Do you know a rape survivor? Chances that you do are pretty high. Consider the facts:
· The rate of sexual violence in South Africa is among the highest in the world.
· A woman in South Africa is raped every 26 seconds,
· One of four women in South Africa will be raped,
· It is estimated that over 40% of South African women will be raped in their lifetime,
Most people take the term “rape survivor” to mean that the victim survived her rapist’s brutal attack. It also means that the victim has survived herself. In spite of the brutal attack on her person, on her dignity, on her self-esteem and on her psyche. Rape leaves one battered emotionally as well as physically. In fact the emotional damage is far more long-lasting than the physical. If she is brave enough to report the rape, she will be subjected to the indignity of invasive examinations which are themselves painful reminders of the actual deed. If the charges lead to a court case the victim is subjected to a barrage of abuse from those who support her assailant as well as from possible press coverage. There will be those who blame her for the crime, she herself may experience feelings of guilt, blaming herself for her pain and anguish. Telling herself that she was stupid…stupid to get drunk, to go out late at night, to be alone with him, to trust him, to allow him to hurt her, to not fighting back, to being not strong enough to fight back..….millions of excuses for his behavior may filter through her mind. She may feel contaminated and constantly feel the need to ‘clean’ herself. If it happens early in childhood, she could develop severe emotional problems, including self harming, eating disorders, speech impediments and later on, addictions such as drug and alcohol dependency. She could block it out of her memory completely, having it resurface later on because it wasn’t dealt with at the time. There may be terrifying flashbacks that can be crippling in their intensity and at times she will feel that it is impossible to carry on, to live a normal life and to behave how people think she should. It doesn’t matter how young she was when the rape occurs, it can come back to haunt her much later in life to the extent that it affects all her relationships. She could be self destructive, suicidal, sometimes actually attempting suicide. A rape survivor is not just some-one who has survived a brutal rape, it is some-one who has survived the barrage of her own mind and has tamed the demons in her head.
You know a survivor. Whether she is willing to admit it to you or not. She could be your sister, your neighbor, that annoying colleague, the facebook friend that you think is so funny. Rape survivors frequently hide their emotions from strangers, often coming across as completely whole people, able to function in normal society. In the confines of their own mind, the reality is completely different.
Of course, it’s not just women and girls who are raped. The rape of males may not be as prevalent but it happens and men are even more reticent to talk about it than women are.
You know a survivor. If they do admit it to you, probably in confidence, it is because they trust you implicitly. Do not break that trust. Talk to them and support them because you may be the only person they have trusted with the information.
You know a survivor. Don’t make ‘rape jokes’. To a rape survivor there is nothing worse than some-one being flippant about the most devastating event in their lives. An event that affects almost everything they say and do.
You know a survivor.