southtownstar
SHARP 
Weather Updates

Vickroy: Stagg grad aims to help S. African domestic violence victims

Emily Santos visits Cape Good Hope South Africa.  |  Supplied photo

Emily Santos visits the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. | Supplied photo

storyidforme: 55218564
tmspicid: 20249883
fileheaderid: 9357919
Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: October 20, 2013 7:34AM



There are 8,900 miles between her home in Palos Park and Johannesburg, South Africa, but Emily Santos is determined to throw women there a much-needed lifeline.

South Africa is no stranger to violence. And these days, much of that violence is aimed at women.

The issue was ushered into the international limelight after South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius was charged with murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, last Valentine’s Day.

According to the South African Institute of Race Relations, about 2,500 adult women are murdered every year across that country. Even more alarming, says the institute’s Lerato Moloi, is that “if data for all violent assaults, rapes and other sexual assaults against women are taken into account, then approximately 200,000 adult women are reported as being attacked in South Africa every year. The real figure is in all probability considerably higher, as anecdotal evidence suggests that reporting rates may be significantly lower than the number of incidents taking place every year.”

Santos, a graduate of Stagg High School and a junior at Washington University in St. Louis, first learned about the prevalence of domestic violence in South Africa a year and a half ago when she visited her brother while he was working with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, a tiny country located within South Africa.

“It was there that I learned about the sexual violence issues that are so prevalent in the country, especially compounding the HIV/AIDS crisis,” Santos wrote.

(Because Santos is studying abroad at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, much of this interview was conducted via email.)

She knew right away she wanted to help. And she wondered if there was a way to connect survivors of rape and domestic violence with psychological, medical and social services in South Africa.

The opportunity to act on her concern presented itself last spring when she learned the Clinton Global Initiative University conference was going to be held at Washington University. To apply, students had to propose a commitment to action — in other words, some plan to do good in the world.

Santos presented her plan to create a texting hot line that would connect victims of rape and sexual violence to services in South Africa.

Out of the hundreds of accepted commitments, “Text Support: Getting Help to Gender Violence Survivors” was chosen by the Clinton Foundation not only to participate in the conference but to be part of the second annual Commitment Bracket Challenge, where commitments face off in a Sweet Sixteen-type bracket to see which one can gather the most votes online.

Her project finished in the top four. This generated a bit of attention, and former President Bill Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea Clinton, mentioned the texting hot line project in an article she wrote for Time magazine.

Santos said because so few instances of sexual assault are reported, there is a large gap in access to care and information.

“I believe that texting will be a more accessible way of sending and receiving information because of its ease, anonymity and wide availability in South Africa,” she said. “The majority of the population doesn’t have access to the Internet, but it does have cellphones.”

She said the hot line will work much like a 911 system and function in two ways: It will be able to give out information on where to access medical, psychological and social services, and it can also be used for counseling purposes.

“I have teamed up with an organization in South Africa named Lifeline, a nongovernmental organization founded in Australia and which now has expanded all over the world,” she said. ”There are many branches in South Africa, but I will specifically be working with their office in Johannesburg.”

She needs to raise $5,000 to buy computers and modems, so she set up a fundraising website: textsupport.causevox.com.

So far, she has raised about $1,500. She has until the middle of December to reach her goal. Any money left after the equipment has been bought will go toward sustaining the line, specifically toward phone provider service fees and counselor salaries for a short time, she said.

“If all goes according to plan, I will be flying out to Johannesburg in December to set up the line and train the counselors on how to use the software,” she said.

Santos graduated in 2011 from Stagg, where she was a member of the varsity volleyball team, president of National Honor Society, on the mathletes team and involved in student council. She is double-majoring in psychology and anthropology at Washington University.

She credits her parents, both of whom work in the medical field, with inspiring her and her two older brothers to blaze their own trails in life.

“Both my parents and my brothers have always encouraged me with this whole project and have kept me going at times,” she said.

To learn more about Emily Santos and “Text Support: Getting Help to Gender Violence Survivors,” visit textsupport.causevox.com.



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.