Trigger Warning: This article contains sensitive narration that may trigger one with similar experiences.
The #16DaysNotEnoughCampaign shares the personal experiences of women who have gone through subtle abuses like gaslighting, crazy-making, pathological lying, excuses, and hypocrisy which has been normalised in our societies. ACTIVATE! Supports the fight against gender-based violence. This is the raw experience of a woman in her own words.
(Writer wishes to remain anonymous)
The first person I told after I got raped was my sister. It was exactly 6 hours after I had crawled to the police station with a swollen face and clothes full of blood. I arrived at the local police station at around 4 am, after having stopped a couple that was strolling down the streets of the small, rural town. My rapist had left me for dead under a bridge. I was tucked away so far below, if I hadn’t been able to pull myself to the top, I would have died there. I guess that this was the perfect place for him to rape me for as long as he wanted, nobody would notice. It was around 9 pm when he dealt me the facial punch that would knock me out. I was unconscious for the rest of the night, and regained consciousness in the early hours of the morning, just in time to feel him remove his penis from my vagina. I can vaguely remember him hurriedly fastening the buckle of his belt and the run as if he was running for his life. He had just stolen from me, I guess he was running for his life. I spent the rest of the morning sleeping on a bench at the police station. It was cold, but I was exhausted.
At 8 am, the lady who was to take my statement arrived, we completed the process and I was free to go home. As soon as I get to my place, I call my sister and I tell her what had happened. Nothing could ever hurt me more than the first thing she said to me. She listened to me narrating my story, and then responded, “Ungaxeleli mntu ke, bazohlekisa ngathi” (Don’t tell anyone, they sure will mock us). From that moment, I knew I was alone in this. My confidant, the person I trusted the most, the person I looked to for comfort had just uttered those words to me. Not, ‘I’m sorry this happened to you’, no ‘How are you feeling right now’, not ‘What do you need me to do?’ But a cold, biting ‘Don’t tell anyone lest they make a joke of us.’
I was alone in my grief for what I had lost. I was betrayed twice in less than 24 hours. I betrayed myself for not being able to protect myself against the rapist, my sister betrayed me by taking my pain and making it about herself and her reputation. I felt alone. What I didn’t know was that more similar acts of betrayal would follow. The insensitive questions, the probing that was clearly intended to pin the blame on me. “How did she get there?” “She must have been drunk.” “How is it that nobody saw her?” “Her story doesn’t add up.” “Are you sure she wasn’t dating this guy?” And then, the silent stares. People making you feel uncomfortable with their silent questions and accusations. You stop feeling like a normal human being. You’re an outcast now, you’ve been marked with the yellow mark and everyone can tell. One of the worst things to experience are the friends who offer support in exchange for inside information. They come to you pretending to show concern. They tell you all of the mean and disturbing things that are being said about you and then they re-count how they stood in your defense when everyone was throwing stones at you. If this friend was really concerned, she’d notice the information that she keeps feeding you is causing more harm than good. But she’d never know that because it’s not concern that is pushing her, she’s simply enjoying being the one with all the inside information. It makes her popular- for lack of a better word.
When my older brother heard the news, he was ready to take the 8 hour drive that would get him to where I was. It would have been a really sweet gesture if his journey was to come and attend to me. What my brother wanted to do, was to come over and kill the person who raped me. Imagine what he would have said if he knew that I was raped by someone I didn’t know. A person I couldn’t even point out in a crowd. How could I disappoint him like that? So, I told him that he was arrested instead.
Look, I understand that everyone has a different way of healing. Some of these gestures would have been welcomed by other people, but I would have preferred the less violent or dramatic way. It would have been really good for my healing process if everyone had paid more attention to me than the perpetrator. This monster had already stolen so much from me, he was not going to have the rest of my life too. He wasn’t going to get that much attention from me. So, I shut everyone out and I focused on healing in my own way. Today I able to share my story because I made sure that I would not remain a victim. Today, I’m a rape survivor. Yes, I was raped, but I survived.
One day, we will learn behaviour that does not betray survivors of rape and gender-based violence. One day we will learn, today we continue to educate.
ACTIVATE! is a network of young leaders equipped to drive change for the public good across South Africa. Connecting youth who have the skills, sense of self and spark to address tough challenges and initiate innovative and creative solutions that can reshape our society.
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