How an SMS tool is bringing rape survivors into the media sphere

In South Africa, more than 100 women are raped every day. Health-e News, one of the ImpactAfrica grant winners, has launched a new SMS portal that allows rape survivors to share their stories, access counselling services, and sign a petition calling for change. Kim Harrisberg of Health-e News writes about this free and anonymous SMS service.

When Naeemah was raped a year ago, she struggled to leave her house for two weeks. Both reporting the rape and receiving a forensic examination are experiences she describes as second, and then third traumas.

“The truth is, I would have loved a tool like this,” says Naeemah, referring to the Izwi Lami (My Voice) SMS campaign. Naeemah is one of the rape survivors working with Rape Crisis in Cape Town who assisted in the initial testing of Health-e’s anti-rape campaign. The ability to receive a list of counselling services from the comfort of one’s home provides a safe space for rape survivors to assess their options going forward.

The Izwi Lami — My Voice campaign was born out of the South African health news service Health-e News. The rape levels in South Africa are akin to a conflict zone. More than 100 women are raped every day. The coverage of rape in the media often covers the most graphic and intense of stories, with little deeper analysis of the gender-based violence crisis in South Africa, and very little dialogue with the survivors themselves.

Health-e News joined hands with the GroundSource SMS platform to design an automated, free and anonymous conversation to be used by survivors. By texting “endrape” to 38006, survivors will be able to share their stories and words of advice for other survivors; receive a list of Thuthuzela (rape care) centers in their specific provinces; and sign a petition calling for all 24-hour health care facilities to provide packages of care to all survivors.


The package of care includes counseling, antiretrovirals, tetanus and hepatitis vaccines, the morning-after pill and a full forensic examination. As a health news agency, it was decided that these key health targets would form the foundation of our advocacy campaign. The campaign was inspired largely by a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) study which showed that 95 percent of rape victims did not visit a medical facility, and one-third of women seeking abortions were doing so after being raped.

The heart of this campaign is about service journalism. It is about not only speaking about rape survivors, but bringing them into the mainstream media conversation to speak to one another. Below feature some bite-sized words of both pain and advice shared sometimes for the first time by survivors of rape. These testimonies were shared (with the survivors’ consent) via our Facebook and Twitter pages to humanize the rape statistics we read so often. These are displayed on our website for other survivors to turn to and realise they are not alone in their journey towards healing.

The partners

Code for Africa (CfAfrica) is the custodian of impactAFRICA and is the continent’s largest independent open data and civic technology initiative. It operates as a federation of autonomous country-based digital innovation organisations that support ‘citizen labs’ in five countries and major projects in a further 15 countries. CfAfrica runs Africa’s OpenGov Fellowships and also embeds innovation fellows into newsrooms and social justice organisations to help liberate data of public interest, or to build tools that help empower citizens. In addition to fellowships and CitizenLabs, CfAfrica runs the $1 million per year innovateAFRICA fund and the $500,000 per year impactAFRICA fund, which both award seed grants to civic pioneers for experiments with everything from camera drones and environmental sensors, to encryption for whistleblowers and data-driven semantic analysis tools for investigative watchdogs. CfAfrica also curates continental resources such as the africanSPENDING portal of budget transparency resources, the openAFRICA data portal, thesourceAFRICAdocument repository and the connectedAFRICA transparency toolkit for tracking the often hidden social networks and economic interests in politics. CfAfrica is an initiative of the International Center for Journalists(ICFJ).

International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) is at the forefront of the news revolution. Its programmes empower journalists and engage citizens with new technologies and best practices. ICFJ’s networks of reporters and media entrepreneurs are transforming the field. ICFJ believes that better journalism leads to better lives. Over the past 30 years, ICFJ has worked with more than 92,000 professional and citizen journalists and media managers from 180 countries. ICFJ work through strong local partners, such as Code for Africa, and a network of dedicated alumni. For more information, go to