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’.