R A P E in real life
NOTE: This may be upsetting for sensitive readers. Lilly (her name changed in this article, has approved this piece)
The water had been biting and cold, but the coffee and warm morning sun, kept us huddled in the parking lot, chattering. As our eyebrows crystalised with ocean salt, and our hair stopped dripping, we listened to Diane’s tale of woe with her lodger, a young girl who dresses in lycra crop tops and tight pants to go to her secretarial job at the local veterinary practice. Diane lamented that the young girl’s interesting dress style had resulted in the unwanted attention of a much older, and less than innocent man, who had many dogs and frequented the practice increasingly. We debated clothing, wearing whatever one likes, no matter what others think, consequences, why should there even be any, naivety, entitlement, back and forth, our words ping ponged between us, until the ball stopped midair…
‘I was raped. At 21. I was raped’ Her words hung between us, suspended in shocked silence, their impact reverberating through us. Confident and unapologetic, a mere fact. Terrifying. Our opinions no longer mattered, and they were no longer flung between us.
Slowly and without drama, Lilly carefully told us her devastatingly sad story.
‘I was at a 21st. A friend hosted their 21st birthday party at their parent’s farm in KwaZulu Natal, and my friends and I all went along, including my then boyfriend. My boyfriend was a poor choice in men, and despite seeming like the perfect catch, he would always undermine and belittle me, publicly. I became ‘that girl’ that tried her best to please her unappeasable boyfriend, and at the party, he drew me off the dance floor and in front of a group of his friends, dared me to drink a glass containing a splash of everyone’s drink. I remember thinking I should just walk away from his dare, back to the dance floor, but I didn’t, and that choice, changed everything, forever. I picked up the glass and reluctantly gulped it down to appease him, trying, as usual to keep him happy. The effect of that concoction was potent, and at some point in the night, friends dragged me to a small rondavel away from the house, to sleep it off. When I woke, five hours later, one of the young men who had come down from Johannesburg was lying on top of me. I’ll never forget his cruel laughter hissing in my ear. I managed to push him off me and looked around me. The rondavel was full of men, some half naked, sleeping, passed out. I climbed off the bed trying to find my underwear, but they were gone. I pulled my dress down and found my shoes. I managed to get out the rondavel and back to the house where I found my girlfriends. My boyfriend had left.
I told no one what had happened. I didn’t tell my friends as they drove me to my parents’ home, I didn’t tell my parents when they asked me how the party had been. I told no one. I ran upstairs and showered, scrubbing my skin red and raw. At no point did I cry. I couldn’t. I didn’t want to acknowledge what had happened to me. This wasn’t meant to be my story! If I pretended it never happened, it would go away!
The next day we went to a club, everyone, including the men who had been in the rondavel, were there. They bragged to my boyfriend that they had all ‘fucked’ me. He broke up with me – just the opportunity he had been waiting for. I learnt a few months later that he had got me drunk so he could sleep with one of the other girls at the party that night. He had the audacity to call me ‘a whore’. I left the club and went home, crying myself to sleep – finally the tears had come. When my father asked what was wrong, I couldn’t bring myself to tell him – I shut it away. Shoved it down and became wild. From a fun girl, I became overtly hedonistic, unconsciously doing damage to myself. I didn’t deal with the trauma of the rape, I didn’t know how to. From a life of pure potential and optimism, I tried to move on and do this new version of life, but a part of me was broken. Luckily, after a few years, I met a good man, and finally, I didn’t have to spin out of control anymore.
Years later, pregnant with my daughter, the cracks began to show, and I went to therapy to try and figure out why I was feeling so confused. The PTSD from that night revealed itself, smothered in years of cover-up. My body was growing a beautiful new person and it no longer wanted this toxicity. I worked really hard to deal with the rape, to move on. And I did. Unfortunately, the stress of covid affected my daughter last year, and her anxiety became problematic. I took her to a therapist to help her cope. After a few sessions, I popped in to ask the therapist how my daughter was doing. Her therapist asked me to sit down and like any good therapist, she asked a few well-directed questions. I ended up sharing my story with her and the venom of the rape oozed out once again – turns out, I need to still do more work. Will I ever be fixed? I’m not sure. What I do know, is that those men, who did whatever they did to me, are out there, on my Facebook feed, living their incredible lives as CEOs of companies, captains of industry. They are wealthy and successful, and they are fine. They don’t need therapy, or to put themselves back together. There were and are no consequences for them, their lives have turned out perfectly fine.’
Lilly’s story sat on my chest like a lead weight for weeks after that morning in the carpark. So heavy and desperately sad. The more I thought about it, the angrier I became. The sick sadness turning into a blind hot rage. I saw myself strapping myself to the buildings of large corporations, demanding they find these men – these elite middle aged white men who abused this woman. Who are they, these bastards that climbed on top of a drunk young woman and did whatever they wanted with her? Do they even remember that night and what they did? Or are they more like that character in ‘Anatomy of a Scandal’ – insistent that he never did anything wrong. I feel persistently nauseous, and when I stand on the side of a rugby field and look carefully at some of the fathers around the field, I do wonder, if any of them were in that room that night. Or another room, at a different party, playing similar games.
Lilly won’t share the names of those men who were in the room. She won’t tell. Like a good girl, because she knows some of them live here, in Cape Town, and in Johannesburg, mutual friends of friends who send their children to the same schools they went to. It makes my skin crawl. Not only because it stinks of rot, but because, here I am, the mother of a young boy, sending my son to a boys’ school. I am told that it isn’t the school that makes boys behave like entitled rapists, it’s the minority, a few. I do believe this too, but why in certain schools is entitled behaviour accepted? Malcolm Gladwell explains that your peers have the greatest influence on you, so could a few entitled young men negatively affect the majority? Possibly.
Like me, I’m sure you ask yourself why Lilly hasn’t gone to the police? Besides the lack of evidence and all the years that have passed, she cannot see the point. The backlash on her, and her family as well as the shame and disappoint she feels she has brought upon her parents (no matter that she was the victim, these concerns are real). The effect on her would be far worse than anything that could ever dent or tarnish the façade of the men who raped her. She would be shamed, and would it really make a difference? The sad truth is I don’t know. Men have been ‘raping and pillaging’ for centuries, and not much has changed, really. I despair – I have a daughter who will have to go out into the world of rapists and pillagers. She will have to be strong and independent, and of course successful, in a man’s world, without being a prick tease or a bitch. Shit man! Something isn’t right here. I don’t want that for her. I want kind, respectful men to walk alongside my daughter, men who challenge her smarts, make her laugh and hold her close (when she says it’s okay to do so). I want men who respect themselves and women. I want my son to be the young man who stops other men from hurting women. I pray that he is the one who protects a young, inebriated women from a bunch of drunk young men. I pray, he never befriends pigs like that.
Lilly is better. She is on a journey of self-discovery and recovery. She is strong and one of the bravest people I have met. Her story deserves to be told and those men who did this should know the impact of what they did – as should their families and wives. Perhaps you’re that wife, the one who looks at your husband and wonders if it could have been him in that room. Perhaps you should be part of the change – no longer hiding the sick under the carpet, but shaming the men who take without consequence, feeling nothing. Perhaps we could create a culture that is respectful and kind, instead of one laced with deception, pain and lies.