When I was a full time student at the University of Durban Westville I had a gap in my time table that allowed me to have a nice long swim once a week. The walk from the swimming pool back to main campus was a lot of uphill so I would often just stay in my swimsuit and just throw on a pair of shorts over it. Often in summer I’d stay that way for the rest of the day, only putting on “normal” clothes to get on the bus to go back to the constraints of an Indian community in apartheid South Africa.
No matter how many times I walked around campus in a swimsuit and shorts, I was completely unmolested. There was just one occasion when some guy made the comment
“So now you’re the sex symbol of UD-W, hey Kam?”
It was supposed to be the ultimate insult, considering my feminist views. It was the early 90s after all. If you wanted to be taken seriously as a feminist, you had to dress like a man. Outside of that though, nobody even looked twice. No comments on the walk up to campus. No comments in the Cafeteria, not even around the pool tables that were generally considered male domain. Nothing.
I was not raped by some poor tortured soul, overcome by the extremes of his natural instincts, provoked by a temptress baring her thighs and cleavage in public, acting in a moment of temporary insanity. (I certainly hope you read that in a voice dripping with sarcasm)
Nope, when I was raped I was wearing leggings down to my ankles and an oversized jersey.
I was raped by a man who was conditioned by the society we lived in to believe that certain kinds of women forfeit their right to say no to sex. He was an acquaintance of a (male) friend who was part of a group that I sometimes partied with, drinking too much alcohol, staying out until the sun came out… You know the usual student lifestyle. In the South African Indian community in the early 90s “good” girls didn’t do that. Girls who did stuff like that were “rubbishes” from bad families.
After a night of clubbing this guy drove a bunch of us home. I was the last one to be dropped off. Instead of taking me straight to my house, he parked in an empty space somewhere. We went into the back seat. I thought he just wanted to make out a bit before taking me home. When he started trying to take my clothes off, I asked him to stop. When he didn’t listen I tried to push him off but there wasn’t any space. He told me to stop fighting and playing hard to get. He knew “what” I was. Afterwards when I was crying and throwing up, that he said, ” Oh my God! You were a virgin. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know” To this day I’m not sure exactly how he reached that conclusion. I have often wondered what the boys got told while us girls were given the chewing gum analogy version of sex education by nurses from the local clinic every year throughout high school.
I do not blame or hate the man who raped me. He was equally a victim of the culture we lived in. When he understood what he had done, he was immediately sorry for his actions. He just didn’t know any better.
Anyway, I didn’t bother to report the incident. I played that scenario out in my head. A teenage girl walking into an Indian police station, full of middle aged male officers, to say what exactly? I was out drinking with this bunch of guys (who are not even related to me). One of them was supposed to drive me home (in fairness he did get me home – eventually) but he stopped somewhere else instead. Yes I did get into the back seat with him, but he didn’t stop when I asked him to, or when I tried to push him off me. I’d like to lay a charge of rape please.
Yeah, that wasn’t really an option. For most women it’s still not an option 20 years later.
So for those of you who think you’re protecting women by telling us how to dress, I say BULLSHIT.
I do not want to live in a world where we lead people to believe in any way at all that they are responsible for somebody else’s choices. Every single human being on this planet is responsible for his or her own choices – ONLY. If we are taught this and teach this and believe this completely, we will also learn not to blame others for our choices.
If we want to protect our children we have to change the way we raise them. Teach respect instead of fear. Teach love instead of separation. Teach effective communication instead of violence. Pulling a girl’s hair is not the way to tell her you like her.
It is our responsibility to raise the next generation with a different awareness and to share our experiences so that others may learn.
By Karmilla Pillay-Siokos
The author has encouraged readers to comment on this story so that we may open up a dialogue. Please join the conversation by dropping a comment below.
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.