I do hope you are well. I am, at least relatively. I’d like to share something with you; I was raped and sexually assaulted by people you know. Among them was a wannabe who decided varsity level was enough, and one who couldn’t quite keep up at provincial rugby.
I’ve decided to go into some detail here, but first I want to be very clear – do not think, “Imagine this happened to your sister, mother, or aunt,” rather imagine how you’d feel if it happened to you. After all, I am just as human as you are, no need to compare my rights, feelings, and choices to only that of (perceived) women who matter in your life.
Imagine this happened to you, dear Springbok.
A man whom I considered a friend invited me over to hang out while he was flat-sitting for a mutual friend. It’s something we’d done before without issue, so I obliged. He raped me that night on the couch in the lounge. I said no, he didn’t listen. He was so much stronger than me. He held me down, yanked my jeans down. I felt helpless. If I screamed, no one would hear. All I could do was say no and try to keep him out, but he forced his way in.
Another man who I considered a friend had jokingly propositioned me multiple times for a year. I always made a point of refusing in a non-joking way. He got drunk at a friend’s 21st and was trying to get into my clothes in the shared UberXL to the next location. I asked the other people to help get him off me, but they were on their own missions, too drunk to care or hoping he’d get his way with me. He didn’t, at least not that night.
But one night, a whole bunch of us friends went out clubbing. My usual role is making sure everyone stays safe and gets home, so I don’t remember drinking too much. Also, I’m on a student budget. Somehow on this night, I got too drunk to remember much. Somehow, we got to the friend’s place we’d all crash at, and I was taken to a room I hadn’t seen before. All I remember is very dim lighting, my “friend” forcing himself into my mouth, and then a burning sensation as he moved lower and forced his way in too. Somehow, I woke up on the couch in the lounge with my dress on inside out. I never wanted to sleep with him. I’d told him “No” so many times before, both sober and tipsy. He didn’t care. When I told him I was upset with him, his response was, “Ja, well now we know what it’s like so it’s not in the way anymore.”
Can you imagine this happening to you, dear Springbok? Someone penetrating your body while you say no? While you clench every muscle to somehow keep them out? Experiencing people you trusted and considered friends violating your body, violating your trust, and then carrying on like it’s all okay?
But then, there’s you, dear Springbok.
“You know what I’ve always liked about you? Whenever we bump into each other, there’s never any drama, and we can just chat, catch up, and have a good time with friends.”
This is what you said to me the last time we bumped into each other. It’s true. you were always kind to me – at least to my face – so I had no reason to be upset with you. Our unspoken arrangement was simple: we’d go out in a big group, most of us single and open to mingling. Your presence kept me safe from creeps. I played along when you told rugby groupies that I was your girlfriend when they were bothering you. If we didn’t want to go home alone, we’d go to where you were crashing and have what I’ll call a mutually beneficial “sleepover”. You are a cuddler when sleeping, you always drove me home in the morning, and when we said goodbye, we kissed on the cheek like friends greeting.
But the last time we had a “sleepover”, a flash of light hurt my eyes. You were recording us, and stopped when you saw me notice. I played along until you fell asleep, then I deleted the video. I deleted it in the “recently deleted” folder, and skimmed your most recent WhatsApps to see if you had shared it with anyone. Fortunately, you hadn’t had the time to do that yet. Do you know that what you did is illegal? Recording me like that, to share with your “brasse”. Do you know that it makes you a part of the problem?
And it made me wonder if you’d done it before. Recorded me without my knowledge. Maybe your friends watched us through the keyhole or peered in through half-opened blinds, or sheer curtains. I wonder how you talked about me with your friends, the ones who shared the most vulgar things imaginable in the WhatsApp groups I was regularly added to. I wonder what videos they shared with you that were recorded without the other participant’s consent.
Do you understand what you did? Do you ever think of the women your friends violated? Do you ever think about the women you violated? Have you ever realised the gravity of your actions? Do you know what you actually are?
So, I don’t care about putting your mothers’ names on your rugby kits for Mother’s Day, or taking part in ad campaigns against gender-based violence, because it’s all a massive fraud.
I love watching rugby, it’s a beautiful sport. But every time I see you on the screen, “brilliant athlete” is not what comes to mind.
I write this to you because you are visible, you are influential, and you can stop violence against women at the source – in the way you engage with us, in making sure consent is the norm when you and your friends are on the prowl, calling your friends in when they’re trying to force themselves onto women, protecting those women – all women, and realising the impact you’ve left on women whose names you probably don’t even remember.
Do you recognise yourself in this letter? Surely you do.
Now what are you going to do about it?
After all, we were never actually friends.
The author does not wish to be identified. The Mail & Guardian has established her bona fides and accepts her request to remain anonymous, “not only for the sake of preventing legal issues and protecting my physical and mental health safety, but because I know I’m not the only one. The letter is from all of us, to all of them. From every woman whose stomach turns when national athletes read teleprompter messages for the cameras speaking out against gender-based violence.”