I don’t really know how to start this, and I have no idea if it is relevant since it did not happen at UCT.
This is all so weird. Only because of the anti-sexual violence action taking place on UCT campus this year have I come to realize that I was sexually assaulted two years ago. When I heard a student speak about her experience of sexual assault at a mass meeting, sudden memories of my own experience came flooding back to me. I have only opened up about it to one other person, a survivor who I had met for the first time. I couldn’t seem to use the word ‘sexual assault’ when talking to her about it. She encouraged me to say the words: ‘I was sexually assaulted’ over and over. I had no idea how hard it would be to say such a line, but it was the first time I consciously recognised it for what it was.
I was in a foreign country while doing a course with a bunch of other students from around the world. I made a lot of friends, one of them being Pagal* who I thought was really funny and handsome. One night, he told me that he really liked me, and I told him that I had a boyfriend (which he already knew). He kept pressing me to find out if I thought he was attractive – I admitted that I did, but that it didn’t change the fact that I had a boyfriend, with whom I was in a committed, long-term relationship. Even though all the students were partying in our little hostel, I decided to go to bed because his advances became too much. I was asleep when he started calling me from outside my window, telling me to come outside. He was insistent, so I got up to see what he wanted and he asked me to sit outside with him.
I should have realised that I was in trouble when he randomly asked me if I had ever been raped before, but I told myself that he was asking out of nothing but curiosity. I responded ‘no’, to which he seemed surprised.
He started calling my boyfriend a ‘woman’, telling me that I needed to feel the touch of a ‘real man’. I tried to defend my relationship, but didn’t quite know how without telling him about my sex life which he had no business knowing. He kept telling me that he knew I wanted him, that he knew I found him attractive, and that I should just ‘give in’. I told him over and over to give up because I had a boyfriend. I now realise that saying ‘no’ alone should have been enough to make him stop. However, no reasoning would sway him. I had to keep swatting his hand away from my leg, but he only became more insistent and forceful. He unexpectedly put his hand in my bra, and when I quickly jolted back, moving his hand away, he put it between my legs, trying to get up my pajama shorts. He was really tall and big, and when he got annoyed by my swatting he held both my wrists together with one hand, while touching my inner thighs with the other. I squirmed and squirmed until he let go of me, telling him to stop. I found myself with one arm across my chest and another between my legs, trying to block his touches. I tried to get up and run to the door of my room, but he got there before me. He refused to let me into my room unless I kissed him. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to cheat on my boyfriend. But I couldn’t bring myself to call for help because he didn’t have a weapon, and I felt responsible for my situation by having told him I found him attractive – I led him on, this was my fault. Everyone had gone to bed by then, I was scared of what might have happened if I didn’t kiss him and was forced to stay outside with him all night. So eventually I let him kiss me, and then demanded to be let into my room. He said that I had to give him another, ‘proper’ kiss. So I kissed him again for a little bit longer. He then let me into my room, but as I tried to close the door behind me he put his arm against the door, and demanded I kiss him again, so I did. As soon as he moved his arm, I slammed the door, immediately locking it. I didn’t sleep that night. I was so grateful that I was leaving for home in the morning, but I was also so overcome with guilt, especially at the thought of being picked up at the airport by my boyfriend. I was convinced that I had cheated on him. I had never cheated before and have always had such strong feelings towards the act of cheating, but now here I was, a cheater. I never told my boyfriend about it (who I dated for another 2 years), as I was afraid he would dump me. Only now have I come to realise that I did not cheat. I kissed Pagal out of fear for my safety, because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t get into my room.
Only after receiving a message from Pagal saying that he was sorry for forcing himself on me was I able to cut myself some slack, but I still did not recognise what he did as sexual assault until that mass meeting, when someone else used the term to refer to their very similar experience. I am only starting to process my feelings regarding this incident…I don’t know when I’ll be comfortable to talk about it again. But I’m really grateful to UCT Survivors for making me realise that what happened was not my fault, I am not a cheater, I am not to blame. Even if someone knows that you find them attractive, that does not give them the right to your body. And even if they claim you ‘led them on’, that does not give them the right to disrespect you or ignore the word ‘no’.
It was a typical weekend night for us: he would work late and I would go out partying and I would come back to sleep at his place. I would be so drunk and we would have sex, because for the last two years of our relationship that was the only way I could bring myself to sleep with him. But I felt that I owed him sex, because he was my boyfriend and he was always so supportive of me and I really didn’t want to let him down. On this particular night I was drunk but still coherent and alert. It was the early hours of the morning and I stumbled into his room so looking forward to just going to bed. But he had other ideas. He asked if we could have sex and I said no, I was so tired and I just wanted to sleep. He asked again – please? No I said, I really just want to sleep, it’s already 4am. Please? He tried again. Ok fine I said and I lay there as he rolled on top of me. It was in that moment that I felt like I had just given up. Like I had no control. Like I was trapped. Like a part of me had just resigned myself to the fact that this was how it was going to be. And I lay there while he humped on top of me. I turned my head to the side so that I did not have to look at his face. I might have fallen asleep or might just have tried so hard not to be in my body at that moment, but I remember drifting in and out of reality.
That was the last time we ‘slept’ together and I broke up with him about a month later.
I buried that experience deeply. I didn’t talk about it; I didn’t think about it. Until recently, when a series of events this year meant that I could no longer ignore what my body was so desperate to be freed from. And when I did start thinking about it, all I could feel was a deep sense of shame and guilt: that I should have been stronger, that I should have said no more forcefully, that I should never have given in at the end. But now, through therapy, I have realised that those feelings are not true because it was HIM that was in the wrong. HE shouldn’t have been trying to have sex with someone who was drunk in the first place. HE should have taken my NO’s seriously. HE should have realised that when someone says ‘OK FINE’ that that is NOT CONSENT, that is being forced through coercion. HE should have looked at my body language and realised that the last thing I wanted was him inside of me. IT WAS HIS FAULT.
I’m still working through this experience and others and healing comes in waves. But one thing I do know now is that IT WAS NOT MY FAULT. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH ME and I AM NOT BROKEN. I am now on a journey to reclaim my body and my sexuality.
And I just want you to know that it is not your fault either.
I’m going to provide my story, to highlight how triggering any form of harassment can be to somebody who wears scars of abuse daily.
I had to somehow manage to come to campus for lectures & tuts at the end of that year and write my exams without transport on odd days and while still encountering my (1st) sexual assaulter occasionally.
I could never get extra time, it’s for people who really need it I was told. Same for my final year, with extra workload from the previous year and battling with what I thought was PTSD! Then I got a diagnosis and that didn’t help. I never complained of the issues with the DU as the decision-making seemed so arbitrary, and one doesn’t want to be further discriminated against by Ms Popplestone when one will depend heavily on access to finish a course.
A well-meaning lecturer was comparing me with another student with cancer, saying if she can manage why can’t I.
At departmental level I did not get deferred exams.
It began in MAM1001W in 2012, rumoured to be the most difficult first year maths course in the country. Most of the year I was simultaneously trying to concentrate on what the teacher was saying and win the affection of this boy I liked, Mark*. We were chatting quietly, when a good-looking white boy told us to be quiet. A reasonable request – we were talking while the lesson went on in front of us.
A few weeks later, this boy added me on Facebook, “Nick.” No mutual friends, but I recognised him from maths class, so I accepted. I was flattered, but there was an unsettled feeling in my gut. How had he found out what my name was?
At first his messages were friendly, if not slightly weird. “I sense weird tensions between us,” he said. I was curious, and I wanted affirmation of my attractiveness. Regardless, I replied in a neutral way. I sensed he would take this bait and continue messaging me – this “sense” arose from the persistence I was used to in dealing with men who have wanted to be with me, or get into my pants.
Nick and I had spoken a total of four times in real life and online by the end of the year. They were short, surface conversations, with nothing unusual about them. But during the December vac his messages transformed into something else. “I’m basically in love with you”, he said. I replied, perplexed, “… you don’t even know me.”
From then on it was ugly. He spoke as if we had a relationship, not a vague acquaintance. His messages dissolved into threats. He told my then-boyfriend, Mark from MAM, that I didn’t truly like him. That Mark should cut his hair, wear contacts and stop wearing skinny jeans. That I actually like Nick, not Mark, and Mark should be more like Nick if he wants me to like him. In his messages, Nick mentioned something that only Mark and I had spoken about. He had been listening to our conversations in maths. Mark replied telling him, essentially, to leave him alone. Then Nick threatened to break Mark’s legs. Mark stopped replying.
After that, Nick became more incoherent, and more threatening. He said I shouldn’t be scared of him, that he could be my drug connection, that I’m a mean lesbian. That Mark and I “should start fucking each other (SEX :)SEX :)SEX :)SEX :))…please say you’re not a virgin….start pomping!!!!”
Then he started with the death threats. “Give enough time and i could resort to murder…. just like oscar…shoot you on campus and say you were violating me J” His last message to me on Facebook was in February 2013. It reads “DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE you insect of a woman”.
By this time I had changed faculties, and hoped I wouldn’t see him again. But all of it made me feel sickly fascinated. Like I was watching a reconstruction of someone else’s life on the Crime Channel. I didn’t even think to report it to the police or to DISCHO. Would they care about this online harassment? It seemed like too much administration, with too little reward. Getting a restraining order would require lawyers, costs, time. His words disturbed me, but I felt removed from them; dream-like. I blocked him and the multiple profiles he created to invite me on Facebook, and I thought this was enough.
It was an unremarkable day in November 2015 when I received an email in my private inbox – the subject line: “A secret admirer (who loves you)”. I was hit by a cold wave of shock, fear. How had he got my email address? He said he hoped I was “still single”. How did he know that Mark and I had broken up about a year ago?
After his email my family sprang into action. They met with Nick’s family, who already knew who I was because he had mentioned looking at my social media, talked about something I had said on Twitter. They revealed that Nick had a mental disorder. They spoke to Nick, and Nick gave his word to never contact me again, barring an apology letter.
His apology letter, which he titled “Big Nick’s Apology”, was filled with the delusional narratives he played out in his head. He wrote that it was a joke. That he did it because he was feeling hurt and “rejected”. He gave his word he wouldn’t contact me again.
But he did.
*Names have been changed
Today I realised that my cousin raped me. I’ve been thinking about that night for so long and I’ve been doubting myself, because I can’t remember everything due to all the weed. But I realise now that the absence of one specific memory is actually proof — I can’t remember consenting.
My cousin already has a rape accusation against him. I’m feeling more sure of my realisation, the longer I think about it.
Furthermore, under South African law, no one can consent to sex while intoxicated. So really there are only two important facts here: I was stoned. And nonconsensual sexual intercourse took place. My cousin raped me.
What saddens me, is that I realised it today at a mass meeting against sexual violence and rape culture at my university, and my immediate reaction after realising it, was to keep it to myself and talk to someone first to “make sure”. We’ve been indoctrinated to doubt ourselves. We’ve been brain-washed to doubt our own experiences, emotions and thoughts. But I got up and spoke about it. Because I will not be an accomplice in the silencing and distrust of womxn.
The more I think about that night, the clearer it becomes. I was so uncomfortable the entire time. Anxious. The paranoia from the weed was hitting me really hard. I felt physically sick. I felt like crawling up into a ball and just crying. I felt unsafe. I felt violated.
Afterwards, every time I saw him, I was retraumatised. Everything about him disgusts me. I hate him. I hate when he looks at me. I hate when he tries to talk to me. I hate him coming into my house to help my mom with something. I hate having him near me. I hate hearing his name.
And I wonder why I only realise this now, months later. I am a survivor of rape. I am survivor who has been doubting herself and rationalising what happened for far too long. I’m done with this shit.