Sexual assault by a ‘friend’

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’.

 

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.

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

Sexual abuse in the curriculum

Last year I was a student in the third year contemporary literature course in which the novel Lolita was taught. At the intro to the lecture series, the lecturer (who I don’t feel comfortable naming as I believe this is a departmental issue and not a personal attack), unfortunately failed in warning the class of the evocative material in which the novel Lolita contains. 

 

The novel was taught as some sort of “art form” – the questioning of the pornographic material, alongside the “beauty” in which Lolita was written was constantly being suggested in the lecture series. As we continued to read and analyse the pedophilloic descriptions which were in the novel the course seemed to defend the narrative of a skewed perception of what was clearly a rape story. Not once was there an understanding or interrogation of the story of something that was “rape” and thus needs to constantly be questioned. If there was, I personally don’t believe it was interrogated enough. Lolita is seen as a “classic” and I think that instead of praising the white masculine authors such material needs to be studied from the narrative of the female voice, why does the English Department continue to praise the conservative, white masculine narrative….surely the story of a pedophile should be questioned rather than valued ? The fact that this course was taught by a man only perpetuates the support of such a culture – As a survivor of a situation very similar to that of Lolita, reading this novel and more importantly learning it as a “high art form”, was extremely traumatic for me and I’m sure various other survivors in the class. I felt continuously silenced and ashamed of my own story because for some reason it seemed to be a topic of adoration and splendor – an intriguing and admirable novel, rather than a devastating rape story. 

 

I’m not saying we have to stop studying this material – I just believe that the approach to it needs to change, the story of a powerless young girl manipulated and molested by her step father isn’t a form of art, but a true story in which her life will never be the same. The English department should challenge the ‘classic’ novel – give the students and opportunity to voice against the dominant masculine narratives. 

I was stalked for two years at UCT

Five years ago I returned to my alma Mater, UCT, to take up a position as a lecturer. It had been four years since I had been on campus. One day, during the first few weeks of my position, I saw him. The young man who had harassed and stalked me during my undergraduate days was swaggering across Jammie Plaza all these years later.  The panic and fear that once held a grip on 19-year-old me came rushing back. I was frozen in terror. I don’t know what he was doing on campus or what his connection to UCT is these days but I am stunned that this man continues to prowl the corridors of the institution after all the trauma he put me and several other young women through. In the intervening years I had earned a PhD and a permanent post on campus, but I realised in that moment that no matter what I achieved or how hard I worked I would never gain the freedom to feel safe and protected on campus.

Back in 2003 I was sitting on campus and reading when I noticed a man staring intently at me about a table away from me. I felt uncomfortable and left Leslie social science. As I walked down to my Res, I noticed someone following closely behind me. It was him. It might sound like I was being overly paranoid but there was something very intent and disturbing about the way he was following me and staring at me. I was scared and I wanted nothing to do with this man.  Afraid that he would follow me far enough to discover that I lived in a res on campus, I tried to get lost amidst passing groups of people. Then I hung back near the law campus hoping that he would carry on walking and leave me alone.

Instead he walked back to me and asked me why I was sitting there and asked what I was afraid of. I told him I was fine and asked him politely to leave me be. At this he got angry and told me that I don’t need to be afraid. I just told him ‘I’m fine’ but that I don’t want to talk to him. Then to avoid spending any more time in the conversation, I carried on walking. This was the beginning of two years of stalking…

I got down to lower campus and noted that he was still walking two to three metres behind me. I felt it was unsafe to go to my res so I walked to campus protection and told them what was going on. When I described the guy the CPS officers immediately recognised who I was talking about and seemed upset. From talking informally to them I learned that this person was a repeat offender on campus, and more disturbingly, had extended his stalking of a particular young woman to an assault in which he reached up her skirt and touched her genital area.  CPS told me, however, that they could do little to stop this person because each case has to be treated separately and has to go through the discrimination and harassment office rather than being handled by CPS like robberies etc. They brought him in to the CPS building to ask him to stop bothering me. At this point he threw an enormous tantrum, screaming and wailing the office. I realised then that he was potentially quite a dangerous person. The CPS officer on duty seemed exasperated. He was powerless to do anything about someone he’d seen harassing and violating women on campus repeatedly. I am very thankful for the support and kindness I received from CPS. If only they had any authority to handle these cases I might have had a better experience at UCT.

This incident was the first in long campaign of harassment by this individual. He approached me in the hallways of the university, in the library, on the shuttle and several times followed me home. I routinely started walking around my res in case he saw me enter and found a way into the building. Every hallway on campus became a site of fear. I particularly hated going to classrooms in basement areas. I was afraid of certain rooms in the library ( the thesis collections in the basement, the photocopy area). With every encounter he became more aggressive. He spoke to me in a way that assumed a relationship that simply wasn’t there. “Why are you being like this to me” he would say. “Why won’t you talk to me”. Then he would start shouting loudly “You are so rude!” “ Why are you treating me like this”  I felt like I was having a fight with a boyfriend except I didn’t know this guy at all and had no desire to be anywhere near him. I could do nothing more than simply repeat that I wanted to be left alone before running away as fast as I could. I don’t know how I could have been any clearer. This lasted for about two years off and on. It happened every now and then, not constantly but the fear was there all the time.

Shortly after the first incident I went to the discrimination and harassment office where I was advised against taking him to the UCT court. I was told he was another student – I think a postgrad student but I don’t really know. They told me that I didn’t have much of a case because his behaviour was too close to ‘normal male behaviour’ and they can only deal with each incident separately – i.e. we weren’t allowed to tell the UCT court that he had groped other women and shown a consistent pattern of harassment.

Instead I was advised to apply for a restraining order from the police. Disco helped me fill it in. Then a few months and several incidents later I got a phonecall from Disco asking why I wasn’t at the magistrate’s court. My stalker had contested the restraining order and was sitting there with a lawyer. Nobody had told me to be there. Scruffily dressed and panicked my mother and I scrambled to the courtroom. I had to sit in a small room with him while his lawyer made his case. I was terrified and hated being seated next to him. I had to listen to the lawyer telling the magistrate that his client was just flirting with me like a ‘normal man’. A representative from Disco was there to help me and to his credit he tried his best. I am happy to hear that in the years since this situation the government has changed its policy on restraining orders but at the time you could only get a restraining order against someone you had been in a relationship with. I had no prior connection to my stalker. I learned that day that neither the law nor my institution would stop this man from harassing me and that I just had to deal with his ‘normal male behaviour’.

I got through it and got my degree. I actually did really well despite operating in a constant state of fear.  I didn’t get groped and at some point I stopped seeing him on campus. While I made it through, I think someone with less of a support network of family and friends may not have. Compared to many other women and indeed to many of this man’s victims, I got off lightly. The temptation to leave UCT or to stop attending class was big. It felt unfair that this person who didn’t even know was derailing my freedom whilst he was free to saunter around campus and lurk in narrow passageways terrorising women. How could this be right? How could the institution let this happen?

There is a positive side to this. These encounters lent new meaning and purpose to my engagement with feminist theory. I had to question the way we think of ‘normal male behaviour’ and the way we allow men to limit women’s freedoms while policing and silencing women. While I value what I learned and how this process shaped me I believe that no young women should have to deal with this at a place of learning.

I really believe that the process at UCT is flawed and skewed in favour of protecting UCT and protecting purpetrators. During my undergraduate years at UCT male harassment was tolerated and victims were shut down and siphoned off into the magistrates court where they may or may not have achieved a restraining order. When I saw him on campus 5 years later I was shocked because the sighting seemed to confirm the fact that nothing has changed – here he is moving freely, presumably continuing his behaviour. How many women has he harassed? What was he even doing there? A PhD maybe? I was struck with horror when I thought perhaps he was a staff member now. I never got the answers to these questions because, as in every case, when I saw him I ran in fear like an animal. That fear will never go away.

A while back I went back to DISCO and offered to help out and improve the experience of people who experience harassment. I don’t think they fully understood what I meant or registered that I wanted to correct a system that had failed me. In frustration I left it alone.  I believe we can build a better support system for women on campus. There are staff members who are willing and able to aid in this process. I’m not sure what the way forward is and must admit to often being to busy or exhausted to follow through on my desire to help prevent this stuff  but I hope this story offers one more perspective and one more voice behind the need to stop the culture of silence that others have described.