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.