First step to healing ? disabled woman speaks out about rape

Date: January 1, 1970
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Ruvimbo constantly battles to bring a severe form of skin cancer prevalent among albinos under control. The 38-year-old has managed to overcome the discrimination and stigmatisation that often confronts albinos. She is a friendly and articulate woman working as an office administrator in Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo. She is also active in lobbying for the rights of women with disabilities in Zimbabwe. Although she has overcome the challenges brought about by her disability to claim her rightful space in society, Ruvimbo is yet to come to terms with her status as a rape survivor.

A medical doctor raped Ruvimbo over two decades ago when she sought treatment for her skin problems. She has been using her disability to cover-up the emotional trauma she has endured because of the abuse. Now she says she wants to offload the burden and her first step is sharing her story.

This incident happened 23 years ago, but I still remember clearly what happened, and my heart still aches with shame and regrets of my ignorance about my rights. When I was doing?? form three, I started developing sores and warts on my legs and face.  My mother said I had to go to hospital.
 I went to Mpilo Central Hospital where a dermatologist attended to me.  My condition was quite bad so I had to go to the hospital often. 
With time, I got used to the doctor.  He would make me wait while he treated new patients.  I thought he wanted to spend more time attending to me so that I could heal quickly.
On the day he raped me, I had an appointment for half past eight in the morning. When I got there, the doctor asked me to come back later.  When I went back, he made me wait until after four in the afternoon.
By this time, all the other patients were gone and the hospital staff had knocked off. When I went into the examination room, he ordered me to take off my clothes and lie on the examination stretcher.  Instead of a medical examination, he raped me.
Looking back, I realise I was young and innocent.  I did not think much of the instruction to take off my clothes.  I thought he wanted to check that the warts and sores were not spreading to other parts of the body.
Even then, I knew what had happened was wrong.  However, I didn’t know what to do.  I did not even think of screaming. I was too afraid to tell my parents.  I have kept this to myself until now. With the knowledge I have about my rights as a woman living with a disability, I realise I lost more than my virginity that day.
The rape killed all desires and emotions to get into a relationship with a man, let alone a sexual relationship.  Up to now, I cringe when a man tries to get close to me.
My health also suffered. I stopped going for treatment because I was afraid to go back to the hospital lest I met the doctor again. I now have cancer of the skin. Sometimes I sit and think that if I had continued with my treatment, maybe I would not have had this cancer.
Keeping the incident secret is getting to be a heavy burden with each day that passes.  I hope this decision I have taken to talk about it will be a first step towards rehabilitation.
In 1998, I tired to trace the whereabouts of the doctor.  My intention was to get him arrested, but I didn’t find him.  I don’t know where he is or whether he is still alive, but I am sure he will be punished one day.
It’s still difficult to bring up the subject with my parents and relatives.  All my relatives expect me to be married by now or at least to have a child.  However, with the feeling I harbour towards men, it won’t happen. Some relatives have even suggested that we consult an n’anga (witchdoctor) to find out why men are not interested in me.
When the subject comes up, I hide behind my disability.  I jokingly say it’s because I’m an albino so it’s difficult to get men interested in me enough to want to marry me.
It’s a lie of course. But how do I start to tell the truth? Who will believe that a respected medical doctor would rape an albino?"
*not her real name
(This story was told to Miriam Madziwa in Zimbabwe. This story is part of the I Stories series produced by the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence). 

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