No time can heal completely

No time can heal completely

Date: December 1, 2011
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They Say Time Heals – rubbish! Rape – the violation of one’s very humanity – changes who you are and how you see the world forever.

I was 18 and travelling through England and Europe with a friend, taking a gap year, working odd jobs to pay our way. It was winter in London and after work at 6pm, I stopped in at a coffee shop before catching the tube train home.

A very nice couple started chatting to me, and soon after a male friend joined us. When I mentioned that my friend and I were looking for alternative accommodation, the lease on the communal house we were sharing with 8 other travelers was expiring, the single male (who’s name I have long since blocked out) said he had a place to rent. I responded that my friend and I would follow up, as we needed to make a decision together.

When they offered me a lift home, I accepted, but felt the first twinge of discomfort when the couple were dropped off before me, and I suggested I just take the train. He insisted it was no trouble, so I didn’t argue – we are conditioned to be polite, not to listen to our instincts.

He stopped the car outside a dingy block of flats, saying I may as well check if it was suitable to rent, because if I didn’t, then it wouldn’t waste my friend’s time. Again I ignored the discomfort I felt and followed him down a single flight of steps to the basement flat.

Suddenly, he had a long, thick carving knife against my throat. There was barely any light and no one around. I froze, and he shoved me roughly inside.

Over the next few hours, my fear-filled body shook uncontrollably and I couldn’t stop crying. He wavered between verbal abuse and threats, to asking if he could “make love” (actually using those words) to me again. It wasn’t the ropes, but the engulfing fear that immobilized me and I prayed, not for survival, but to die.

Eventually, I was untied and ordered, naked, to make him tea. Afterwards, he said he would drive me home because it was unfair to leave me alone in an unfamiliar area.
I grabbed my opportunity at a red traffic light and jumped out the car. I ran as fast as I could in the opposite direction, taking side streets, first left then right until I ran out of breath. Eventually, I got directions to the police station where I gave a statement and the registration number I had noted when we left the flat.

The female medical officer was big, rough and nasty. “Are you sure you were raped? Most women who come in here are battered and bruised!” she sneered. And the desire to just die resurfaced.

There was no counseling. But the detective who handled my case was kind and considerate. He drove me home at about 4am and called in regularly over the next couple of weeks to give me updates. They had identified the rapist but I would need to hang around for at least 6 months for the court process. I was overwhelmed with guilt, because perhaps next time, it could be a young woman’s life, but I just couldn’t stay. I left London about 3 weeks later.

During those 3 weeks, I put on a brave face on the outside, but inside, I was a wreck. I had to be treated for an infection he’d given me – I was bathing between 4 to 8 times a day, but never felt clean.

I was scared to sleep, because as I dozed off, I would literally start falling into a deep, dark abyss. I could feel my body dropping down and down – I couldn’t open my eyes or move a muscle, yet inside, I was screaming. And no-one could hear. I was broken and the thought of death was my constant companion.

While travelling in Europe, I worked hard to make sense of the constant thoughts of what I could have and should have done. I couldn’t change the past so counted my blessings and felt so grateful to know that I was the good guy – he was the insecure, unlikable one. I could distance myself, but he had to live with his filthy self. There is a higher form of justice, and summer in the Greek Islands was a wonderful experience shared with like-minded travelers, seeking higher truths. I was friendly to all and trusted none!

Fast forward about 20 years when seat-belts in South Africa became compulsory. Every time I attempted to buckle up, I would regress into that dark place of no escape. I could not focus on driving, which put my 4 kids in danger. I now have an official exemption.

Just a few years ago, an acquaintance at a party jokingly said to me, “You are looking so good I could rape you.” I completely lost my cool to the point of embarrassment, and left. And not so long ago, a magistrate gave a rapist a lesser sentence, citing the mitigating circumstances that the rape of the child by the father contained it in the family and there was no permanent physical damage!

Though what happened hurt me a lot, I am also angry and despair at the lack of understanding and the lack of healing for disempowered men who perpetrate rape and abuse. When men are included in the healing process and have a platform to express their own pain, fear, anger and baggage, the need to take their manhood back by attacking innocents, will decrease. Their own issues are the cause of violence, yet we are ignoring this aspect.

I have developed a high level of empathy and fight for human rights. I am just fine. But time doesn’t heal; it just teaches you how to be the best damaged goods you can be.

Dee Godfrey writes from South Africa. 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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