Harassment triggers memories of previous trauma

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 was sexually abused as a child, by a family member. The trauma of this will stay with me forever, and it seems has formed a pattern in my life. My childhood was tarnished through this experience, and has obliterated any sense of trust – and also formed the belief in my head that I deserve abuse, and that it is somehow always my fault.
Later on down the line, I experienced abuse that no human – male, female, trans, neutral and every other identity on the gender spectrum – should ever experience. I was only 18 when I got sucked into a relationship with a man 26 years my senior, who has been in prison longer than I had been alive. He was a professional criminal. Despite knowing his history, and being well aware that I was putting myself in grave danger, I felt that that was all I deserved. The abuse began with slaps to the face, and progressed to him raping me almost daily. People say that it can’t really be rape if it is your partner, but when I am crying and saying, “Please, no,” that is rape. There is sex, and there is rape. My fear led to an engagement, and almost a pregnancy.
Fast forward to UCT. I arrive as an outsider; I moved to Cape Town from London, knew nobody, and wanted a fresh start away from the horrors of my past. First semester, first tut. My tutor seemed friendly, funny, and generally a ‘cool’ person to help with my studies. People joked about him flirting with me, and it was innocent at first. Then, suddenly, things escalated to him emailing me in the early hours of the morning, drunk. My past came flooding back to me, and so did the thought pattern that it was my fault, I couldn’t speak out, and that I deserved it. The inappropriate behaviour continued throughout the semester, as did my silence.
Compared to rape and sexual abuse, this may seem minor. But that is false. I turned straight back into the 5 year old girl, terrified, confused, intimidated and self-loathing. The harassment I encountered was exactly that: harassment.
I will no longer suffer in silence. I will no longer blame myself. I will no longer accept this pattern of abuse as ‘normal’.
I have since reported the incident to a superior member of staff, and have never felt more empowered.
Abuse is abuse, and nobody should have to feel too intimidated to stay silent.

Disability and Sexual Assault

After an accident on UCT premises for which the department was responsible, I found out about the DU (Disability Unit) who informed me of my rights. Surgery and some physio at UCT was covered, which was a basic requirement for any accident on campus. Later I failed to sue UCT and paid for bio-kinetics myself. It’s a lifelong issue, now over a decade (impacted 2 more joints) and my foreign medical aid had bailed.
I got invisible disabilities and returned after a couple of years. The DU could not help in any way, I had depression and 2 other illnesses besides physical disability. To be at UCT, I had to rent accommodation very close to campus (more expensive) as my chronic illness made Res inaccessible. I also had to pay a doctor’s visit monthly while my chronic illness was a lifelong issue. I don’t know if that’s a departmental (Humanities) issue, medical aid did cover some. Has it changed that one needs to prove a gynecological chronic illness every month?

Later I got sexually assaulted on campus by an employee, I was one of 2 or 3 sexually assaulted students by that man according to a Varsity writer. I had to encounter him several times a week. Reinette Popplestone could not understand why I was asking her for advice/ access assistance. I was targeted because of my disability, I was coming down steps with difficulty and he sexually assaulted me. Friends could not always wait for my last lecture to accompany me. She referred me to DISCHO without telling me DISCHO was window-dressing. Instead of resolving the issue, they caused the man to verbally assault me further on campus because I had complained. DISCHO still had the nerve to be more window-dressing after that, ignoring the question ‘Isn’t that proof of his guilt if they didn’t tell him my name/description allegedly and he yelled at me in a crowd insulting me because I had complained against him?’
DISCHO didn’t look for witnesses. Later SAPS couldn’t find any. The VC’s office took 4 months to reply, which was 7 months after my initial complaint. The DU allowed me to use disabled transport then. Some months later I was sexually harassed by one driver who has one’s number for the job. Ms. Popplestone said it was because of the way I dressed!! I asked “How could you say that!?” surprised that she, too, supports rape culture. She said it’s what she’s been told. I can’t believe I actually had to describe what I wore. [I can’t wear jeans bc of knee injury, I didn’t wear dresses/skirts either. Let’s not go there, just both incidents were in winter, was my jacket too puffy? I got it on sale so it was actually a size too big.] and I was sent to the DISCHO again!!

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.

In my 3rd year I got disabled parking. I’d been for counselling at Rape Crisis, and at Triangle mostly. They stepped up for UCT’s failures. I still had PTSD.
When discussing options with Ms Popplestone, she said there doesn’t seem to be any solutions and asked me “why don’t I leave UCT?”. She confessed to me that she had been against my getting a parking disk(!!) but there’d been other co-managers then. I was always more than civil with her and didn’t put on social media or blogs that UCT, DISCHO  and the DU are pro-rape. There should have been a way to deal with that without having to explain to her that my country had only one uni which was hard to get in to and without the same courses; my one course was also unavailable in SA. I was asking for access and paying UCT for a degree!

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.

Online Harassment at UCT

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

Raped by a family member

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.

Sexual violence in Queer relationships

I’m a black queer student. Coming from a country where being queer is illegal, when I applied to universities, I thought that that the progressive UCT in South Africa would be the best choice, a fresh and enjoyable change. In many ways not being criminalized because of your sexuality was an emancipatory experience, but the joy of not having the law and police persecute you was short lived.

I had, in all the excitement of being in a new country, where there were openly queer relationships, ended up in a relationship, which I did not particularly want to be in, with an older gay white man. Early on in the relationship things were okay, but there was a clear shift to what I can now say very explicitly was a not okay period, which signifies a failure in UCT student affairs systems, particularly DISCHO and also my sexual education at the time or lack thereof.

It was three quarters into the semester that the line of consent was crossed, I was being assaulted, this is only clear to me in retrospect, and difficult thing to write. The relationship was going wrong, and my boyfriend was very possessive, at times stopping me from seeing my sister who was also studying at UCT, by not allowing me to leave his place. It was at around this time, that the emotional breakdown of the relationship meant that I no longer wanted to have sex, with this person whom I had previously been having sex with.

I had however not been taught by DISCHO that sexual assault could happen whilst in a relationship, that rape could happen with your partner. Nobody had ever told me that a “no” with a stranger carried the same weight as a “no” in a relationship. I lacked the sexuality, sexual and relationship education to empower me to get out of a situation that was clearly wrong. This culminated in a drawn out break down. Only finally when I broke of the relationship, during the early part of the second semester, did the situation escalate enough for me to understand what was happening.

After going to the person’s house to end things, he responded “Fine, but then let’s do it one last time, for me.” I didn’t use a question mark, because it wasn’t a question, and I don’t want to go into all the details. It was only then, where I realized what was occurring, the thoughts in my head at the time, while I lay there, were only this “possibly could be rape”.

I mean in my warped understanding I had been in a relationship with this person for six months. I had already at one point amicably slept with him, despite that being a long time ago. I also felt partly that he was entitled to sex.

Rape, in the little education I had from any institution was always gendered in the binary, so between men and women. I had the misconception that it was carried out by violent serial rapists in dark places. It was only a year later, in a law lecture where we discussed marital rape, where I clearly remember feeling overwhelmed and having to leave to go home. In that lecture, after two years of being at UCT, the idea that a relationship does not give consent to any sexual acts became clear to me.

I am writing this because it is clear to me now that forced sex even in a relationship is rape. Rape is and can be enacted on a gender non-conforming femmenine bodies, in queer relationships. My situation could have been remedied and reported if I had the knowledge I needed at the time.

Finding out a year later, and understanding what happened to me was a conflicting experience because I could put a label to the issue and the problem arising from it that affected me and I started working on fixing them , getting help and re-building my relationship with sex.

I hope that in writing this, that someone might know the things that I wish I knew when I got into that relationship, the things that I needed to know about sex and when it was sex anymore, but was actually sexual assault and rape.

Statement for #RapeAtUCT

Over the weekend, as the arrest of the suspected serial rapist dominated the news, we as UCT Survivors ask ‘What about all the perpetrators of sexual violence in their class rooms and residences that UCT has not offered a reward for?’ If the management of this institution are serious about tackling sexual violence on this campus, they need to be open about the perpetrators that are part of the UCT community. They need to be open about how their structures have failed survivors in the past. Last year, a review of the Discrimination and Harassment Office (DISCHO) was commissioned and UCT management has yet to make it public for comment from the whole UCT community. It details some of the failures of these structures and details management’s negligence towards these structures as well as the questionable qualifications of those appointed to head up the disciplinary procedures that are part of these structures. We as a collective are calling for the immediate release of this document.

Council, one of UCT’s decision making structures, is meeting to talk about the document this week and we are calling for this meeting to be open to all members of the UCT community. We are calling for this meeting, which will discuss matters that impact our safety and well-being, to not happen at a secret venue cordoned off by private security. This meeting will happen on Saturday, the 19th of March. Security is conspicuously thin on the weekends leaving students vulnerable to attack, yet there will considerable security protecting 28 council members from the mere possibility of student protest.

Last month, the statement informing the UCT community about the establishment of the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) was literally a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ bullet point among issues such as housing and financial aid appeals. It gave no time frame for when this body will be up and running. It gave no indicator of how this body will report back to the UCT community. Included in this body are CPS, who at Patriarchy Must fall meetings last year students complained that some members had catcalled and harassed them. Also included are Student Wellness, a body which some students complain is difficult to get a timely appointment and some survivors have been dissatisfied with the service that they received there. These issues were brought up in the review process.

Also in this body, is a SAPS representative. The South African Police Service is an institution that survivors are reluctant to report to, for fear of victim-blaming, secondary trauma and not being believed. The person heading up this body, Sinegugu Duma, has written work that contains undertones of victim-blaming and placing the burden of responsibility on women in particular to not get raped. We welcome the inclusion of the Rape Crisis Centre into this body – an organisation that has served the needs of survivors for many years. But going from the lack of transparency and failures of previous structures, how do we expect survivors to trust the structures? We as a collective support the establishment of a body that is supposed to provide compassionate and survivor-centred care but we call for this body to be held accountable and we will be unflinching in our quest to ensure that it lives up to its mandate.

The statements that UCT sends out every time someone is sexually assaulted always carry the same message to female students in particular, ‘make sure it isn’t you’ next time – pushing students to change their behaviour to avoid rape is the same as saying ‘make sure the rapist targets someone else’. It creates a culture of victim-blaming.

There’s been no promise to comprehensively tackle the sexism and rape culture on campus that creates stigma for a survivor of sexual violence and discourage survivors from reporting. There has been no promise of campus wide sensitisation and education for staff members, workers and students about gender-based violence. The assumption (and UCT’s preferred narrative about sexual violence) is that all the perpetrators are people from outside UCT community which isn’t true for a lot of cases we’ve been told about.

It is an accepted truth within the research literature about sexual violence that majority of rapists and perpetrators of sexual violence are known to the victim or survivor – that would include, acquaintances, friends, class mates, staff members that teach them. But these are not the perpetrators that UCT will send out emails and warnings about – repeat offendors of sexual harassment and other forms of threatening behaviours that are known to the university structures but remain on campus are not who they will write to you about.   UCT has not made a clear commitment that perpetrators that are registered to study here and that have been appointed to work here will be expelled or even suspended pending an investigation (a measure they instituted once again for protesting students).

Even if these people are not the perpetrators, these are the people survivors are expected to approach post-trauma. These are the tutors, lecturers and residence mates that survivors need to interact with and get help from. UCT management and its structures need to make a commitment dismantling the everyday sexism and misogyny that not only fuels sexual violence but creates an environment of tolerance and silence about it. We as UCT Survivors are committed to dismantling the PR double speak that allows this institution to insist that it is doing enough when it comes to issues of gender justice because to be quite frank they’re not.

 

*Sexual violence = sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape

Intimate Partner Violence at UCT

When it happened I remember hoping that at any moment security would hear me screaming and make it stop. I didn’t care that they’d see me naked. Or that id have to explain that was my boyfriend. Or what I was doing there in the first place. They never came to save me. For a long time afterwards I didn’t know what to do. I tried to talk to him about it but he dismissed it saying that’s what I liked. He didn’t think I could read into that power exchange and the reason why my body became a site of violence. It took a suicide attempt, hospitalization and a semester off school to come back. I went to DISHCO and asked what my options are. We do the same thing on the same campus and I didn’t want to see him again. At best they offered me a talk with him. One I’d never be able to tell anyone about. What about him being expelled? Him staying as far away from me as possible? I was supposed to be graduating that year. I didn’t, he did. He’s doing his masters now and I have to see him everyday. I have to relive being violated everyday. My psychiatrist says I’m going to live with that forever. UCT has played no part in making any of it easier. On the same campus a serial rapist was given community service, what of me if that’s the way they deal with it? They asked me to take time off. When I came back they became insistent I take more time off. I don’t think it was to help me, more that as a victim of rape I was the liability. Not him.