“Watch where you’re going or you’ll end up hurting yourself!” Miss Lisa exclaims, steadying herself from the jolt of someone ramming into her from behind.
Turning around, she confronts Khanyiswa’s tear-streaked face, and her eyes darting wildly to and fro.
“What’s the matter? Did you hurt yourself?” Miss Lisa asks, reaching for her, but Khanyiswa steps back. “Talk to me, my child. Let me help you,” she implores.
“Mr … he … he … raped me. Mr Hill raped me!” Khanyiswa cries out.
They are close to the office block and Miss Lisa reaches out slowly and gently takes her by the arm. “Come with me, Khanyiswa.”
Miss Lisa guides her to the Principal’s office, but he’s not there.
“Mrs Buswayo!” Miss Lisa calls out, after helping Khanyiswa into a chair.
“Why are you shouting, Ntombi? I’m not deaf!” Mrs Buswayo, the school secretary, utters as she waddles into the Principal’s office.
“Uxolo, Ma,” Miss Lisa apologises. “Uphina uPrincipal Hector?”
“He’s on the grounds, doing random inspections, and it’s break time,” Mrs Buswayo explains.
“Please call him to the office.” Miss Lisa requests.
“What’s going on?” Mrs Buswayo enquires.
“She’s just been raped by a teacher.”
“Nkosi yam!” Mrs Buswayo cries out, placing her hands on her head.
“I have to take her to the police station to report it,” Miss Lisa says. “Principal Hector – call him, please,” she reminds Mrs Buswayo. “And ask her classmates, Cebisa or Portia, to take her school bag home.”
Khanyiswa remains seated, oblivious to what’s happening around her, muttering under her breath every few minutes, “I was raped.”
Miss Lisa bends down in front of her and whispers, “Khanyiswa.” No response. She puts a hand lightly on her leg and feels Khanyiswa’s body stiffen. “It’s Miss Lisa, dear. Do you hear me?” Khanyiswa nods her head.
“I have to take you to the police station. Do you understand me?” Another nod. “You’re doing well,” she encourages Khanyiswa. “Did you leave behind any clothing–”
Khanyiswa fumbles in her skirt pocket and pulls out her panty. “He broke it.”
“I’m so sorry for what he did,” Miss Lisa continues to talk in a low tone. “But I need you to put it on – it’s important.”
She’d attended a workshop on how to handle a rape situation, after reading an article in a women’s magazine. Only one in nine rapes are reported; while a child is raped every three minutes, it had stated.
That’s a staggering number of unreported incidents, she’d thought.
The workshop had taught her the best way to preserve proof of the assault. The victim’s body itself becomes evidence. She knew that the panty would trap any semen and blood that might otherwise drain away.
“I’m filthy. I need to wash myself,” Khanyiswa weeps.
“Shhh,” Miss Lisa says and takes Khanyiswa’s trembling body into her arms. “I’ll call your mother before we leave. But you have to put your panty back on. Please – it will help your case.”
Miss Lisa takes the undergarment from Khanyiswa’s hands and coaxes her to stand up. “You’re a brave girl, Khanyiswa,” she says.
Miss Lisa leaves her in Mrs Buswayo’s care while she phones Mrs Sibewu. It’s a difficult call to make. All she says is that Khanyiswa has been hurt and can Mrs Sibewu please meet them at the hospital close to the school.
“Is my child okay?” Mrs Sibewu asks, but Miss Lisa remains quiet. “We have medical cover,” Mrs Sibewu continues. “Take her to our regular doctor.”
She cannot tell Mrs Sibewu that the hospital near the school has a care centre dedicated to cases of sexual assault. That they’re best equipped to deal with rape cases – to administer the rape kit. It’s an essential step in gathering evidence. They also give counselling, as well as help and support throughout the court case.
I will tell her the truth when I speak to her face-to-face, Miss Lisa decides. This is not something one tells a parent over the phone. It’s too impersonal for such a serious matter.
“What’s happened, Miss Lisa?” Mrs Sibewu asks anxiously. “Is Khanyiswa seriously hurt?”
Miss Lisa ignores Mrs Sibewu’s questions. “The hospital is closest, Mrs Sibewu. Can you please bring along fresh clothing and underwear for Khanyiswa,” she requests. “Her uniform is soiled.” She knows Khanyiswa’s school clothes will in fact be taken as evidence.
Tell us: Why does Khanyiswa feel ‘filthy’? Should every school have a female staff member trained like this to deal with a rape?