No, Mrs Mugabe, I am not responsible for my rape.

By Anonymous

TRIGGER WARNING: This piece contains descriptions of assault and discussions on rape, shaming and abuse.

I was 22 and interning overseas at a big Inter-Governmental Organisation which employed a couple of hundred people. A flashy building, meeting VIPs, attending cocktail receptions – for me this was the equivalent of the bright lights of Hollywood.

A few months into the job, I found myself attracting quite a lot of male attention. At the same time my love for fashion meant I became known for my choice of clothing.

I soon began to feel disenchanted with the international development and diplomacy scene and thus the innocent flirtations and compliments proved to be a welcome distraction. Simultaneously I found criticisms by some colleagues about the way I dressed increasingly difficult to ignore and shaming. Apparently my skirts, dresses, shoes and even tights were a problem for some. In my mind my clothing was an expression of myself and nothing more.

One of the men who I would often have a chat with was called ‘Steven’, in his late forties, head of another department. I would run into him every few weeks and we would have a conversation and a giggle.

One particular day I was asked to pick up some files from the archives on the ground floor of the building. I ventured downstairs in search of the room and bumped into Steven who said he was walking that way and could show me where it was.

We walked down a corridor and he opened the door to a room; I walked inside behind him and without any warning he turned around and pulled me towards him, forcibly pushing me against the wall, and tried to kiss me.

The weight of him had me paralysed as he began to grope me; I continued to struggle.

He continued to press his body against mine, his mouth on mine, his hands touching all over my body.

Minutes later I managed to push him away.

And then I ran.

With shaking legs I ran out of the corridor.

Up the stairs

Into the lift

And back to my office.

That day I told no one. Silently going about my usual tasks.

In shock. Unsure if that had really happened.

That weekend I showered every hour.

Scrubbing my skin until it was raw and burning.

Unable to stop.

The following week I went in and told a colleague what had happened, her response was what I feared: ‘maybe you need to stop dressing this way and talking to men at work.’

She confirmed what I already thought.

I deserved it. I had asked for it. It was my actions.

The shame of knowing I was responsible, that my actions had led to this, coupled with the guilt around staying silent and wondering if I was putting other women at risk left me suicidal.

My last day at work was a relief, I left the job, the organisation, Steven and soon the country behind.

Five years later I travelled overseas for work, I had previously lived in this part of the world and thus had many friends here. People I trusted.

The night before I was due to return home a male friend came over to see me.

We were sat on the sofa talking and watching TV.

He leaned over to me saying, ‘I’m going to miss you so much’, and kissed me.

We continued to kiss until I stopped him and told him that this was a bad idea and he should leave.

He didn’t stop.

I told him I didn’t want to.

He didn’t stop.

I shouted.

He didn’t stop.

I struggled.

He didn’t stop.

Finally when it was over he left.

The next morning I boarded my flight home.

Shell-shocked.

A million thoughts going round my head, STIs, HIV, pregnancy, whether at the airport I was transiting at the morning after pill would be available.

And one thought dominated everything: ‘what had I done this time round?’

Meticulously I analysed the events of the night before.

What had I said? What had I worn? What was my body language like?

Once again I must have been responsible for this.

I had left the country as planned, choosing not to report him, unable to face the thought of having to deal with him, the authorities or society.

The shame kept me silent. I began cutting myself. This continued for months – the only way I could both connect and disconnect with my body.

I felt like a defective piece, attracting such men; surely there was something wrong with me.

It took months for me to finally share in detail with someone what had happened.

Through my discussion with her I realised how attitudes towards rape which I had witnessed in society had infiltrated my thinking.

The negotiations around victim blaming are thus: What was the woman wearing? What did she do? Had she been drinking? Society expects a perfect victim and only the perfect answers will satisfy.

Recently, Zimbabwe’s first lady Grace Mugabe addressed a rally in Mberengwa where she told supporters, ‘You walk around wearing mini-skirts, displaying your thighs and inviting men to drool over you, then you want to complain when you have been raped?’ Her words would have been chilling to anyone who has faced assault and should invoke horror even for those who haven’t.

Earlier this year the UK Office of National Statistics published research into public attitudes towards victims of sexual assault. A third of people surveyed believed that victims of sex attacks bear some responsibility if they had been flirting prior to it taking place.

A quarter believe that if someone is sexually assaulted or raped while they are drunk, they are partially to blame. This is a view which was taken by Barrister David Osborne, who wrote ‘if the complainant…was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both, when she was “raped”, this provides the accused with a complete defence. End of story and a victory for fairness, moderation and common sense!’

I cannot write this piece without acknowledging the role that being a woman of colour has played in my thinking around my experience.

Within my own community, shame and stigma are a powerful entity.

Few can forget the case of ‘Nirbhaya’, a 23 year old woman gang raped in Delhi in 2012.

When interviewed about why he did what he did, one of her attackers said, ‘A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night. … Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes.’

In the eyes of the perpetrator the victim was responsible.

This view has also been echoed by many a Government official, spiritual leader and politician. Female politician Asha Mirje said, ‘Did Nirbhaya really have go to watch a movie at 11 in the night with her friend? Rapes take place also because of a woman’s clothes, her behaviour and her presence at inappropriate places.”

While this view does not represent an entire culture, it is loud enough to fill many with fear.

Research also shows that victim blaming affects black women.

In her thesis, ‘Assessing victim blame: Intersections of Rape Victim Race, Gender and Ethnicity’ Kirsten Piatek writes: ‘George and Martinez (2002) have also posited that black women have often been assumed to be sexually promiscuous and incapable of being victimized by rape. According to an abundance of research (e.g., Cazares, 2002; Donovan, 2004; George & Martinez, 2002; Hirsh, 1981; Lonsway & Fitzgerald, 1994), black women, in particular, have long been subjected to stereotypical images and this may increase their reluctance to report their sexual victimizations to authorities. Of the stereotypes placed upon black women, the Jezebel myth and the image of the matriarch are the most prevalent and undeniably, the most troublesome (Barth, 2012; Collins, 2005; Donovan, 2004).’

cosbyrapeAll too often race, stereotypes, culture and patriarchy can form barriers between a survivor and justice. Earlier this year in response to New York magazine’s cover featuring the survivors of rape who came forward about Bill Cosby, women began using the hashtag #TheEmptyChair.

It’s filled with descriptions of the stigma that rape survivors encounter. This is just one example:

No wonder so many of us fear coming forward.

No wonder so many of us begin to wonder if the only way to minimise risks to ourselves is to wear loose clothing which covers up everything.

No wonder so many of us give in to male advances out of fear of being branded a ‘cock tease’.

No wonder so many of us flinch when a man walks by slightly too close.

No wonder so many of us fear being out at night, afraid of walking through alleyways or quiet streets.

No wonder so many of us fear owning our bodies, dressing in the way we want, expressing our personality and sexuality through clothing.

No wonder so many of us who experience rape or sexual assault stay silent.

No wonder so many of us stay quiet about our silence out of fear of being criticised.

Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once said: ‘We make girls feel as though being born female they’re already guilty of something’.

This is reinforced time and time again, as society continues to put on trial survivors of sex attacks, taking away focus from those who are actually guilty of committing the crime.

To Grace Mugabe and all who agree with her, through reinforcing a culture of victim blaming you absolve the rapist of all responsibility and I will not stay silent in the face of your internalised misogyny.

To all survivors of rape and sexual assault, to the women of colour: you are not responsible for your own violation.

Short skirt or Burkha, tipsy or sober, flirting or silent.

Your body is your home.

You reserve the right to say no.

You reserve the right to support and justice.

Without the questions.

Also in this series: Would you intervene if you saw a woman being assaulted on public transport?

For information on International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women go here

All work published on Media Diversified is the intellectual property of its writers. Please do not reproduce, republish or repost any content from this site without express written permission from Media Diversified. For further information, please see our reposting guidelines.

For information on International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women go here

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3 replies

  1. Thank you for sharing your blog post with the world, it is a much needed piece of writing!
    I’m currently writing a book about my own experience of being raped on holiday. I’m open about the fact that I’m writing this book and many women, strangers too, have been so open about their story with me, even those who have never shared, because of all the reasons mentioned in the post and more. As much as I am struggling with “digging up the past”, It’s a book that needs to be written – other survivors have told me that. I’m gonna honour that! A friend of mine shared this post with me as she thought I’d find it useful and I appreciate it

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I know how those women feel, I was sexually abused by my step brother from age 11 to 16, and raped by my sisters ex in 2007.

    They didn’t know the word no either, my sisters ex told me that because of what my step brother did, I was asking for it.

    Like

  3. Thank you for this. Shockingly similar to what I went through when I was raped and I blamed myself for ages. My heritage is Indian; I feel because of that, I was forced to feel like I did something wrong. Good girls don’t get raped. The reality is that it doesn’t matter — girls just get raped. Rapists are in the wrong. I told him to stop and he didn’t, just like the guy who hurt you. The last 6 paragraphs/lines rally resonated with me. It is not your fault and it is not my fault either.

    Liked by 1 person

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