By J (originally published by Being Feminist in August 2012)
Here is my own personal account of sexual assault, something that I always thought happened to ‘other girls’. It was such a strange idea to me and I had no understanding of the impact it would have on my life, my relationships and those close to me.
I was 21 years of age and volunteering in East Africa. I had been living and working in this particular country for 9 months and was happily involved with an African guy who made me laugh. Our long term plans involved me moving to East Africa to be with him and one day to build our own house. My dreams were becoming reality and after years of bullying at school, my self-confidence was well and truly on the way up. With Abraham by my side, I felt invincible.
A friend of mine from the UK came to visit me and we had a lovely time together. I showed her my beloved East Africa. Her departure came and I found myself alone in one of the biggest cities in East Africa. Although I had been here several times before, this was my first stay on my own. But I felt completely at ease and never felt threatened.
The night my friend flew back home, I was alone in a guest house in a rough part of the city (the accommodation was cheap, and volunteers can seldom afford to pay for ‘nice’ lodgings in the city). Two lovely and charming girls who worked in the café of the guest house motioned for me to sit whilst they poured me a coke. They spoke only a few words of English and I was too fatigued to conduct a conversation in Kiswahili, so I sat in silence with my bottle of coke, nursing it carefully and studying its contours as other customers glanced at me curiously.
To them, I’m sure, I looked pretty miserable but at least my apparent misery gave me the solitude I required. Suddenly, from nowhere, the business man appeared, his charming smile and cocky swagger drawing the attention of the envious clientele. (I had met this man earlier that day—we had arranged to travel together in the morning. I was returning to Abraham’s home in the north).
It was clear, from his manner, his dress, and his confidence, that Mohammed had spent time abroad and it was interesting to note how unpopular he seemed in the café. He was of medium height but very muscular, and wore expensive jeans and a tight t-shirt. Couples whispered and looked in his direction, their eyes rolling in mockery, heads tut-tutting, and eyelids narrowing in suspicion. Some of the young girls working behind the bar giggled and acted out a mock faint, but I could tell that Mohammed was, indeed, the subject of both desire and jealousy.
With a flamboyant gesture that I suspect was to draw attention to the fact that he was about to chat up a European, he pulled up a chair opposite me at my table, parked himself down and stared at me with a roguish grin, resting his face in his hands. He clicked his fingers at the girls, ordered a soda and continued to stare.
“Do you have a problem?” I enquired, crossing my arms over my chest. I didn’t want him to think I shared the same aspiration as the two giggling girls who were scrutinising us from behind the counter. “Yes,” he grinned. “When are we going to fuck?”
His question didn’t take me by surprise but his manner caught me off guard. Rarely does one hear swearing in East Africa, especially swearing of that degree. “Never,” I replied. “I’m with someone.” The thought of doing anything more than sharing a taxi with this man repulsed me. He was handsome, but his arrogance was sickly. His charming smile had been a ploy, for now he wore a deceitful sneer which reeked of concealed motives. I had been in this situation before several times, and was never shocked by the proposition.
“Nobody needs to know,” he offered quietly. “I told you, I’m with someone. I have a boyfriend and we are in love,” I said. I was beginning to get tired of this conversation already and longed to be in my bed. My head ached and I desperately wanted solitude. “How do you know you love him?” he asked. “And how can you be certain he hasn’t cheated on you?”
I couldn’t believe I was hearing this! It had been an emotional day, and I was already missing Jane’s company. Why was I even giving him my time? A long silence ensued. My expression clearly showed my anger, and I started to rise from my chair. “OK, OK,” he pleaded, “Message understood, but can we at least travel together tomorrow? You said you were going to leave in the morning to stay with your family, and I’m going to the next town. I could help you get a cheap ticket. You won’t be ripped off with me next to you. I’ll even arrange a taxi to take us to the bus terminal. How about it? No strings.”
I got up from my chair. He must have sensed, from my hesitation, that I was considering his offer. He did appear, at the time, like all the other men who had tried the same lines and gotten nowhere. At least I would have company on the long boring journey to, and Mohammed would buy my ticket on my behalf which would save an enormous amount of stress and hassle at the bus stand.
“See you at seven?” he asked. “Seven, no strings.” I replied abruptly. And with that I made my way to the stairs, my key firmly in my grip and the thought of my bed in my mind’s eye. With heavy feet, I climbed the stairs. Mohammed appeared suddenly behind me. “Let me give you my number,” he said. “My room is on the second floor.” For goodness sake, I thought to myself. When on earth will I get any peace?
Hoping that taking his number would finally get rid of him for the evening, I followed him up the stairs, noticing his polished shoes and careful step. Unlocking the door, he disappeared into his room and I heard him rummage in his bag. Curiosity caused me to step into the doorway, and I marvelled at all the cash lying about, the gold watch, the smart clothes hanging up deliberately around his room.
“There,” he said, handing over a slip of paper with his mobile number. He asked for mine, but I was reluctant to give it. I opted to share my email address with him, which I thought, if necessary, I could change if he made a nuisance of himself. “See you at seven then,” I said, and left him standing there.
With a sigh of relief and my long-awaited bed only a few minutes away, I descended the stairs to my own floor, reassured that Mohammed would be satisfied with our agreement. The stairwell was deserted as the majority of the guests were present at a wedding party which was outside and spilling into the street. Without warning, my upper arms were held tight against the wall and Mohammed’s face was obscuring my view.
“One kiss,” he whispered threateningly, and with that he forced his lips onto mine, his stubble digging painfully into my chin. A thousand thoughts flooded my brain and I wrestled with the panic that was quickly boiling inside me. My heart raced with adrenaline. I didn’t want to anger this man, he was clearly capable of doing harm and he was adamant that we were going to spend the night together. The wedding was in full swing outside. The guests were gone. Not a soul was to be seen. No-one to witness this. No-one to intervene. If only I could get into my room and lock the door. I would be safe there. I needed to be cunning, I had to play him at his own game. Three steps to my door, no, four steps. In. Lock. Safe.
“Listen,” I bargained. “We have an early start in the morning. Why don’t we discuss this issue when we have more time? Let’s get some rest and see what tomorrow brings.” I smiled at him to reassure him that all would be well, that there was no need for this behaviour. He shrugged, smiled and turned to climb the stairs to his floor.
Quickly, I interested the key in my door, and fumbled as my hands were shaking and my grip on the key was weak. The very instant the lock unclicked in the door, I was thrust violently into the dimness of my room and the silhouette of Mohammed dominated the doorway. My head reeled back, hurting my neck. I was stunned. Silence.
I remained quiet. I had no idea how to deal with this situation. I was 21 and possessed no knowledge of how to negotiate with him. He didn’t speak. Using his foot, he pulled a small chair that was near the door towards him. Sitting on the chair and away from the doorway, he glared at me. No smile.
“If you be a good girl, I won’t hurt you,” he spat. And with that, he slammed the door and reached to turn the key. The wedding party became deafening. People cheered outside my window. Children laughed. The band paused, then resumed, even louder. “Nobody will hear you if you shout,” he promised, eyes fixed on his quarry. I was motionless, frozen to the floor. I couldn’t find any words. And, if I could find the words, what would I say? How would I convince him that hurting me would not give him the satisfaction he wanted?
“I am seeing someone, we can’t do this, please, I’ll see you in the morning,” I begged. He reached for my arm suddenly and pulled me towards him. With him sitting, we were at eye-level. His face was filled with hatred, with malice, with determination. His jaw was clenched tight, the muscles in his face contracting. His nostrils flared and he breathed hard. His grip on my arm tightened painfully. My head spun with the realisation of what was about to happen and my heart sank.
NO, NO, NO
MY FAVOURITE SHIRT
“LISTEN TO ME”
“NO-ONE CAN HEAR YOU”
CREAKING BED FRAME
MY HANDS ON THE WALL—COLD
HIS HANDS ON MY HAIR ( PINNING ME TO THE BED)
TEARDROPS IN THE DUST
“DO YOU LIKE THE WAY I’M FUCKING YOU?”
APPEASEMENT: “YES, I DO”…..[PLEASE STOP, PLEASE STOP]
CRACK IN THE MIRROR
FACE IN THE MATTRESS
MY HANDS ON THE FLOOR—DIRTY
BE A GOOD GIRL
JANE—HAVE A SAFE JOURNEY, I MISS YOU
ABRAHAM—I LOVE YOU
BARS ON THE WINDOW—THE WEDDING OUTSIDE, TRUMPETS, LAUGHTER
CRYING [SHHH, QUIETLY, DON’T LET HIM SEE]
IS HE FINISHED?
HE’S FINISHED. THANK GOD, HE’S FINISHED.
DISGUST. DISGUST. DISGUST.
The next two hours, in the hands of Mohammed, are now a collection of flashbacks, a series of unpleasant and humiliating memories in no particular order. I can recall the things which he said, the smells, and the sights. I remember intense pain, shame, the feeling of paralysis and helplessness. He pushed me onto Jane’s bed and raped me repeatedly over the duration of two or three hours, maybe more. Time ceased to exist.
Before raping me, he towered over me and put on a condom, saying that he didn’t want to catch any infections. Not only did he take my body by force, but the implication that I was some kind of dirty creature, something that was contagious, further added to the humiliation and degradation. The threat of being killed was very real. The paralysis an obstruction to fight. In my head, the best option I could think of was to lie as still and quiet as I possibly could and simply allow him to do his bidding, to move me about as he wished and to concentrate on the nearest thing in my view in order to block out what was happening.
For what seemed a very long time, whilst lying on my stomach with my upper body pushed over the side of the bed, I could see a pair of flip-flops under the bed. One was blue and the other was red. Different sizes, I noticed. I stared at them, studying every detail my eyes could find. The grooves, the imprint of the previous owner’s foot, the way the soles had begun to flatten with the passage of time. I stared so hard that everything surrounding the flip-flops became non-existent. I tried to visualise the owner, what they looked like and what they said when they got home, realising they were missing one flip-flop. I was crying, and the tears fell silently onto the dusty floor, creating a clean circle where they had landed.
Mohammed threw my body around like a rag doll. I seemed weightless in his grip. His anger was frightening. When he was done, he casually walked over to the shower, unrolling and depositing his condom as he passed the bin. I could see him under the cold water in a cracked mirror adjacent to the bathroom door. He hummed as he washed himself clean, taking in his muscular frame and smiling to himself. He lingered under the cool water and caught me looking at him; he beckoned me over with his finger.
Like an obedient dog, I got up from the bed, and my knees sank momentarily but saved me from falling. I inched my way to the shower—the need to be clean, even if it meant being next to him again, was immense. A primal urge. I urgently wanted to wash, to scrub, to scour my flesh red to rid myself of his touch and his smell. If it were possible, I would have removed my skin entirely. He moved over to make room for me. I stood under the bitter cold downpour and watched the water turn pink around my feet…my blood, my blood.
I washed and I washed. Mohammed picked up his clothes and dressed hurriedly. I washed and I washed. “See you at seven,” he said, avoiding my eyes. With that, he left. As soon as the door clicked shut, I ran, dripping, to lock it. I turned the key, shifted the bolt and wedged the chair on its side between the door and the table. Falling onto my knees, I cried and then began to laugh. I laughed hysterically for about a minute before I realised what I was doing. And then I recognised that I was laughing because I had survived. I was alive. I was in pain, but I was alive. He was gone.
My groin burned furiously, my arms hurt, my head was spinning. Gently, I lay myself down on my own bed, the one which was crisp and clean, and fell into a feverish sleep—the shower still on in the bathroom. The next day, Mohammed was waiting for me outside the door. He was quiet and withdrawn. I was in shock. In silence, we sat in a taxi together and made our way along dusty streets to the bus stand. In silence, we sat on the old bus and travelled north. I wanted to be with Abraham so badly, and wanted to be told that it was all a bad dream. I had no energy to fight Mohammed.
My relationship with Abraham came to an abrupt end. I told him what had happened to me in the city and he accused me of encouraging this stranger into my room. As I had nowhere else to stay, I remained with Abraham and his family for a week, keeping quiet, and then it was finally time for me too to return to the UK. Again, I found myself sitting on a bus, this time looking out at the sad face of my once-beloved Abraham. I’m not sure of his thoughts but I was quite ready to walk away from him. I deserved better.
My bruises were fading but my heart would take longer. I had no intention of reporting the rape—I simply could not face the interrogation in this harsh place, the questions and examinations. Even now, I believe it would have finished me off. Once home in the UK, I faced the daunting task of telling close family and asking for support. My final year at university was ahead of me and I struggled to cope with the workload. My mother was a rock to me and came with me to appointments at the hospital (STD tests and HIV).
I would not let the nurse conduct a physical examination; it would take a long time for me to regain any kind of trust. Gladly, all results came back negative, but my family and circle of friends came tumbling down around me. My father was shocked by the news—he grieved for his little girl that he could not save. I became antisocial, withdrawn and addicted to smoking cannabis and drinking heavily. I self-harmed, engaged in promiscuity (with men and women) and felt that the only option was to end my life. Luckily, a firm friend gave me the ‘slap in the face’ that I needed and I began to see what I was doing to myself. I was in denial and grabbed at any opportunity to forget and get wasted.
This event took place 11 years, and seven day ago. It still hurts but I have now embraced full acceptance of what happened to me. I did manage to complete my degree, and eventually began to trust again. Years on, I am happily married to a wonderful and sensitive man who will cry with me on the occasional ‘bad day’ that I have. I have visited East Africa several times since and am even preparing to move there on a permanent basis in 2 weeks’ time. My Buddhist faith and a handful of close friends have pulled me through.
My advice to a rape victim? (And I use the term victim because what happened to me was a crime, a terrible crime. I know that some prefer the term ‘survivor’ but we mustn’t forget the nature of rape.) My advice is to keep going. Keep going because in giving up you allow the rapist the final triumph. Keep going to show him (or her) that you are strong. Keep your head up, and allow each day to pass. Bad days will still occur, but with time they do get better. Keep going.
I hope my account will give some understanding of what it really means to be raped. Most people have a misconception that it always occurs down some dark alleyway and the girl is wearing a short skirt. And, I wish to thank Being Feminist for raising this issue and bringing it out of the darkness and into the light.
Many blessings, J
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