I never reported my rape. First of all because I could not recollect everything that had happened, even though I do remember the crucial parts.
My drink had been spiked by the guy I was seeing at the time. I thought it would be my story against his – I was 23, a student, and he was much older. I was convinced I would lose the case. Then there were the threats from his side. If I would go to the cops, he would make sure I would regret it. I had, in the meantime and via via, found out that he was part of the local drugs scene. I never knew. M knew many people, bad people. Thirdly, I was afraid my parents would find out if I would press charges. I knew my dad would hire a shotgun and blow his brains out, literally. This would cause even more damage. I did not want my mom and dad to pay for whatever he had done. So I decided to keep quiet.
While I have dealt with it and given my rape a spot in my life, I think about that evening – now some 13 years ago – a lot – particularly when a victim is treated unfairly. And that happens a lot in South Africa. This society is not rape victim friendly. As a journalist I have written too many stories around this issue.
What doesn’t help is that rape seems to have become normal. Only the hectic cases end up in the news. I find it utterly incomprehensible that it takes an extremely violent rape case for people to wake up and smell the coffee, and protest on behalf of the victim’s sake. Sometimes I wonder when will it sink in that you don’t have to have your thighs forcefully pulled apart by a group of strangers in order to feel utterly and fundamentally destroyed. When will the masses realise that you don’t have to be left in an empty field or ditch to completely feel dehumanised and humiliated, that you don’t have to be infected with some other disease to feel sick, dead even. When will the public acknowledge that you don’t have to be killed by your rapist in order to die.
From my own experience, I know that just being forced to have sex with someone against your free will is enough to feel all of the above and more. It was 7 January 2000 when I met M, just after the Millennium celebrations and 4.5 years before I moved to South Africa. I was 23 and totally smitten. He was good looking, funny, kind and a few years older. He bought me flowers. I cooked me dinner. Butterflies galore. On that evening of 7 January, a short week after were introduced to each other by a mutual friend, he took me out for a drink. I was over the moon. However, not too long after we had arrived at the bar, I started to feel funny: dizziness, nausea, blurred vision. Everything had a bright golden glow. I knew I couldn’t possibly be drunk as I had barely touched my second Smirnoff Spin.
M kindly offered to drive me home. I can’t remember much from the drive, apart from throwing up en route at the side of the road. Black hole. M says he is worried about me falling down the stairs and insists of walking me to my flat. Black hole. He tells me to lay on my bed and to relax. I will feel better soon, he adds. Black hole. He is kissing me while undressing me. I tell him to stop. He continues, saying that I can’t sleep in my smoky clothes. Black hole. He is on top of me. His pants are down his knees. I am half naked. I tell him to stop. I don’t have control over my hands. They feel rock heavy, and completely immobile. Black hole. I feel how he pushes inside me. Black hole.
The next thing I remember is being in the shower. It is the day after, god knows how late. I am crying, scrubbing my skin blood red with a loofa. I am trying to stitch together the flurries of memories and the black-outs. I can’t believe this has happened. Michael is gone. I still have no idea when he left, or whether he spent the night. Then a whole lot of nothing – until a male friend rings the doorbell. We were supposed to have dinner.
It was only much later when I found out that M was deeply entrenched in the local drug scene as a dealer (and user), and that he had spiked other girls’ drinks before. I also found out how he had emptied my bank account when I, in my drugged up state, asked him to “draw some money for me too”. I ended up withdrawing my police statement after various threats.
Like most rapes that are committed in South Africa on a daily basis, my ordeal happened without any additional violence. What happened that night didn’t involve various men shoving their penises inside me one by one, hours on end. My rape didn’t happen in some filthy back alley, on the cold tarmac. I was not under-age when it happened. I did not end up with cuts, bruises, or worse. I didn’t need reconstructive surgery. I didn’t end up HIV positive. I didn’t end up with my belly slit open.
Nope, my rape just involved forced sex, nothing more and nothing less. It happened in the comfort of my own home, on my bed, after my drinks were spiked by the perpetrator who happened to be the guy I was seeing at the time.
It took me a long time to give it a space. No, I haven’t told everyone I know about what happened some 13 years ago because rape is not a subject you slot into any random conversations. My dad still doesn’t know. But I can talk and write about it. Sometimes however, I feel I shouldn’t. There are after all so many cases that are so much worse than mine. Take the first-ever rape case I covered. I was working at The Cape Times at the time, and it involved a 16-month old toddler. Her bleeding body was found in an abandoned field in Brooklyn. She needed reconstructive surgery, but survived. I remember thinking: “Perhaps my case is actually not so bad after all.”
I am not alone with these thoughts, which pop up on a regular basis. I know scores of women, young and old, who struggle with similar feelings. You might be one of them, who knows. So many victims feel they can’t speak out simply because their ordeal is not classified as ‘extreme’ by society, therefore they feel they should not complain. I would not be surprised if this notion deters women from reporting their rape to the police and seeking help. I have also notice how the term ‘normal rape’ is popping up its nasty head more frequently.
Not too long ago, in a local coffee shop around the corner from me, I overheard a conversation between two women. They were debating sexual violence. The one used the words ‘normal rape’ to differentiate between extreme and not-extreme cases. I don’t believe I have ever been so angry. For the record: there is no such thing as normal rape. Forcing someone to have sex with you is not normal, far from, and it will never ever be normal. Therefore, it should never ever be treated or defined as such.
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.