A double violation

The nurse approaches me in the waiting room. “Who are you bringing for an appointment?” I look at her confused. “Who is the patient?” she asks. “I am the patient”. “Oh”, she says. She looks surprised.

I am at a government clinic at 9am on a Monday morning. There is a young womxn sitting on the couch opposite me. She looks about eighteen. We are there for the same reason – we have both been raped. This is probably her first appointment. She is holding the care package and the information book that I received when I came in a month ago, a few hours after I was raped. She, like me, is visibly anxious. She is staring at the floor in front of her. We are both uncomfortable to be in the waiting room of the Thuthuzela Care Centre. But the nurse does not ask her who she is bringing for an appointment or who the patient is.  The nurse knows she is the patient.

The only explanation I have for why the nurse questions me and not the young womxn sitting across from me is that our skin is different. Her dark skin is taken as a sign that she belongs here. Her dark skin is seen as part of the reason why she is here, why she was raped. She is seen as “just another black girl who was raped” – just one of perhaps a hundred that the nurse sees every month. My light skin, however, stands out in this place. My whiteness is incompatible with the image of the “rape victim”. It must be a mistake, the nurse assumes. It cannot be me who was raped.

***

I cannot recall the first time that I realised I was white. This is because I grew up in an area where most people looked like me, where I was not teased for the colour of my skin or the texture of my hair. And so I came to understand that being white was “normal” and that the world operated in line with white values and white ways of doing things. Yet my uncritical acceptance of the normality of whiteness occurred despite the glaring evidence that the vast majority of South Africans are excluded from the kinds of privileges my whiteness afforded me. Because of my white skin and the protection it gave me, I did not need to question the status quo. This is how white privilege operates. It made (and at times still makes) it so easy for me to believe that my experience is the experience of so many others.

Following that day in the waiting room of the Thuthuzela Care Centre, I know that my experience is not the experience of others. This is not to deny that there are aspects of rape that are similar no matter the colour of your skin. My experience of being raped and my experience of being a counsellor for four years at an organisiation that supports rape survivors have shown me that rape is always terrible, it is always terrifying, violating and inexcusable.

But the way we as a society respond to different instances of rape suggests that some rapes are less terrible, less terrifying, less violating and therefore more excusable. Racism is central to classifying instances of sexual violence as more or less deserving of our attention and outrage. We can see this in the way in which the rape of poor black womxn is met with far less public outrage than the rape of other (particularly white) womxn. The case of Sinoxolo Mafevuka, who was raped and murdered near her home in Khayelitsha is just one example of this. Sinoxolo’s rape and murder became visible in the news only after the rape and murder of another teenager, Franziska Blöchliger in the affluent suburb of Tokai. Dan Mtana, Sinoxolo’s cousin sums up the way in which race shaped responses to the two cases. He says: “We saw the Tokai murder on television. But it made us realise that no one cares about us, because we are black. I mean, when the Tokai murder occurred police focused all their energy on it. What about my sister?

Because Sinoxolo is black, her rape and murder received less sympathy, anger and justice. The double violation of rape and racism caused even more pain, anger and frustration for those close to Sinoxolo.

And what about the young womxn sitting across from me in the waiting room at the Thuthuzela Care Centre and all the other black girls and womxn that see what happens to womxn like Sinoxolo? Black girls and womxn are constantly reminded, both subtly and explicitly, that their rapes are less serious than the rapes of other girls and womxn. They are told that their violation is less unacceptable and that the pain, fear, shame and anger that they feel as a result of having been raped is not as valid.

The fact that the nurse was not surprised or curious about the young womxn sitting across from me confirms that it is not shocking that she had been raped – instead it is normal, perhaps even inevitable. Besides the girls and womxn who come into the clinic every day, I am sure that like most of us, the nurse sees the daily news reports about the brutalisation of black female bodies. I’m sure she is familiar with the case of Anene Booysen and the explicit details of her attack. In the case of Sinoxolo, it was widely publicised that her body was found naked, stuffed inside a portable toilet. These gory details, which capture public interest and sometimes spur public outrage, continuously remind us that terrible violence happens to black girls and womxn all the time and so this violence becomes normal and we stop being surprised when it happens.

As a society, we teach black girls and womxn that it is “normal” for them to be raped. We teach boys and men that it is “normal” to rape black girls and womxn. We teach black girls and womxn that they are not allowed to complain if they are raped. We teach men that the consequences of raping black girls and womxn are less serious. We violate the bodies of black girls and womxn after they have already been so deeply violated by denying their trauma and anguish. We deny their humanity and their right to live free from physical and psychological violence.

***

I wish I had said something to the nurse that day that I sat in the waiting room of the Thuthuzela Care Centre. I wish I had said that she should be shocked and surprised every time someone comes through the door of the clinic, regardless of the colour of their skin. I wish I had reached out to the young womxn sitting across from me in the Thuthuzela Care Centre. I wish I had let her know that I too am hurt, angry, ashamed and fearful because of what happened to me. I wish I had explained that her rape, like mine, is not normal, it is always unacceptable. I wish I had told her that I am furious and anguished not only because I was raped, but because she was raped and because hundreds of other girls and womxn are raped every day in our country.

I did not have the words or the courage as I sat in the waiting room to say any of those things. But I write them now. I write them to show how racism affects those who have been raped, and how racism affects the way we as a society think about and respond to those who have been raped. I write to show how we all continue to be complicit in the double violation of black womxn and girls who have been raped. I write to show how immensely far we still have to go before we achieve equality, and that it is only possible if we recognise the multiple and interlinked forms that inequality takes.

 

After the worst has happened

It is the end of my Honours year. I am at a party to celebrate. I am shivering, despite the warm evening as I stand with a group of my classmates on the patio. We are anxiously waiting to hear if the two girls who left the party to go for a walk and did not return, have been found. Someone comes running towards us out of the darkness. He takes a breath, “the worst has happened”, a pause… “they have been raped”.

I have thought of those words many times in the last five years. I have been recalled to them again in the past few weeks as another spate of highly publicised rapes (and murders) infiltrate my consciousness:

RAPE IS THE WORST THING THAT CAN HAPPEN TO A WOMXN

I hear this message echoed in the words of Judge Kgomo as he hands down sentencing to serial rapist Christian Cornelius Julies in the North West. “It is unquestionable that if he was not stopped in his tracks, belatedly though, the devastation of girls and women’s lives would have continued”.

I hear it in the numerous posts on Facebook that recur on my news feed which proclaim that “my biggest fear is being raped”.

I am torn as I write this because it was my biggest fear -so much so that at the moment that I was being dragged into the bushes I thought to myself “oh god this – the worst thing – is finally happening to me”.  But what does it mean for me now? What can I do now that the worst has happened to me?

According to this narrative my life has been devastated, I have been violated in the most extreme way imaginable, I am worse than dead. I have struggled under the weight of this for 18 months now. I have tried to reconstitute myself amidst the constant echo that this is not actually possible – that I will never be whole and unbroken ever again.

I am not denying that being raped is terrifying and terrible. How could I deny this? It was terrifying and terrible – so terrifying and terrible that I left my body for a while and just hovered above myself, trying not to look down on what was happening.

BUT I am concerned about how the dominant narratives about sexual violence, including the one that being raped is the worst thing, impact on the ability to move beyond the terrifying and terribleness of rape.  How is it possible to heal when disclosing an experience of trauma is met with “Oh my goodness! That is my worst fear!”? How are those who have been violated supposed to heal when they are constantly reminded that they have been dehumanised in the most severe way?

I am not suggesting that we should not continue to call out the horror that is sexual violence. All instances of sexual violence are unacceptable and need to be plainly rendered as such.

But I am asking that we think more carefully about how we do this so that we do not reinscribe pain and horror on the bodies, psyches and souls of those around us.

I am submerged in violence

I have been feeling very heavy this week, even before the shock and trauma of Zapiro’s latest cartoon.

In preparing to write my PhD proposal I have read what feels like an innumerable number of articles about sexual violence.

I have read about how womxn are submerged from a young age in a culture which makes them responsible for keeping themselves ‘safe’, while simultaneously positioning them as consumable, violateable, rapeable.

I have read about how womxn in a variety of social locations are coerced (not only by their sexual partners, but also by the dominant discourses of our society) to endure pain and discomfort rather than pleasure in their sexual encounters I have read about how many womxn have been raped, and how few of these feel able to speak out about their experiences for fear of further blame, shame and violence.

I have felt nauseous, close to tears, furious, empty.

Last night I woke up in the middle of the night, frightened. On my way back from the bathroom I imagined that I was terrified and screaming, with all the force that my lungs would allow, but nobody came to save me.

Just as nobody came on the night I was raped.

It is not surprising to me that my terror and my panic returned to me so strongly last night.

In fact it is more surprising that it doesn’t return every night.

Because even on days when I do not spend eight hours reading about sexual violence, I still see it everywhere.

I see it in the way that others are objectified, dehumanized, and made into ‘symbols’ for political commentary.

And every time I see I am reminded of the darkest moments of my life, of being terrified, paralyzed, ripped apart. I am reminded of lying there, waiting for it to end and for everything to return to normal.

But how can it ever return to normal when normal is so violent?

Where violence is everywhere, seeping into the poles, the soul, the self

The violence makes me up and also breaks me apart

How to think outside it, against it

How to break free without breaking apart

How to not be preoccupied with whether or not I am “broken”

How to weep but not drown

How to be angry but not lash out

How to be empty but not paralysed

How to be myself?

In this heavy space

Submerged in violence

That seeps into the pores, the soul

The self

Telling stories

The infinitely wise and magical Tracy Chapman’s song ‘telling stories’ begins as follows:

There is fiction in the space between

The lines on your page of memories

Write it down but it doesn’t mean

You’re not just telling stories

There is fiction in the space between

You and me

 

We are always telling stories. It is through the telling of our experiences – to both ourselves and to others – that we come to make sense of them. As one character in Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah remarks: “the story is our escort; without it, we are blind. Does the blind man own his escort? No, neither do we the story; rather it is the story that owns and directs us”. Achebe here suggests that the stories we tell not only make certain meanings of experiences possible, but they also make possible certain ways of being.

At the heart of my PhD study is the question of how being raped has shaped the way I understand and enact my identity post-rape. This requires the telling of the story of what it means to be raped, as well as situating this story amidst, alongside and against the stories of others’ sexual violations.

I am more than apprehensive.

The telling of this story will require the unravelling of many other stories. I know that I will have to unravel the story of the ‘rape victim’ who is forever marked by their violation. I know that I will have to unravel the story of the ‘rape survivor’ who uses their trauma to construct a ‘better’, more robust self.  I will have to unravel the story of the ‘blameless white girl’ – who is unluckily in the wrong place at the wrong time and the story of the ‘silly black girl’ – who puts herself in danger. I will have to deconstruct these comfortable ways of understanding why it is that some people are violated and others are not and why some people are able to ‘heal’ and others are not. And in this process of deconstruction I will have to find new, less neat, less coherent, more troubling ways of understanding myself.

In thinking about how to tell this complex, uncomfortable story I was recently presented with other words by Achebe. About storytelling, he says: “art is man’s constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him; an aspiration to provide himself with a second handle on existence through his imagination…. [It is] one of the forms he has fashioned out of his experience with language”. The stories we tell are therefore not merely attempts to recreate the ‘facts’ of our experiences, but rather to recreate our experiences in ways that make it possible for us to read them as ‘facts’.

As I write my PhD I write not about what happened to me the night I was raped, or what happened in the days, weeks and months following the rape. Instead I write about what it means to look back on those experiences from where I am now – distanced from the experience, partially reconstituted, partly ‘healed’.

The story I will write has been told and retold, both inside and outside of my head. It has been deconstructed and recreated over and over and over. In the process I have simultaneously deconstructed and recreated myself, as ‘victim’, then as ‘survivor’, as irreparably damaged and then as pieced back together and then as damaged again. Perhaps this is what Stephen Crites means when he says: “a coherent life experience is not simply given, or a track laid down in the living. To the extent that a coherent identity is achievable at all, the thing must be made, a story-like production with many pitfalls, and is constantly being revised”.

If I cannot hope to construct something coherent or to tell the truth of what happened to me, what is it that I hope my story can do?

The answer to this question is complex, multiple and partly formed, just as I imagine that the telling of the story will be. I want my story to move into less certain terrain, to disrupt unitary narratives and unitary selves, to break down the distinctions between the self and the social, to recreate the human in all of its messiness. In these ways I hope that my story can exist in “the space between you and me”.

Beyond ‘survival’

Remember when the days were long

And rolled beneath a deep blue sky

Didn’t have a care in the world

With mommy and daddy standin’ by

But “happily ever after” fails

And we’ve been poisoned by these fairy tales

This is the end

This is the end of the innocence

Don Henley, The End of the Innocence

 

Today marks my transition from being 26 to being 27. It marks six years since I asked my father to sing Don Henley’s song ‘the End of the Innocence’ at my 21st birthday party. At that time it may have been an odd choice of song – a rather morbid message going forward into adulthood. But in the last six years it has continued to play over and over in my mind.

The song speaks of the crumbling of a safe, protected world. For me the song captures a lot of what I have felt in the past few years and particularly how I have felt since being raped. The song speaks to my feeling that the life I had occupied before the rape was over, that I would never be the same person that I was before I was raped (both to myself and to others), and that I would never get back the view of the world, the innocence, that I had held before the 30th of October 2015.

These feelings have filled much of the past year.  On reflection, 26 was predominantly taken up by a constant battle to ‘survive’, or rather to do a particular kind of ‘survival’. I fought frantically to recapture the version of myself that I had been pre-rape – in my intimate relationships, at work and when I looked into the mirror. A lot of the time it felt like I was succeeding. I carried on with the research and the writing that I had been doing before the rape, I maintained my intimate relationships with my friends, my partner and my family, and I was able to look unflinchingly back at my reflection. Being able to carry on as I had done before was immensely comforting and it allowed me to feel in control of my life again.

In many ways this period mirrors what is referred to as the ‘outward adjustment’ phase of recovery. According to the You & Rape information booklet : ‘In this phase, most survivors try to carry on with their lives as normal. To anyone looking at you from the outside, you may seem to be coping. You might even feel this way yourself. You need to go through this phase to reassure yourself that you can cope. During this phase, you test your ability to survive the experience’ (p.42).

But this kind of survival left very little space for me to process what I had lost, what had been fundamentally changed and ripped away from me by being raped. I was so busy surviving and carrying on that I did not have time to mourn, or to rage or to just be still.

I remember one day breaking down in front of a friend about something unrelated to the rape. I became completely overwhelmed and sobbed hysterically for about 20 minutes. She gently stroked my back and said: ‘I think this is the first time you have allowed yourself to cry all year’.

I have struggled to allow these kinds of moments. I think this is partly because of the dominant narrative of ‘rape survivor’ that I have tried to embody. Even before I was raped, the term ‘survivor’ was deeply inscribed in my subconscious. Since training as a volunteer counsellor at Rape Crisis in 2013, I have adopted the use of this term.  After the 30th of October 2015 I automatically appropriated this term when describing what had happened to me.

The preference for using this term is outlined in the You & Rape booklet: ‘we use the word “survivor” to indicate any person – man or woman – who has been through a rape and lived. We use this term not only because many victims do not survive and are killed during a rape, but also because many fear that this will happen even if the rapist does not intend to kill his victim. We also use this term because it does not feel helpful for any person to be labelled a victim – it makes that person seem more weak, helpless and passive than she or he may already be feeling. In fact, that person may be very strong, resourceful and resilient’ (p.3).

I am not for one minute denying the importance or usefulness of the term ‘rape survivor’. This way of seeing myself has allowed me to retain hope in my capacity to live beyond the rape. It has given me something beyond the helplessness, the passivity and the powerlessness of being a ‘victim’.

But this term has also prescribed a certain way of experiencing and processing being raped. The term ‘survivor’ inherently implies growth and transforming the rape into something ‘positive’.

Michelle Hattingh in her book, I’m the girl who was raped, speaks of her own discomfort with the term survivor. She says: ‘I absolutely, positively, loathe the term “rape survivor”. Survival to me, is a verb. It is something you choose to do. I did not survive being raped. I was raped. I am neither a victim nor a survivor. I feel like I have become rape’ (p. 112).

I know now that I was frightened of relinquishing the little bit of control that I had regained in the aftermath of the rape. I was frightened of delving into the deep, dark, overwhelming hole filled with memories, shadows and horrifying, shattering pain. I am still afraid.

But I have been able to say to myself at least once in the past year: ‘what happened to you is immensely terrible’. I have been able to cry and say ‘I am afraid that I will never be the person I was before’. I have been able to admit that I am different, not more or less, but different from the person I was before I was raped.

In beginning to acknowledge these shifts I feel that I am becoming more myself, or rather a version of myself that I want to be. I am not merely ‘surviving’ but rather I am re-learning the process of ‘being’ – with all its inconsistencies, instability and vulnerability.

So today, on my 27th birthday, I wish to acknowledge what has come before, and want to also reach out to a place beyond ‘survival’.

Reimagining sexual non-violence

Being raped by a strange man at knife-point was my first experience of sexual violence. It was the first time that I did not consent, that I shouted ‘No please!’ and this was ignored. It was the first time that my body was not mine and that I was simultaneously empty and full of poison.

Except that it wasn’t.

In the space between then and now it has become possible to see that the rape that occurred on that Friday night was merely such an obvious and recognisable act of violation that it broke open and made visible all the other violences I have previously experienced.

In acknowledging the horror of that experience and in recognising my pain, fear and anger it has become possible to recognise other experiences that hurt, frightened and angered me, even though at the time I was unable to see them in this way.

It is as if that experience, which I have unflinchingly named as rape, which I have relived over and over, which I have been unable to ignore, has made possible a new way of seeing, of naming and of acknowledging what is sexually violent.

In an attempt to reclaim my body, mind and spirit post-rape I have been forced to recognise that many of my sexual experiences have been violent. I do not mean violent in the same way as the rape was. I do not mean that I have ever been physically threatened or hurt by the men I have had sex with. I do not mean that I have ever said no and this has been ignored. I do not mean that I have been too drunk to consent and someone has had sex with me anyway.

These are the things that I have always used to measure and understand the boundary between sexual violence and consent. But this understanding does not capture how I have felt in sexual encounters. How on many occasions I have not wanted to someone to kiss me or touch me or have sex with me but I have let them anyway. How on some occasions I have imagined that I am somewhere else while these things are happening. How I have just waited for it to be over.

It never felt possible in these moments to articulate this violence, either to myself or to my partner. Recently friends have shared similar stories of uncomfortable paralysis, of not wanting but quietly waiting for it to be over. We have laughed (and cried) about this together. These conversations have made it clear that this is not simply about my sexuality and my sexual experiences. Rather that it is about the violence of normative, unquestioned constructions of female sexuality. Because for as long female sexuality continues to be tied to passivity and compliance there is no real space to say no.

In trying to reconstitute my sexuality, I have begun to reimagine consent, beyond saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’,  beyond force and threats, beyond being under the influence of substances including alcohol. I have begun to imagine consent as the real possibility of making a free choice.

I imagine it as trusting and valuing the self enough to keep it safe from implicit, silenced, disguised kinds of violence. I imagine it as overcoming all kinds of self-doubt and hatred that makes it almost impossible to hear what the self wants or doesn’t want. I imagine it as the reconstituting of a polite, modest, quiet sexual passivity.

I wish it had not taken that terrifying night to make me see and be able to speak these things. I wish I could have spared myself many traumatic moments that made me doubt and hate myself even more.

But I have hope.

I have hope that laying bare the lies that I have been told and have told myself will make possible an alternative way of being. I have hope that I will be able to trust and value my body, mind and spirit in ways that I have not being able to do before. And I have hope that in doing these things I will be able to experience myself and the selves of others in non-violent and previously unattainably wonderful ways.

This hope forms a significant part of my daily attempts to reconstitute myself in less violent ways.  It demands a renegotiation of how I view and exist in my own body, as well as how I interact with the bodies of others. It involves an untangling of notions and practices of gender, sexuality, desire and love.

In fact, it requires a rethinking and a redoing of almost everything – a daunting but necessary journey to embark on.

Post-rape subjectivities: A PhD study

Two rapes and murders that happened worlds apart have the same tragic thread that unites them. Both Sinoxolo Mafevuka and Franziska Blochliger were young women whose lives were cut short by senseless brutal violence. On either side of the divides of race, class and location, two families have experienced the sudden and unexpected loss of loved ones whose lives had barely just begun.

While many commentators have been quick to point out the glaring disparity between the media coverage, the difference in efficiency of policing and the progress made (or lack thereof in the case of Sinoxolo Mafevuka) in these two murders, one cannot weigh the life of one woman as more or less valuable than that of another. We should be angry in both cases and we should all pray for justice to prevail for both Sinoxolo and Franziska.

– Xego Melikhaya

There is a cost – a huge, devastating cost that comes with rape – an invisible wound that remains long after the physical scars (where they exist) have healed. And what a cost to us to have so many of our people walking wounded.

-Pumla Dineo Gqola

It is widely known that rates of sexual violence in South Africa are among the highest in the world. However, this kind of violence continues to be acknowledged in uneven ways.

Xego Melikhaya alludes to the ways in which race and class shape public responses to rape in significant ways. In particular, the rape of poor black women does not generate the same kind of public outrage as the rape of other women. Pumla Dineo Gqola, in her book Rape: A South African Nightmare, argues that this is because, through colonial discourse and slavocratic social practices, black women have been hypersexualised and  constructed as “impossible to rape”. This means that when black women disclose that they have been raped they are either not believed or it is seen as a less ‘serious’ violation.

The endless portrayal of violated black bodies across the pages of various media also positions these instances of sexual violence as inevitable, and therefore unworthy of much response. And so people like Sinoxolo Mafevuka, who are ‘destined’ to have violence acted upon their bodies,  do not make the front page.

The disparate acknowledgement of sexual violence is also evident in responses to a number of rapes which occurred at the University of Cape Town (UCT) last year. The rape of several UCT students near the campus between November 2015 and March 2016 received wide media coverage, a R10 000 reward was offered by the university for information regarding the case and significant resources were directed towards capturing the perpetrator. However, as one student wrote on a blog intended to raise awareness about sexual violence on campus: “over the weekend, as the arrest of the suspected serial rapist dominated the news, we as UCT Survivors ask ‘What about all the perpetrators of sexual violence in their class rooms and residences that UCT has not offered a reward for?'”

It is within this context, where certain rapes are seen as more horrific and deserving of attention than others, that I entered a police station on the 30th of October 2015 to report that I had been raped at approximately 18h45 that evening.

Subsequently I have been trying to make sense not only what it means to have been raped, but what it means to have been raped in a context in which certain kinds of sexual violence are normalised, disregarded or omitted entirely.

As both a personal and political act, I have decided to make these questions the central focus on my PhD, which is entitled “post-rape subjectivities”.

Chris Weedon defines subjectivity as “the conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions of the individual, her sense of herself and her ways of understanding her relation to the world.

This project centers on my personal experience of being raped, my experiences of accessing services (including the police and the hospital) following the rape, as well as my relationships and subjectivities post-rape.

It aims to explore how these experiences, relationships and subjectivities are shaped by problematic understandings of what counts as rape, who can be raped and who can rape. It also aims to examine how my post-rape experiences, relationships and subjectivities are shaped by my intersecting position as a feminist, cis-gender, white, middle-class women.

Alongside my personal experience of rape, this project will also draw on the narratives of other women who have experienced sexual violence. This is in order to analyse what is common as well as what is distinct for different post-rape selves.

I hope that this work can help us as a society to understand better how those who have been sexually violated negotiate, integrate and challenge dominant discourses post-rape, as well as how we can better support these difficult processes.

#HerNameWasVovo and she was a human being

I am a middle-class, white, cis-gender woman who is perceived to be heterosexual. Because of this I am protected in many ways from the hate and violence that is levelled against poor, black queer people like Noluvo Swelindawo, who was kidnapped from her house in Driftsands and murdered because she is a lesbian. I am not sexualised and ‘deviant’ in the same way as Noluvo is. My body has not being transformed by hundreds of years of exploitation into something unhuman, like hers has.

But I am not as protected as I have always thought. On the 30th of October 2015 I was raped.

I do not profess to know what Noluvo experienced as a queer black woman, but I have experienced what it means to have violence acted out on me, because of what I represent; that which is less than man, that which is woman. I know what it is to be grabbed, strangled, dragged, penetrated. I know what it is to look into the face of a man and fear that he will kill me and leave my broken body in a clump of bushes. I know what it is to fear that those I loved would find me like this. I know what it is to have my humanity ripped away from me, to feel that I am no longer myself.

The murder of Noluvo forced me to reflect on what it means to be a human being in South Africa, what it means to inhabit this precarious, fractured space. On reflecting on the murder of Noluvo, I am forced to mourn for all of us who can read this kind of story and then carry on with our lives, when the lives of so many are being ended, when so many are being stripped of their dignity, their freedom and their humanity.

The valuing of my life, over the lives of other women, was made clear when I attended a government clinic following my own rape. Here I was repeatedly asked who I was accompanying for treatment – because surely this well-dressed white girl could not be the one who was raped? The fact that I cannot comfortably be seen as a ‘rape survivor’ and  that so many people have wanted not to believe what has happened to me when they so easily believe and overlook when the same happens to other women, is deeply revealing of how dehumanisation has become a key social coping mechanism.

If I had been murdered, those of you, who feel that this can’t happen to people like us, would have cried and probably brought flowers, like you did for Franziska Blochliger. You might have raged and screamed. You might even have marched to ensure that this does not happen to another young woman, like me. You would have recognised my humanity and that it was unacceptable for this to be taken from me.

You will not, I fear, do the same for Noluvo.

I do not know how to go beyond this place of violence, to disrupt what has become normalised, through the endless masquerading of bodies across our Facebook feeds, our newspapers and our TV screens.

But I want to start by recognising the humanity of Noluvo, to recognise that her murder is a loss for all of us, and that her story is the story of so many others. If those of us who can afford to (or at least think we can) stay protected, sheltered and ‘safe’ refuse to recognise those who are refused this privilege, we will continue to be complicit in the reproduction of various forms of violence.

If we continue to separate what happens to people who are different from us, from our own lives and humanities, we not only dehumanise those that we refuse to recognise but we also dehumanise ourselves. As I have learnt the hard way I am not safe from violence, despite the electric fence around my house. I am not saved by telling myself that violence is something that happens elsewhere, something that happens to poor people, black people, other people.

If we continue to value the lives of some people more than others and to see some acts of violence as ‘normal’ we reproduce a social system of othering. We make it possible for men, like those who attacked and killed Noluvo to demarcate her as less, as unworthy of life, as not human.

So what can we do to reconnect with our own humanness and the humanness of others?

We rally outside the court in Khayelitsha to demand justice for Noluvo, just as we would if she was our sister, our daughter, our granddaughter, our friend.

We talk to our children about why we should not tease, label and hurt people that are different from us.

We recognise that our humanity is only realised in recognising the humanity of others.

#HerNameWasVovo and she was a human being.

This piece was published in the Cape Times on the 9th of December under the title “I know what it is to be grabbed, strangled, dragged, penetrated”

Beginning

Perhaps I should begin, as is good practice in research, by making explicit my position.

I am Rebecca.

I am born female, although more and more I am wrestling with what this means.

I am ‘white’ South African, a child of privilege.

I, until about a month ago, considered myself heterosexual.

I am researcher; interested in gender, sexuality, violence, dehumanisation, intersectionality and a lot of other things.

I want to be activist.  I want to write about injustice and violation, but I want to do more than write. I want to think more, challenge more and reflect more.

I am counselor (although it has been a while since I occupied that particular chair) and have been privileged to bear witness to many stories of pain and survival. These stories have weighed me down, caused me nightmares, but most importantly have reinforced my commitment to try to listen differently, to think different and to be differently.

I am ‘rape survivor’, torn apart, tying to reconstitute self, safety and love.

I am frightened child. I am still often trapped by fear, of what might happen, of what might not.

I am almost PhD student. I am almost investigator of “post-rape subjectivities”. I am almost auto-ethnographer and interviewer of other women.

I am tired and frightened and excited.