When Mackenzie gets home from work, I often join her outside on the porch for a smoke. This week, I’m still raw from my experience with Josh. What I appreciate about Mackenzie is that she doesn’t press me with questions. I cannot handle being prodded like a herded chicken when I am trying to sort things out in my head. When I’m upset, I usually go to my room and think things over. About an hour later, I’ll come out, ready to talk. Mackenzie and I sit on our porch, zip up our hoodies and smoke our cigarettes.
“So, how’s work?” I ask.
“Same old,” she replies. “How are you?” I shrug.
We inhale our cigarettes. I stare out at Table Mountain.
Clouds cascade over its edges almost touching our heads.
“I feel like rape is all that I’m worth,” I tell her blandly.
“Mich, don’t you think that, maybe, you want to talk to other girls who have been through this? Because no matter how much we try, we’re never going to get what you’re going through.”
I realise I want to speak to other people who have survived rape. It’s useless for me to continue blaming the people who love me for not understanding me when they are doing their best to be there for me. I want to speak to other women who are strong and have survived being objectified and having their agency completely taken away from them. I have been in therapy for a long time and that’s not what I need; I know how to embark on a personal journey of exploration and sense-making and empowerment. What I want is a community of empowerment, healing and love. Where women could look at me and we could understand each other without having to speak and speak and speak.
Over the next week, I spend hours upon hours on the internet. I can’t find a support group in the Cape Town area. I send out more than a couple of unanswered emails. Building up courage, I finally phone a clinic. I make the phone call in the middle of the street during my lunch hour. I work in an open plan office, and want to get the call over and done with. I walk to a quiet corner.
“Hi, my name is Michelle Hattingh, I would just like to know, are you running any rape survivor support groups at the moment?” As soon as I say my name I feel like an idiot. Couldn’t I be smart enough to at least pretend to be phoning for a friend?
“No, sorry, we are not. We have found, over the past, that too few people show up and it’s too hard to keep track of people.”
I keep quiet.
“Also, if you want to qualify for group counselling, you have to attend individual counselling sessions first.”
The thought curdled my stomach. I’ve spent millions of hours in one-on-one therapy with psychologists, and it’s the last thing I want to do. I don’t want some tannie who did a counselling course to ask me how I am feeling. I want to talk to women who were raped about how it happened to them. I want to know whether they were able to make sense of it, and how they did it. I want a community.
“Can you refer me to any other rape survivor support groups?”
“No, sorry, I cannot.”
I hang up the phone. People walk past me as I quickly punch the tears off of my face.
What was I supposed to do now, place an ad on Gumtree? “Hey rape survivors, give me a shout? YOLO!”
Julia has this theory that you can find anything on Gumtree so I’m not completely convinced that this wouldn’t have worked…
I don’t want to start my own group. I have such a need for someone to take care of me, and I don’t have the emotional strength to create a healing and loving space for others. And I feel like a failure because I can’t.
More women are raped in South Africa than anywhere else in the world, we all know this. So many women are raped in SA that everyone’s developed an indifferent attitude, turning their eyes away from newspaper headlines, their thoughts away from reported stories and their hearts away from victims. Sorry, survivors.