I was 18 years old the first time I had to deal with rape. I lived in a complex and my next door neighbour was my best friend, like an older sister really. One night her boyfriend was dropping her off at the front gate, they lingered over their good bye – which was just enough time for 3 men to hijack them and take them to the local township. They gang raped my friend and forced her boyfriend to listen to it at gunpoint.
I cried for weeks at the loss of my friend. She disappeared into herself for a long time and I couldn’t reach her. Seven years down the line and we are like sisters again. But we never talk about it.
I was 18 years old the second time I had to deal with rape. A group of us from my school all went to the same university. It was our first year and we were hitting life with a big stick. Our university has an intervarsity sports tournament annually – it was a huge party and campus was just one big jam. I can remember the exact moment I heard that my friend had been gang raped. I was in one of the dance clubs and a school friend came up to me and said “I can’t believe it, * has been raped.”. I just stood there for a while, people pushed past me and elbowed me and gave me rude stares for not getting out of the way. I left the club and walked home in a daze. I had the longest shower I can remember ever taking, and then lay on the floor in my towel and sobbed. My friends found me hours later in the same position. Two women that I had grown up with and loved and laughed with had been violated in ways that I could not imagine. I cried because it was unfair and our innocence was being ripped from us.
I watched my friend destroy herself because she was raped. She lost all sense of self preservation and actively put herself into dangerous situations because she felt as though she had lost everything already. She wanted to die and didn’t care about the people in her life that wanted her to live more than anything in this world. The police system failed her and let her rapists go free because of one mistake in a document.
Another friend was raped in her resident’s room at university, the rapist then walked the corridors of our res trying all the doors to see if they were unlocked. I slept in fear for weeks and weeks because I was meant to be safe in my home. He was given kitchen duty and she left the university because she was breaking inside.
My other friend left the country because she could no longer take all the stares and comments from our community. To this day she is referred to as the girl who was raped. As if this is now the defining element of her life. People start sentences with “Oh shame, yes, how is the poor dear?” and I just want to hit them in the face because she is wonderful and sparkly and fun and generous and anything but a rape victim any more. Their language drove her out.
I have recently moved to another country and most of my friends now are North Americans. We all love how safe it is here…we can walk home at 2am, drunk and laughing hysterically, in a group or alone and nothing will happen. You will get to your door and get into your bed and wake up feeling less than ideal, but you are safe. I mentioned how back home in SA you just can’t do this, not if you have any sense of self preservation. They said it was the same where they were from, but that nothing had ever happened to them or their friends. I wished I could say the same. They don’t know what it feels like to watch someone have to rebuild their lives because something so precious was taken away from them.
My friends and our parents became afraid of telephone calls that started with crying because for a while it meant that someone had been raped. I called my mother in distress once and the first thing she asked me was if I had been raped. She lives in constant fear of this.
Every year since that first time someone in my life has been raped. Each time I become more afraid and less trusting of men. Each time I cry less because I am less soft. I am angry and that makes me hard. I am blood boiling angry that people I love have been injured on every level of their beings. I feel helpless and that makes me even angrier.
We live in a constant state of fear in South Africa and it is not normal. It makes us angry and suspicious. It makes us hard and scared. It is abnormal and it must change.