JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A teenager’s cruel death three years ago has become a symbol of gender violence and South Africa’s continued struggle to curb sexual violence.
In February 2013, Anene Booysen was gang-raped and left for dead on a construction site, her stomach sliced open. The 17-year-old lived long enough to identify her attackers and one man was tried and sentenced to life in jail.
Booysen’s case was one of tens of thousands in South Africa that year but the brutality of death and her determination to name her attackers triggered public outcry. Women who had never before heard of this young woman, who was raised in foster care and worked as a cleaner, wore black in her honor. Her home, the little-known town of Bredasdorp, became the symbol for the underlying causes of gender violence in South Africa.
About two hours from Cape Town, Bredasdorp sits at the foot of a hill known as the pulpit, surrounded by wheat fields in South Africa’s Western Cape province. In the town today, a modern community center named for Booysen dwarfs squat government-built houses. Government agencies and aid groups entered the town bringing with them temporary civic projects to prevent more violence, but some say little has changed since Booysen’s death.
“It didn’t improve after the Anene Booysen case,” said Lt.-Col. Maree Louw, the police station commander who has lived here for a decade.
Louw’s police station has seen an increase of sexual assault and domestic violence cases. Alcoholism and drug abuse are common outlets for the youth here, many of whom have dropped out of overcrowded schools, becoming young parents, Louw said in a telephone call with the Associated Press.
The solution is to create empathy for victims through a frank discussion with communities who do not always recognize the seriousness of gender violence, says Keegan Lakay of Sonke Gender Justice, a non-governmental organization.
“Whether it’s under a tree or in a community hall,” he said.
South Africa has enacted strict laws to prosecute sexual violence and launched nationwide public education campaigns, but as in Bredasdorp, rape and sexual assault remain all too common.
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