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Jewish activists take on alleged Hermanus rapist

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Two Johannesburg Jewish gender-abuse activists are at the centre of a battle to try stop an alleged rapist from preying on more young women travellers in the seaside town of Hermanus in the Western Cape.

Wendy Hendler and Rozanne Sack run a non-profit organisation called Koleinu, which offers a helpline to victims of abuse in the community.

Earlier this year, it was brought to their attention that a man accused of sexual harassment and rape was working as a surf instructor and owner of a guesthouse and surf school in the popular coastal town renowned for whale watching. The man, whose name is known to the SA Jewish Report, hasn’t appeared in court or been formally charged, and for this reason, he cannot be named. He has vehemently denied all allegations against him.

Said Hendler, “Koleinu received information from a caller to our helpline informing us about victims she knew of. She was advised to put them in touch with us as soon as possible.”

So began a mammoth task of gathering information and supporting victims to expose him.

In the course of their investigation, Hendler and Sack have taken statements from two international female tourists to South Africa who claim they were raped by him. One was allegedly raped in February last year during her stay at his guesthouse and surf school, the other seven years ago in Cape Town while she was a foreign student.

With the help of abuse activist Luke Lamprecht and attorneys specialising in the field, Hendler and Sack have compiled information on the man’s alleged inappropriate sexual behaviour and harassment, which they say spans several years.

Following a recent article in Daily Maverick highlighting the women’s horrific ordeals, news of the man’s behaviour has shocked the Hermanus townsfolk. The local surfing community held an anti-gender-based violence demonstration last week near the Hermanus Magistrates Court, where all concerned citizens of the town were invited.

Although the man’s hostel and surf school has an excellent 9.1 rating on Booking.com with some glowing reviews, Tripadvisor last week posted a message saying that it had been made aware of recent media reports or events concerning the property “which may not be reflected in reviews found on this listing”.

“Accordingly, you may wish to perform additional research for information about this property when making your travel plans,” the site said.

The two victims, whose names are being withheld to protect their identity, are grateful to Koleinu.

“When I left South Africa, I was traumatised and in denial,” said Melanie (not her real name), “Koleinu has given me hope that other women won’t become victims of his abuse. Its comfort and guidance has been wonderful. I feel that in some way, I have played a small part in stopping him.”

Melanie, who lives in the United States, and Julia (also not her real name) from the United Kingdom, connected for the first time on social media after Melanie reached out to fellow travellers a year ago online in a bid to find people who may have experienced a similar ordeal.

“I had never looked him up before, and as soon as I saw his Instagram page and all the pictures of him with young women, it was like being hit by a lightning bolt,” she said.

She direct-messaged women from the surf school’s Instagram page, posting how she had met the owner of the surf school when she was 20 years old studying abroad in South Africa six years ago. After he befriended her and showed her around Cape Town, she wrote, “On our third meeting, he drugged and aggressively raped me in his truck outside of a bar. It took me years to process this, to actually realise what happened and get over it, but I was in denial at the time and didn’t press charges. I’m reaching out to anyone who has ever associated with him and inquiring if this behaviour is a pattern. Has he done anything to you? Or anyone you know?”

To her astonishment, she was flooded with responses by women from all over the world, including countries like Israel and Mexico, alleging inappropriate sexual behaviour and harassment.

One of the women was Julia, who said he had raped her in a bedroom at his Hermanus guest accommodation in February last year.

The man has denied any involvement, telling the SA Jewish Report, “Those allegations are completely twisted, false, and damaging. I would never drug anyone. It’s an extremely hurtful allegation.”

He said he was talking to attorneys in Cape Town with a view to suing for defamation.

“I would like to add that these allegations were started by a girl seven years ago with no connection to my business who messaged thousands of my Instagram followers telling them I date drugged her.”

In relation to the other victims’ allegations, he said, “Some allegations are from a rival business owner in my road who wants me out of the picture. Proper scandal.”

Hendler and Sack are hoping that the publicity will encourage other victims to come forward and alert tourists and locals about the possible danger he presents.

“We need a local victim to come forward and be willing to lay criminal charges against him,” said Sack, “In this way, a legal case can be instituted. It’s difficult – if not impossible – for the two women to lay charges against him while they don’t live in this country.”

Although the two tourists’ ordeals differ, Hendler said the alleged perpetrator had preyed on their vulnerabilities.

“These types of abusers often have a radar for people’s vulnerabilities, and they zone in and demolish their victims’ defences,” she said.

From dozens of posts online, the man openly body shames women, and has been described as a sex pest and pervert.

One Johannesburg teenager who met him during her brief stay at his surf school told the SA Jewish Report that he was “weird and creepy”.

“From the minute I met him, I felt uncomfortable. He was dodgy from the start,” she said.

One local 22-year-old resident said that on two separate occasions, once in Cape Town the other in Hermanus, he had made her feel very uncomfortable.

“I told him more than three times to stop touching me, but after expressing that he would, he still continued being inappropriate towards me and I felt I was being sexually harassed. I believe he needs to be stopped as soon as possible.”

Said Hendler, “Violent crime against women in this country generally isn’t reported. It’s only by empowering victims to find their voice and join in support of one another that we can hope to make any kind of change. We implore any other victims of this man to follow the example of these two courageous young ladies.”

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