Rough Aunties (Director: Kim Longinotto): The line between work and home is very thin indeed for the women of Operation Bobbi Bear in Durban, South Africa. This multiracial group investigate the most horrific cases of child sexual and physical abuse, providing counseling and making sure the perpetrators are prosecuted, even in the face of bureaucratic indifference. Some of the testimony is extremely hard to listen to, but these women have heard it all, and continue to come to work, even when their own home lives become chaotic.
In fact, a good portion of the film is dedicated to some of the tragedies that befall two of the “rough aunties” and it drives home the fact that these women are just as vulnerable as the families they serve. Many of them have come out of situations where they were raped and beaten, and they bring their own pain to work every day. Though it’s not clear from the film, the organization’s founder Jackie Branfield, though white, did not grow up in the privileged environment that one might suspect. In fact, though the organization is made up of both blacks and whites, it’s a thoroughly blue-collar group, where the women have often had to struggle to raise their children by themselves.
If there is any weaknesss in the film itself, it’s that some of the details are left out. We’re sort of thrown in mid-story and there isn’t a lot of context around where the organization came from and the full scope of the work it does. While that makes the story emotionally involving, it leaves out a lot of information that might make the characters even more interesting. I think it would also have been helpful to place the seemingly common practice of child rape into a cultural context. In AIDS-ravaged South Africa, there is a rampant (if ludicrous) belief that having sex with a virgin (even a child or a baby) will cure the disease. Of course, you can see how this can create a horrific epidemic of sexual abuse; and yet, no mention of this is made in the film.
This lack of context also makes it appear that these women are fighting a losing battle. It would have been interesting to connect their work with some of the other work being done to address the AIDS crisis in South Africa. Also, Operation Bobbi Bear has achieved some remarkable legal victories, including the ability for rape victims to access post-exposure prophylaxis HIV medication that can cut the risk of infection by up to 80%. Some of this good news would have been welcome after seeing some of the things these courageous women face on a daily basis.