route and listen to their stories,” she said.
It was after her second hunger strike last year where she pitched a tent outside the Archbishop of Cape Town’s official residence, that the Anglican Church took a decision to investigate the alleged rape.
She also named the alleged perpetrator on social media – attracting mixed reaction from the public.
One Anglican deacon wrote: “I think that the church must simply tell June Dolley to go to hell. What she is doing is diabolical and satanic.”
But Dolley-Major said it was the “heart-rending” stories that victims of rape had shared with her that had prompted the need to establish an advice office.
“It’s others like me who have been raped that keep me going. I have created a community on social media and many have reached out to me either for counselling or to share their own experiences.
“The stories paint a picture of a disconnect in the justice system. One woman told me she went to lay a charge of rape at the police station at night and was told to return the following morning. A 16-year-old girl has tried to commit suicide three times and a teenage boy who was molested when he was only seven – his mom now suffers from depression. These are real stories of people who reached out to me after I broke the silence and named the perpetrator on social media,” Dolley-Major said.
The Women’s Legal Centre said statistics showed that one in four women was raped in South Africa, translating to seven million victims and the conviction rate was 8.6 %.
The centre said several factors contributed to the low conviction rate – including a backlog in DNA testing, the definition of what constituted evidence and the “compounding” silence that victims experienced.
Survivors of rape are silenced by social stigmas, criminal secrecy, shame, fear, a misplaced sense of whether they were responsible and a fear of backlash,” academic and human rights activist Professor Bonita Meyersfield told the court.
She was giving evidence in the application for an interdict against Dolley-Major by the alleged perpetrator to stop her from publicly naming her.
In terms of South African law it is illegal to name an alleged sexual perpetrator online.
Section 154 (2B) & (3) of Criminal Procedure Act, 1977 states that no person may publish in any manner the identity of the accused in sexual offence cases before the accused has pleaded in court.
Dolley -Major maintained that her intention to publicly name the alleged perpetrator was not to shame him.
“South Africa is one of the most violent countries with a high rate of bender-based violence. We need to raise awareness about this. When I started this journey it was painful. I still have down moments. But this is not about me – it’s about millions of others. Vilify me all you like, I will not stop,” Dolley-Major said.
In papers filed with court she also stated: “I cannot be prevented from speaking the truth. I am tired of being bullied. I will not be silenced”.
The walk, during the Heritage Month would conclude with her laying charges again at the Makhanda police station.