Day 1: Innocence … gone
I’m in my early teens. I’m spending Christmas with my boyfriend. His mother is boozy. She tells me I’m beautiful. She gives me a sheer pink negligée with cut-outs of black hands over the chest. That’s so strange. The house is full.
Late at night my boyfriend and I fondle on the couch. Everyone’s sleeping. My clothes are on. Something happens. I don’t know what it is. It reminds me of sneezing. But different. It is my first orgasm.
The next day. The house gets fuller. Too full. The mother suggests I sleep with her. She is divorced. The adults spend the day drinking.
The teens mooch around. It’s late when I slide into the mother’s bed. She starts crying. I’m uncomfortable but turn and quickly pat her shoulder. I keep my distance. She sidles up to me. Her hands reach for me. She invades me. My consciousness pops out of my body. “Are you enjoying this?” I hear a drunken voice say from afar. “Please … please leave me,” I hear myself say after what seems like forever. I spend the rest of the night in fright.
When first light breaks I creep out of the bedroom. I am no longer the person I was the day before. It is a sweltering December day in suburbia. But the mother wears black. Black dress. Stockings. Shoes. Hat, veil and gloves. The sun bakes us all.
Day 2: I am not the only one
I return to school. I am teased for being remote. I think I am the only girl who’s ever been sexually interfered with. I am not. I sit with two friends. One tells us how she was repeatedly raped by her older sister’s boyfriend. This is the first time she’s telling anyone. I remain silent.
Day 3: Sleeping with the enemy
I am in my early 20s. After a bad break-up I’m invited for a weekend away by a family friend, with his friends. The fresh air in the Drakensberg will be good. The men catch trout. The women talk about marriage and children. I go walking. That night everyone’s drinking. I go to sleep early. From my cabin I hear the man I arrived with talk of his bitterness about a girlfriend who rejected him. His tone is angry. Hours pass.
In the early hours of the morning I awake to find this man on top of me. The next day we drive home together. The silence in the vehicle is overwhelming. I am crippled by humiliation.
Day 4: Family matters
A close friend confesses that she was molested repeatedly by her stepfather when she was a child. Her mother would bring her to the bed and then leave. This has been her terrible secret.
Day 5: The letter
I am struggling to read this letter because I can’t stop crying. The words strike me like waves of physical pain. He tells me he was five years old when he was first sodomised. After this he was made to lie on his back and urinate into his own mouth.
Day 6: Diepsloot Friday
The panicked phone call interrupts the calm of the day. Her daughter was raped and stabbed 16 times. We rush to Diepsloot and then to Helen Joseph Hospital. The knife snapped off when the blade lodged in the girl’s neck. This saved this young girl’s life, but will she walk again?
The rape survivor lies face down on a steel gurney in the emergency room. I get on to the floor so I can see her face. I want to reassure her that the rape kit is coming. I want her to know that the man who did this to her will be put away so he can’t hurt her again.
One hour passes. Two. Five. Eight. Nothing changes. There is no higher authority to help me here, only the passing of time. Sixteen hours later the girl is still face down on the gurney when the rape kit arrives. No one knows how to use it. An intern eventually takes on the responsibility.
Days pass. The rapist is released without bail. The police say this young man looked like a good boy. He believed in God. The rape kit is lost. The girl goes into hiding. Half her body is now lame.
Her mother has an asthma attack. I try to revive her. By the time the paramedics arrive her bladder has emptied. The paramedics say this means her brain function has gone. I demand that they bring this woman back to life. Half an hour later she’s intubated and rushed to hospital. She’s declared dead on arrival. In the coming months I have a mild stroke and lurch into a deep depression. The rapist disappears.
Day 7: Justice is dying
She’s 15 and it is unlikely she’ll see her next birthday. She doesn’t talk. We just hold hands. She looks at me. She looks out the window. The pain is overwhelming.
All she wants to do is go back to school. She was gang raped in KwaZulu-Natal. Her parents evicted her after she became sick. She’s come to Johannesburg. A principal takes her in. New shoes. New satchel. A smart second-hand uniform. She goes to learn on the days that she can. But she doesn’t make it to matric.
Day 8: In a kiss
The girl whose father stuck his tongue in her mouth.
Day 9: The right to sex
“Dis my reg!” (“It’s my right!”) the groom tells his young wife when he rapes her.
Day 10. Day 11, 12, 13, 14, 15
The incidences of child molestation, rape, incest or correctional rape I hear about from people are so common, I do statistics in my head. It’s 83% of that family. Half of my friends; 40% of this pottery group. About 65% of the women in this township who are present today.
This is a war. We are losing. The casualties are everywhere. They are in my family. They are among my friends. They are in the people I meet in the street, or who I watch trying to disentangle themselves from unwanted advances.
Day 16: And more
Regardless of your sex, identity or orientation you, or someone you know, will be rendered a statistic. But the chances that this will happen to a mother, wife, sister or daughter are significantly higher.
Sexual violence is endemic. We can only ever hope to make inroads against this plague if it is part of our daily struggle.
Sixteen days are not enough.