After the Worst has Happened

It is the end of my Honours year. I am at a party to celebrate. I am shivering, despite the warm evening as I stand with a group of my classmates on the patio. We are anxiously waiting to hear if the two girls who left the party to go for a walk and did not return, have been found. Someone comes running towards us out of the darkness. He takes a breath, “the worst has happened”, a pause… “they have been raped”.

I have thought of those words many times in the last five years. I have been recalled to them again in the past few weeks as another spate of highly publicised rapes (and murders) infiltrate my consciousness:

RAPE IS THE WORST THING THAT CAN HAPPEN TO A WOMXN

I hear this message echoed in the words of Judge Kgomo as he hands down sentencing to serial rapist Christian Cornelius Julies in the North West. “It is unquestionable that if he was not stopped in his tracks, belatedly though, the devastation of girls and women’s lives would have continued”.

I hear it in the numerous posts on Facebook that recur on my news feed which proclaim that “my biggest fear is being raped”.

I am torn as I write this because it was my biggest fear -so much so that at the moment that I was being dragged into the bushes I thought to myself “oh god this – the worst thing – is finally happening to me”.  But what does it mean for me now? What can I do now that the worst has happened to me?

According to this narrative my life has been devastated, I have been violated in the most extreme way imaginable, I am worse than dead. I have struggled under the weight of this for 18 months now. I have tried to reconstitute myself amidst the constant echo that this is not actually possible – that I will never be whole and unbroken ever again.

I am not denying that being raped is terrifying and terrible. How could I deny this? It was terrifying and terrible – so terrifying and terrible that I left my body for a while and just hovered above myself, trying not to look down on what was happening.

BUT I am concerned about how the dominant narratives about sexual violence, including the one that being raped is the worst thing, impact on the ability to move beyond the terrifying and terribleness of rape.  How is it possible to heal when disclosing an experience of trauma is met with “Oh my goodness! That is my worst fear!”? How are those who have been violated supposed to heal when they are constantly reminded that they have been dehumanised in the most severe way?

I am not suggesting that we should not continue to call out the horror that is sexual violence. All instances of sexual violence are unacceptable and need to be plainly rendered as such.

But I am asking that we think more carefully about how we do this so that we do not reinscribe pain and horror on the bodies, psyches and souls of those around us.

Rebecca Helman 

Rebecca Helman is a PhD candidate at the University of South Africa (UNISA). Her PhD, entitled “post-rape subjectivities”, examines the ways in which rape survivors are able to (re)constitute their subjectivities amidst the discursive and material politics of sexual violence in the South African context. Rebecca is also a volunteer counsellor at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust’s Observatory office. 

 

 

Rape does not start in the bedroom

She wants to run but has nowhere to go. She wants to scream but has no voice. She wants to cry but has no tears. She is alone. Walls. Walls. That’s all she has. Four walls surrounding her, covered in cracks and mould. No picture frames. No light. Just walls. She lies curled up on a worn-out mattress and clutches her knees to her chest. The mattress smells like him. Her stomach churns and she chooses to lie on her back. She hates his scent. She tries not to focus on the smell and instead focuses on listening. There is a faint rustling of leaves outside and the occasional humming of birds but aside from that, there is silence.

But silence on the outside does not escape her from the agonising noises inside her head. Her inner screams, cries for help, voices of desperate longing and praying that he won’t come back. Her thoughts about him come in like a cancerous invasion. Every time she tries to take control of her mind and think of something different, those thoughts come back stronger and multiply. They haunt her. They never leave her alone.

The door suddenly latches open and makes her jump. She quickly turns around and prepares herself for what she already knows is going to happen. Her nose is hit by a strong stench of beer. She remains completely silent. She does not scream. She does not cry out for help. The only sound she can hear are those agonizing screams inside her head. Those agonising screams which become louder and louder as he drops his beer to the floor and pulls down his zip. He’s back.

Raping someone is not a spontaneous act, but a preconceived plan. Rape is not caused by alcoholism or drug intoxication or being part of a gang; it is caused by a person feeding their mind with inappropriate sexual thoughts. Rape is not just sex, it is violence. Violation. Power. Dominance. Control. Hatred. It does not start in the bedroom, it starts in a person’s mind. It is not a sudden moment of irrational thinking, it is a well-thought out decision. A person who chooses to rape has fantasized about rape long before they choose to do it. No, you cannot blame a woman because she is wearing provocative clothing. No, you cannot blame a little girl for taking a different route to get home late at night. No, you cannot blame a male victim for being in a prison cell full of other sex-hungry men. No, you cannot blame a homosexual person for choosing to love a person of the same sex as them. No, you cannot blame her because she is a prostitute. No, you cannot blame a wife for disobeying her husband. No you cannot get away with rape because you have good manners. No you cannot get away with rape because you’re a doctor, or a priest, or a family man. There is no situation in this world which makes rape okay, no person in this world who “deserves what he/she got”, no rapist in this world who deserves to get away with what they’ve done.

So what is the solution? How do we stop this sexual violence from happening? How do we create a society which will not tolerate rape under any circumstances? Maybe we could create awareness.  Maybe we could stop drug trafficking. Maybe we could prohibit alcohol. Maybe we could create safety procedures and protection services for those who are at risk of being raped. Maybe we could imprison rapists. These are all effective ways of reducing the instances of rape, but there is only one thing which can prevent rape.

The tongue.

The tongue is a very powerful tool. We can all control what we say, how we say it, who we say it to. Rape does not start in the bedroom. It starts with language. How are we talking about women? Are we sexualising their bodies or treating them with respect? Are we condoning sexual violence or condemning it? Are we discussing rape as a sign of strength and “machismo” or a sign of weakness? Are you talking to women as though they’re you’re equals or your inferiors? Are we saying that rape is justified if a person has a different sexual preference to us?

“She is my wife and she disobeyed me, she needs discipline man! I can’t just allow a person to get away with not listening to me, especially if she is a woman!”

“That chick deserved what she got. What was she thinking walking down an alleyway by herself? And she was basically wearing underwear!”

“Why do these women gott’ complain man? These days they always want to be stronger and better than a man. But they will never be better. The man is always above the woman under my roof.”

The tongue.

Let’s challenge rape culture by controlling our language about rape, sexual assault, harassment, violence, women and children. Let’s create a community where any human being can walk home and feel safe no matter what time they’re going home. Let’s create a community where rape is not tolerated. And let’s certainly create a community where rapists are not tolerated either. Let’s build a culture of consent by remembering where rape starts.

 

Lauren Pechey                                                          

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Lauren is currently studying Psychology at the University of Cape Town which has allowed her to put her heart and soul into understanding people, rape culture, gendered violence and women studies. She believes that every experience of womanhood is unique and intricately linked to one’s background, religion, race, culture, sexual orientation, disability, age and so on. She hopes to continue to speak out against gendered oppression and to one day provide adequate support to to people from all walks of life who have been victims of it