I didn’t report because – and I know this sounds so clichéd – I didn’t think anyone would believe me. I was only 12, and my rapist told me that nobody would believe me. He was an older boy, and my friends at the time idolized him. He was a misogynist of note; he made rape jokes and treated women as inferior, and my male friends joked along with him. I never though it would translate into rape. When he raped me, he whispered in my ear and said that none of my friends would believe me – they would think I deserved it. I believed it at the time, because their attitudes and acceptance of rape jokes seemed to reflect that – although in hindsight, I’m certain they would have supported me as best a group of 13-year-olds could.
I walked straight home. I burnt my clothes and washed my body. I didn’t want to tell my family because I didn’t know how to tell them – it seemed so much easier to pretend it never happened. Once I had done that, I realised how stupid that was – I could never report it now. There’s just no evidence. Nobody would believe me. I went through a stage when I wanted him to go to prison. I wanted him to be raped. I wanted him to suffer as I had. But after time, I reached the point where I realized that wishing that another person is raped is one of the worst things someone could do. I reached the point where I forgave him, but still wanted him to be brought to justice – not for my own satisfaction, but to protect anyone else who he might rape. But I couldn’t report it. There was too little supporting evidence, and too little support out there for rape victims. Even though I come from a fairly liberal middle-class background and my attacker was not an idolized politician, I felt that many people out there wouldn’t believe me.
I once confessed my story on the UCT Confessions page. I thought it would be a good idea for people to read it as there were so many rape jokes on the page – I wanted people to know that their ‘harmless’ jokes had a consequence. More importantly, I had recently realized my attacker attended my university. Although the confession received a lot of support, it also received a lot of comments that freaked me out: “What were you doing out when you were 12,” “If you don’t report it others will be raped and it’s your fault”, “why did you burn your clothes, you’re stupid” etc. At the time I was considering telling more of my friends and family, but those comments silenced me.
In short: why didn’t I report it? Rape culture. We have this horrid society that assumes all rape accusers are lying until proven to be telling the truth. I’ve recently been blogging about rape culture and feminism, and there have been quite a few trolls that just aggravate my feelings of shame and horror. But I carry on, because I think people need to hear my stuff, and I’d rather take a lot of personal abuse than pass up the opportunity to help someone.
I read many tweets and comments regarding Vavi’s rape accuser. One line of reasoning struck a cord with me: “she congratulated him on having twins a week after the attack allegedly happened, therefore she is lying”. I signed a birthday card for my attacker a month after my attack. It didn’t make my attack any less real.
Maybe one day I’ll report my rape. Maybe one day, when South Africa becomes more sympathetic towards rape victims, and women like Vavi’s accuser are given a sympathetic ear instead of hateful criticism. Until then, I just can’t.
If you are rape survivor and need someone to talk to, please don’t hesitate to call the ‘Stop Gender Violence‘ helpline at 0800 150 150.
Note: Rape myths abound after the Vavi rape accusation was brought to light. These myths hurt all rape survivors – and if you ever experience sexual violence, these myths will hurt you too. The most common myth I’ve seen is the fallacy that if you don’t report to the police, it didn’t happen. (See here.) I put out a call on Twitter for survivors who didn’t report to send me their story. To follow the series, see here.
If you would like to include your story in this conversation, please email me: michelle at journoactivist dot com. I will assume anonymity for all submissions unless specified otherwise.