As a woman, I am in no way minimizing the experience of boys and men, but simply trying to tell the story from the female perspective.
I remember in 2014, we went on a work trip as a group and when a colleague/ friend of mine confessed to me that she had been raped. I was sad, angry and heartbroken for her. She was young, beautiful and very bright. But all the rapist saw was a toy, a play thing for his pleasure.
Those who are close to me know that when I am bothered by something I tend to obsessively talk about it and analyze it to death, to try and find ways to fix it or prevent it from reoccurring.
So when I got home from that work trip, I was catching up with my friend and mentor over tea and so consumed with this issue that our friendship came to a sudden end.
I was putting forward a theory that perhaps there’s a way to say ‘NO’ that women aren’t aware of, that these rapists probably expect or perhaps that these rapists were raised to believe that they are entitled to women’s bodies. There has to be an element of truth to this.
So what pushed my friend over the edge was the fact that I don’t believe in reporting rape to the police and I am against this perpetrator-centric approach to helping victims of sexual assault.
Whether you find and apprehend him or not, it doesn’t take away the fact that he raped you. Whether or not he gets a stiff sentence, you still went through the traumatic ordeal, over and over… You tell the clinic nurses, the police, your family, the prosecutor, the magistrate; get cross-examined and called a liar, and asked all sorts of prying questions. All of this, just to put the rapist behind bars, which doesn’t really help you.
Therapy has to come out of your own pocket. You need years of therapy to deal with something this horrendous.
Judging from the stories I have heard, I would say if you live in South Africa and have a girl child, start teaching them about sexual assault in an age-appropriate manner of course (make sure they know that it is never their fault; that they can always talk to you about anything even if someone is threatening to kill them if they do), assessing if they have been affected somehow…
I am a firm believer in preparing for the worst-case scenario.
I also feel scared for women and girls in this society when your friends will look at a man behaving inappropriately towards a you and laugh about it instead of putting him in his place.
I was once in a situation where a strange man jumped into a swimming pool and wanted to grab me in front of my friends and they thought it was the funniest thing on earth.
I learnt that day that a black woman is on her own, we have to be our own protectors.
A very common problem with the issue of sexual assault is the secrecy and the shame. Victim-shaming is undoubtedly the main cause of this. We cannot instruct people to unlearn this, just as we cannot prevent the males in our lives from asking the rape victim stupid questions like, what a girl was wearing, the size, duration, firmness… Rather just say ‘I’m so sorry this happened to you, what kind of support would you like from me?’. We have a long way to go still.
To those that have felt safe enough to share their stories with me, thank you for trusting me with your secrets. Even though these shouldn’t be secrets, we live in a world that is not sympathetic nor compassionate towards women. I stand with you and share your pain.
Aluta Continua 💪