Ever wondered why many survivors don’t talk about their sexual violence experiences? Watching Cheryl Zondi on the stand is all the answer you need.
The first quarter of final year was drawing to an end. My best friend and I were in the university library burning the midnight oil. We were preparing for tests and finishing off our assignments. The plan was to leave the library at 4am, but hunger hit us and we decided to leave at 11pm instead. We both lived a five-minute walk away from our campus, so we felt relatively safe – until we parted ways. Omotoso
A red Ford Midge passed by in the main road ahead of me. The car quickly reversed and drove in my direction. Two of the three men cornered me and tried to drag me into the car. I was about 300 metres away from the front door of the building I lived in, but they got to me first. It was in this moment I realised I was being abducted.
I don’t remember how I negotiated myself out of that situation. I bargained with my phone and begged them to let me go. As they were distracted – arguing about whether to take me or not – I ran.
I lived in a university residence, so the first point of call was to report this to the campus security. They came to see me and took a statement. “You shouldn’t have walked alone at night. Do you know that you can ask campus security to walk you to your building at night?” the security guard asked.
I kept quiet. Yes, I knew that a security guard could accompany us home for our safety.
The university also urged me to open a case at the Hillbrow Police Station. I went in the late morning of the next day after struggling to sleep all night. I waited for an hour to be helped. Eventually, I talked to a police officer and told him what had happened and that I would like to make a statement. “What did you expect to happen when you walked that late by yourself?” he asked. “You’re lucky nothing happened to you.”
I left the police station without making my statement or opening a docket.
Later that same day, I told my family. My older brother called me. He was livid. “You shouldn’t do that! You shouldn’t have been walking by yourself so late. I know you know better than that,” he said.
Less than 24 hours since almost being abducted I’d been reminded several times of what I could have done to avoid it, how my actions contributed to my own violation. This is classic victim blaming and it happens all the time. This week we have all seen it in the way Advocate Peter Daubermann cross examined Cheryl Zondi during the trial of Tim Omotoso. Omotoso and his two co-accused as stand trial on charges ranging from human trafficking to sexual assault and rape. Zondi is the first witness to appear and alleges that the pastor raped her when she was 14 years old.
My experience – and the public experiences of other women like the late Fezeka Kuzwayo during the Zuma rape trial, South African musician CiCi’s assault trial against Kwaito star Arthur Mafokate and now recently Daubermann’s line of questioning towards Zondi – have shown that our society and our justice system are secondary trauma for women who have been violated.
Women who have been sexually assaulted often experience secondary trauma when asked to recount what happened in public at a police station, to a health worker examining them who lacks empathy and also when giving evidence at the court proceedings — if it even gets to that. “Secondary victimisation may be reflected in a wide range of symptoms, ranging from relatively minor discomfort to severe physical, psychological and emotional trauma which may result in social difficulties,” states the Department of Social Development’s Policy for Guidelines for Victim Empowerment.
I’m in no way equating my near-abduction to rape. In fact there’s heirarchy to being violated, but the tactics used on me were the same Daubermann uses. For example, I was told that I could have avoided my ordeal if I didn’t walk alone at night. Daubermann repeatedly asked Zondi why she went to see Omotoso again if she knew she’d be raped.
And while it’s great to see so many people rallying behind Cheryl Zondi, I’m skeptical if it’s genuine. Especially when Fezeka Kuzwayo’s home was burnt down and she and her mother had to flee to protect themselves from Zuma supporters. Not when “why did she stay?”, “was she drunk?”, “what was she wearing?” and “how late was it?” are the questions thrown around when a woman is raped or murdered by her partner. Rape is not a moment, but a language, says Professor Pumla Gqola. And the Omotoso trial shows us the dialects of this language – the victim blaming, gaslighting and re-traumatisation of survivors who choose to publicly talk about their violations.
The security guard, the police office – my own brother – are Peter Daubermann. We are all Peter Daubermann. Society is Peter Daubermann. He’s not saying anything that the police, health workers, communities and families haven’t said in one way or the other to sexual violence survivors like Cheryl Zondi. He is a reflection of the stumbling blocks that gender-based violence survivors face when they dare to speak out. Until we realise that and actively find ways of changing our attitudes, policies and laws there will always be a Cheryl Zondi. — Health-e News.
Dial *134*1994*1# to find the contact information and addresses of Thuthuzela Care Centres, 24 hour hospitals and clinics, and shelters for post-rape care services. This service is free and anonymous. You can also access the map online http://bit.ly/IzwiLami where users can rate the quality of treatment they have received at these facilities.
An edited version of this story was published by the The Star.