Social media have been buzzing with the rape allegations against Bill Cosby. Some people have wondered: “Why were these women silent for so long?” His lawyer said: “Just because these decade old accusations are repeated doesn’t make them true.”
It seems unimaginable that the famous Cosby could have drugged and raped these women. But who are these abusers and rapists? What do they look like?
We tend to think of rapists as not being part of our world. But the rapist is your high school principal who calls you out from your class, locks you in his office and tells you he will kill you if you say a word.
It is the uncle who grandma adores. With a knife in his hands, he sneaks into your room when everyone is asleep. It is the uncle who rubs his erect penis on your naked body as a child every time he offers to bathe you.
It is the priest standing in front of the congregation and preaching about atonement every Sunday.
It is the neighbour, well-known to the community for raping his own children.
It is your mother’s boyfriend who waits for her to leave for night shifts to get into bed with you.
It is the family friend who laughs with your parents, who you have to make tea for every time he visits.
I recently met Jan Mabuyakhulu at the Zululand Social Cohesion and Community Dialogues Summit, an activist against the rape and sexual abuse of children. After two of his friends’ young daughters were raped and killed last year, he launched Operation Khuzumhlola, aimed at making communities aware of the trauma caused by the abuse of women and children.
“We know them, we go to church with them,” he told me. “It’s time we said ‘Enough!’ We need to go back to the days when a person in the community who has done something wrong was reported. I think it is time for every man to stand up and say ‘No more’.”
It was the lack of remorse in his eyes as he drove me back to the flat that was confusing. The indifferent way he smiled at me almost made me doubt what had happened, even after the pain I had felt while begging him to stop. He too had drugged and raped me.
I would later find out about three other schoolgirls he had raped, and I began to understand his confidence as a serial predator. I wanted him jailed, and begged the other girls to come forward with me, but all refused. Their answers were all more or less the same: “Who would believe us? Besides, we’ve been quiet for so long, he’ll just deny it.” And that was the end of it, four shattered lives later.
I thought of pressing charges for a long time afterwards, but it always came down to: “Who would believe me so many years later, over a high school teacher who is a respected member of society?”
The theme of this year’s 16 Days of Activism is “Peace begins at home”. It is important to know exactly who we are fighting against. A few months ago while driving in the middle of the night, my partner and I saw a girl on the road, flagging us down desperately. Soon she was sobbing in the back seat. She had run away from her mother’s house because her uncle, who had been making sexual advances to her for months, came into her room with a knife, wanting to rape her.
We offered to drive her directly to a police station, but she was reluctant. We dropped her off at her friend’s house and exchanged numbers. When I later called to check up on her, she answered: “There is no one by that name here …”
Then I remembered why she said she hadn’t reported his earlier advances: “My family won’t believe me.”
Mine didn’t either. For raping a minor, my rapist should have been imprisoned for life. Instead, he paid R3 000 in traditional damages. I had consented, he said. They believed him. Not me.
Fezisa Mdibi is a poet, writer and recording artist of rhythm and poetry. Her work has been published in the London Guardian, Drum, The Times, True Love, Destiny, Real, Music Industry Online and the Mail & Guardian with poetry translated and published in Turkish. As a writer and activist, she has appeared on numerous television and radio shows hosted by etv, SABC 3, Kaya FM, SA FM and Power FM.