'I'm the girl who was raped'

By admin
06 May 2016

Five years ago, on the same day Michelle Hattingh (23) received a standing ovation for a presentation she gave entitled Any Man Can Rape she herself was raped.

Just hours after being applauded by her peers, she was lying on a beach, terrified out of her wits and powerless to stop what was about to happen to her.

She tells her story in the book, 'I'm the girl who was raped'.

Read Michelle's journey to recovery in the new issue of YOU, in stores 6 May.

"After our friends found us, they phoned the police at 12:30 am.

I got home at nine the next morning. In those eight hours, what the rape had shattered was destroyed by the way the police and the hospital treated us.

The rape robbed us of our physical security and trust in men. The police and the hospital robbed us of our basic human dignity. The  institutions that were supposed to start putting back the pieces broke us even further.

We were no longer people. We were the girls who were stupid enough to get raped. And we were treated as such.

Every bone in my body is frozen. But I’m not cold. As we are getting into the car the police van arrives. Two fat men get out.

“Who are the rape victims?”

Julia points to my friend and me. The officers look at us. Pause. They seem skeptical. What, do I not look like I was raped

enough?

“We will take you to the station and start the proper procedure,” says Number One. “These girls need immediate medical attention. What are your measures with regards to this?”

Read more: ‘It was horrific and scary and wrong – but I survived’: Alison Botha’s brutal kidnapping and rape documented in new movie

Julia’s formerly white and pink outfit is now white, pink and brown. The mud and dirt of the evening is splattered all over her. She squares off against the two officers even though she barely reaches their shoulders.

“We take them to the police station and from there, to the hospital.”

She doesn’t blink. “Because medical treatment should be the first priority right now.”

“We have all the proper procedures at the police station, they will get medical treatment.” Number One is irritated by the Power Ranger’s know-it-all attitude. Number Two doesn’t speak.

“Okay,” she relents.

“Don’t leave me,” I tell Julia. There is no way that I am getting into a car with two strange men. It doesn’t matter that  they are the police. In fact, the uniform scares me. It seems sinister.

Julia, Malini, my friend and I drive to the police station in the police car. No one talks. We look at the rain obscuring the lights, causing them to flicker and hurt our eyes. We should be safe.

Four of us against the two of them. We should be safe enough. It is the first time I think this way. At the police station, we are put in a bare room with wooden floors, one round table and chairs for us to sit on.

Read more:  ‘The man I loved sexually assaulted my daughter’: woman’s chilling warning to other moms

I start to feel cold. Chills run up and down and through my body. I am glad my friends are here. I am aware of them  talking. I make a joke at one point. I shiver.

“Mich.” I look at Julia.

“Don’t block this out.” Julia is a qualified social worker and used to counsel at a Rape Crisis clinic. She knows. “I know it is

the easiest thing in the world, but don’t block it out.”

As I look into her brown eyes, I feel it. I feel everything. I feel my tears, I feel shock, I feel scared, I feel death, I feel hopeless and I feel broken.

I put my head in my hands. That’s when I smell him. He is still on my hands. His sex is sticky against my fingers.

“Shit … I smell him,” I look at Julia. There’s nothing we can do. I’m not allowed to wash my hands. She rubs my back.

“It’s so ironic.”

“My thesis,” I say. We look at each other.

A female police officer comes in. I have to make an official statement. I am tired. I want to sleep.

She leads me to another cold, empty room with a big table and plastic chairs. They are all empty, except for the two we sit on. The statement takes an hour and a half to make.

I think the idea is that they send a female police officer to female rape victims to make them feel more comfortable.

For all the emotional support she gave me, I would have felt more comfortable with a wooden plank. First I have to tell her exactly what happened, the whole story in precise detail.

It is the first time I tell it to anyone. No response. She doesn’t even blink. Her empty face plants seeds of doubt in my mind. Then I have to tell her again.

This time she writes it down. She can’t spell and I have to help her with some of words.

“D-r-a-g-g-e-d,” I spell. I don’t correct her when I see her write down “draged”.

“And then we lay–”

“No!” She interrupts.

“Sorry?” I whisper. “You only know what happens to you,” she tells me. Okay.

“And then I lay there,” I say.

I am so tired. My brain is thick and foggy and I struggle to put together sentences. Words jump around in my head and get lost on their way to my mouth.

My arm takes forever to move across the table. To sign my statement. They ask me if I will recognise him. I don’t know.

They move me to the “comfort room”. No, seriously, it’s called the “comfort room”. For people who are in distress.

My friend, Malini and Julia are already there. My friend makes her statement. They don’t take her to another room; she gets to do it with us there.

In the “comfort room”, bright colours jump out at me. There are pictures and paintings. A carpet. And sofas. I sit in a single armchair so that no one can sit next to me.

Where is my mom? I want my mom. An elderly lady is sitting opposite me and looks at me tenderly. The resident counsellor.

“Do you want to tell me what happened?”

Are you kidding me? “No.”

She starts small talk to distract me. I guess no one told her we are psychology students.

I stop being able to handle her questions when she asks me what the weather is like in Canada where my dad lives. I tell her I’m cold and she gives me a blanket.

I pretend to sleep. Mostly for her protection. “Sleep is a great healer,” she peers at Julia over her rimmed glasses.

I imagine smashing her head against the table so that she will shut up.

“Then they dragged us…” My friend is re-telling what happened. The same words I used.

Read more: George man gets 37 life sentences for raping his daughter’s friends

Click, click, click. High heels walking down the passage. My mom! I start to let everything go. This can only end when she

comes. The door opens. I don’t have to be strong anymore.

A police officer comes in. My mom still isn’t answering her phone. For some reason I remember the address of my uncle in Durbanville. I give that to the police and hope that they will reach my mom and my stepdad. We wait.

A detective comes and tells us it’s time to go to the hospital. It’s three am.

The four of us walk back into the rain. I am so cold. I am so tired. Julia is still wearing her pink Power Ranger outfit and she is bossing the detective around, telling him what to do and how.

The detective is wearing plainclothes and has curly hair. He doesn’t look either my friend or me in the eye.

We drive to the hospital. There are four of us, so hopefully we are safe with this man. He doesn’t talk. I can’t get a read on  him. He is handsome, late thirties, unbothered and unencumbered by what happened to us.

I get a whiff of irritation. He thinks we are useless. When we arrive at the hospital he tells the man at reception, “I have two rape survivors with me. They need to have rape kits administered to them.”

I realise I already hate that word, “survivor”. It is not what he thinks of us. It’s what they told him to call us. At some workshop where they served cold coffee and tuna mayo sarmies, they told him to refer to us as ‘rape survivors’. And he does, not because he believes it, but because it is part of the ‘proper procedure’.

My friend is outside on the phone. She is telling her parents what happened. Julia is with her. Malini takes my hand and we wait in yet another room – the nurses’ station.

Malini’s wild hair is curling with the rage and emotions I know she is doing her best to keep inside. People run around and through us, I watch them moving through a thick fog. I sit on a plastic chair and wait.

Malini stands guard. My eyes won’t open.

Two nurses work at a table with their backs turned to us. They have yet to acknowledge we exist. The detective goes to them.

“Hey auntie,” he smiles at the nurse and his tone is playful. “Wat het jy nou vir ons?” The nurse is curt, unresponsive to

his flirting. She wants to know what he has for them.

They carry on speaking in Afrikaans. They don’t know that I can speak Afrikaans.

“Two students who were raped. They were at the beach, they were partying. You know how it is.” The teasing tone never

leaves his voice. They have their backs to us.

“What are they? Stupid? They know what the world is like!”

The nurse is mad. At us. The ‘rape survivors’. I feel anger pushing and rushing about inside of me.

“Listen,” I say, in Afrikaans, to their backs, “if you have something to say about what happened to me tonight, please do it to my face.”

Neither the detective nor the nurse turns around.

“Ja, I will,” the nurse says. She does not turn around. “What were you thinking? You know what the world is like!!”

I can’t speak. I can’t feel. It was my fault. It was my fault. She just said so.

“Listen here, my friend really does not need to hear this right now so will you please just shut up,” Malini sneers at the  nurse’s back. She squeezes my hand.

They shut up. But now I know. Because strangers won’t lie to protect you.

It is my fault. I deserved this. I had it coming. I am broken and it is my fault. I know better than to think like this but I am so tired. And the people who are supposed to help me just confirmed it.

The people our government pays to help ‘rape survivors’ just told me the truth.

No matter what the theories and my feminist principles say: It’s my fault that I got raped. Is this really happening?

A different nurse tells me to go to the bathroom and pee in the cup. I leave the room without looking at the nurse or the

detective, Malini behind me.

I pee in the cup, my warm piss spilling over my sticky hands, running onto my sleeves.

In the hall on the way back to the nurses’ room, I collapse. Everything inside of me is done. It’s all gone. Like a helpless cow, caught in barbed wire, I struggle for life and air but I’m defeated. I am blind with pain and I’m no longer me. Tears, tears, so many tears.

“Aaaaaaaaaah,” I moan and rock my body. Snot, spit, piss, sticky sex and tears. That is who I am now.

“Is it my … fault? Did … I do … this?” I heave. Malini grabs me and holds onto me.

In the distance, I see the detective walking down the corridor in our direction. His expression doesn’t change when he  sees me lying on the floor. He turns into the room.

“Malini!” I am hysterical. Lost. Out of control. “It’s … my … fault!”

“Mich, no!” Malini holds me. “None of this is your fault! You cannot blame yourself!”

I am glad that she is there. But I don’t believe her. I gather myself. Again. And I push myself up. Again.

“It’s going to feel like you are being raped again,” Julia says to me before they administer the rape kit. I still haven’t been able to wash myself or drink anything since I was raped. It is now about five-thirty am.

I go first. The doctor is a young female. The purple circles under her eyes are pronounced despite her thick, smeared

glasses. She is thin and has dark stains on her scrubs. She asks me what happened. I tell her.

“Well, at least nothing else happened. You know, you weren’t stabbed or anything.”

I get it. I was “just” raped. Fabulous. Yay me. I take off all of my clothes and put them into a plastic bag.

“I’m on my period,” I realise. How did I forget about it? “Are you wearing a tampon?”

I nod. “Take it out and give it to me.”

Naked, I dig inside myself for my tampon. I am cold and dry. I move my fingers, digging deeper. Finally, I find the tampon. I wrench it out.

“Oh, that is so good! Lots of DNA evidence there!” The doctor folds my tampon away.

I comb through my hair. Yank strands out. She swabs my nails. She cuts my nails. She swabs my cheek where he licked

it. She pricks my finger for an HIV test. She decides it is an appropriate time to speak.

“You know, a lot of doctors struggle with bedside manner. I, however, was really sick as a child and spent a lot of time in

hospitals.”

She plucks a pubic hair. “This made me better able to empathise with people and while it was hard being sick so often, I do believe it has made me a better doctor.”

It’s like they’re hitting me over and over again with a cartoon anvil.

“Well, my parents got divorced when I was nine because my dad went bankrupt,” I tell her. “My sister died in a car crash when I was fifteen and when I was nineteen, another guy forced himself on me while I was drunk. I also have clinical depression.

"So yes, I do get that bad things happen. I just kind of thought that I had reached my quota for a while,” I say in one breath.

She shuts up. And hands me a silver tray with colourful pills to fight against what he put inside of me.

I drink a pill to kill what might have been a baby. A pill for the sexually transmitted diseases he might have given me.

Another pill. Another one. These two might be the anti-retrovirals. I don’t ask. They stick in my throat.

I lie down and spread my legs. Nurses walk in and out of the room without knocking.

She doesn’t warn me before she puts the cold, metal cylinder inside of me. I look into the blinding light. She doesn’t warn me before she cracks it open and breaks me in half. It hurts. It hurts so much.

The world swims in front of me. While breaking me, she swabs my womb. Red DNA. I walk out of the room, wearing only a thin hospital gown with an open back. The wind floats up my legs and exposes me.

“Your mom is here,” Julia tells me as I walk into the hospital “comfort room”.

There are fucking comfort rooms everywhere.

“Where?” As I ask, my mom runs into the room. Finally. I fall into the safest place into the world, her arms.

My mom sobs as she hugs me. I pull away from her and look into her eyes.

“Mom, I need you to stop crying right now,” I tell her as nicely as I can. I watch her pull herself together.

“Okay,” she nods. Her small, knobby fingers wipe her tears away. She is in control. And that’s when I am safe again."

I'm The Girl Who Was Raped - Michelle Hattingh

To buy a copy of Michelle's book, contact:

Modjaji Books

info@modjajibooks.co.za  

www.modjajibooks.co.za

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