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Fri Dec 19 16:19:58 SAST 2014

Don't blame the rape survivors

Pearl Boshomane | 19 November, 2012 00:03
At a Slut Walk in Johannesburg last year, protestors spoke out about rape, and drew attention to women who blamed themselves and to the fact that women are blamed for rape, challenging stereotypes surrounding sexual violations Picture: BONGIWE GUMEDE/GALLO IMAGES

When my colleague, Refilwe Boikanyo, wrote a letter to her 16-year-old self ("A story for me", August 8), she bravely revealed she is a rape survivor.

During dinner with my girlfriends a few nights later, we spoke about Boikanyo's courage and expressed our mutual outrage at not only the prevalence of rape, but also the shame survivors carry.

That evening, we realised that we all knew someone who had been sexually violated in some form or other. It also turned out that some of us were survivors.

The 2011-12 crime statistics contained 64514 reported sexual offences. But some experts question that figure and contend it reflects only a fifth of all incidences as most rapes remain unreported.

One of the reasons for this phenomenon is the shame associated with sexual assault. Women blame themselves for it, thinking they could have somehow prevented the assault from occurring.

Often, a finger is pointed at the survivor: What were you wearing? Had you been drinking? Did you enjoy it?

One message is transmitted in all of that: it's the survivor's fault, the blame lies at her feet.

How can you speak out if you're living in fear of further victimisation? Why do we continue to keep quiet even if, as the BBC has reported, a South African woman is more likely to be raped than to learn how to read?

To quote Boikanyo: "If you don't speak out, we'll continue to live in a society that warns girls against rape instead of teaching boys that it is wrong."

THREE WOMEN TELL THEIR STORIES

THUSO*, 24

"I was 12 years old when I was raped. For a long time after that, I wasn't sure if the rape had really happened or if it was all in my head. I didn't want it to be real. I wanted it to be wrong.

He was a family member, but one with whom I wasn't very familiar. I had been visiting an aunt and slept in the guest bedroom. I was woken by someone massaging me. It felt good. I didn't say anything to him. When he raped me, I didn't make a sound. I never told anyone, not even my mother. I felt guilty.

I felt guilty because the massage felt good. I felt guilty because I hadn't screamed, I didn't say "no". It was only when I was 19 that I told my mother. No one else in my family knows, not even my father. I don't want him to ever find out what happened to his little girl all those years ago."

CHLOE*, 28

"I didn't talk to anyone about it until I was 13. I had hoped I would forget. I was six when it happened.

I had the flu, and was home with the domestic worker. She didn't hear when he came into my room. I was in my Mickey Mouse and Goofy nightdress. I didn't understand what was going on, but I knew that it hurt and was wrong. This was a man I once trusted. He used my sister's school tie to blindfold me. He told me if I screamed I'd be in trouble. He said it was my fault. I didn't know what I did was wrong. I blamed myself. For what, I don't know. It made me feel dirty. It hurt for days. It still hurts now, but in a different way. It makes me angry, makes my heart heavy. But it also makes me want to fight for everyone who experiences that anger and hurt, and to stand up for them, give them a voice. I know now that I needed it then."

MAXINE*, 21

"I was 15 when my dad tried to have sex with me. He had come home from a night out and he was drunk. I was watching TV when he came in to the lounge wearing only boxers. My mother was asleep in their bedroom. He sat on the couch and called me to come sit on top of him. I sat on his knee and he cuddled me. I felt something touching me, something I've never felt before. I stood up and looked to see what it was, and saw it was his penis. I ran to my room and pretended it never happened."

* Not their real names

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