I showed up on my friend’s doorstep clutching my red velvet track pants and pink lace underwear. It was my friend’s roommate that opened the door. She screamed, the glass of gin and tonic she had in her hand breaking into shards on the floor. The blaring music stopped almost immediately, and everyone who was in the flat came rushing to the door to see what’s going on, only to be met with the sorry sight of me.
“What happened?” They all asked in unison, as if it wasn’t obvious from the blood and semen running down my legs that my life had just been turned upside down. That I had just become a statistic. That I would spend the next three days on ARVs. That I would spend the next couple of weeks curled up in bed with no desire to make nice. That I would wake up in the middle of the night sweating because my assailants had somehow found their way into my dreams too.
I pushed past the many pairs of eyes staring at me in utter shock. I had brought the party to an abrupt end. I went straight to the bathroom, where I ran a bath, got in, and listlessly watched the cold water as it filled up, wishing it could wash away the events of that night. I was vaguely aware of the many pairs of eyes that had followed me to the bathroom, speaking in hushed tones. “Let’s call the police.”
Honestly, I didn’t care if the police were called or not. All I wanted was to curl up and die. It wasn’t so much the pain between my legs that hurt, but the humiliation I had just suffered at the hands of my four rapists. The disgust I felt.
I must have spent a good few hours in the bathtub filled with cold water, when the police eventually arrived in the early hours of the morning, 2:30 a.m. to be precise. I was raped around 10:30 p.m. Please forgive me for boring you with the details of how I was further humiliated at the police station.
“What were you wearing?” As if that justifies the act.
“Why were you out alone at that time?” Should I have 300 Spartans flanking me while I walk around in my neighbourhood?
“Did they put their penises inside of you?” What does rape mean to you?
“Were you wet?” Are you actually asking me if I enjoyed being violated?
“Did they use a condom?” Now you are starting to ask more sensible questions.
These questions were asked by female police officers. One of them even went to fetch two other female cops, whom I presume were her work buddies. At breakfast that morning, they must have talked about the young woman who had not only been raped, but had been thrashed into a pulp, as they stuffed their faces with amagwinya* and probably went on about how I shouldn’t have been on the street after 8 p.m.
If I had known that the direction which the questioning at the cop shop took was only a taste of what’s to follow, I would have taken all that cauldron of emotions, wrapped it in a pretty little box and buried it deep in the trenches of my soul – and then continue to live my life as if nothing happened. But I had to open my big mouth. I told my mother what had happened. It broke her. She cried and prayed with me. She told me she loved me and nothing would ever change that. I felt loved, understood and unjudged. But it was when she told me to keep it a secret that I felt she did not fully understand what I was going through. My then boyfriend asked me to do the same, “Just keep it a secret, no one else needs to know about it.” I can’t remember what reasons they gave for asking me to be silent, but I remember thinking, they’re embarrassed for me. My rape was never brought up again. And I never bring it up with them either.
But I did defy their wishes.
I talk about what happened to me that night, whenever the topic of rape comes up – be it with strangers or friends – I talk. What I find surprising though is that whenever I share my story, there’s always someone who ends up sharing their ordeal with me, in private. What is even more surprising is that they’ve never had the courage to report it to the police or to their families. I don’t blame them, judging by the reactions we get from the laws that be and our families, it seems keeping this dirty deed a secret is the best way to go about it. But is it?
I’m not a psychologist, I don’t know what harbouring painful secrets does to your health. But I know that a pain not dealt with has other ways of manifesting itself – be it through anger, promiscuity, drug abuse, suicide – the list is endless. We need to make it safe to talk.
*amagwinya – Fat cakes
Tell us: Do you think that speaking up is a step towards the healing process?