In July this year (2004), I was part of the rape statistics recorded at the Nairobi Women’s Hospital’s Gender Violence Recovery Centre. When two weeks later media reports of a break in by thugs into the Thiongo’s apartment, the uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach was confirmed by the couple’s admission that Njeeri had been raped. Her words cut into me and I presume into every other survivor of this heinous crime that has pervaded our community for so long, but that has effectively been catalysed by a steely sentence of silence, stigma and recrimination imposed on its victims.
Rape can be defined as any unlawful, unwelcome, canal knowledge of a person. This includes canal knowledge of those not mentally or psychologically capable of accenting to sex because they are young, physically incapacitated due to illness, unconscious, mentally unstable, or under the influence of a substance that hinders the normal processes needed in decision making e.g. alcohols and drugs. It is an act of violence that has nothing to do with you as a person, your appearance, your conduct, or even your career. The criminals in all cases of rape, are primarily the rapists themselves, and those who work against bringing these to justice and against the humanity of the victims and survivors.
I know My Rapist
Although many recently highlighted rape cases are those occurring in the process of other crimes especially robberies, research indicates that many more women are raped by someone they know. It may be a family member, a close friend, your spouse, lover or even ex-lover. When this is the case, many victims are put through a guilt trip by those involved with the aim of cowing her from taking deterrent measures against the culprit. It is common for her to be accused of ‘ruining the rapists, or her family’s name’ if she reports the incidence.
Read carefully. Just because you willingly shake someone’s hand does not give them the right to strangle you.. The act of rape by someone you care about robes them of the privilege of your protection because THEY have exposed you to the horror that may never leave you. Take back the right to be angry at your attacker, because NOTHING can excuse the attack against you. I was moved by Njeri’s speech because it proffered dignity to every woman who has survived a rape. Accepting what has happened to you and giving the responsibility for the act to its rightful owner, the rapist, is perhaps the most phenomenal tasks you may have to accomplish. Because rape attacks you at the centre of your humanity, you may experience a temporary shut down of your psychological and emotional systems. Many of us will not be able to account for the first few days after.
Silence a Shield for the Rapist an Offensive Weapon Against the Victim
‘When I was yelling out the window, please call the police, call the ambulance, I have been raped somewhere somebody was saying Sshhh…’ Njeeri Thiong’o
It is important to tell someone what has happened and to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Depending on where you seek medical attention, you may be required to tell your story at least twice. What this does for you is to allow you to process what has happened to you, to break through the compulsion to hide yourself in shame. Trained medical personnel will be sensitive to you; will guide you through this without making you feel re-violated. It also allows you to feel, something you many not have been able to do because of the shut down I mentioned earlier. Modern psychology has demonstrated the effectiveness of group therapy as a means of attaining both emotional and psychological healing.
With the increase of sexually transmitted conditions, quick action might just save your life because you life is worth saving. Talking about the rape is not about the rapist; it is about you and your survival. It may be true that the rapist is dangerous and has the resources to harm you and your loved ones; but even if this is the case, you need to talk to someone and release the pain so that you can go on.
Waking up will be hard some mornings, so will going through your normal day to day activities. Try leaving your mark on each day. It is however important to take some time away from all the noise, even for just one day and rest. Even if you are on prescribed sedatives, you may feel lethargic from most to all of the time. Allow yourself to cry, to express your emotions safely. Sleep as often as you need to. The world will not stop because you are not there to push it, but unless you take a rest, you will not be around to take care of your business anyway.
Carefully allow in friends of both sexes, who know and love you well. Some will do you good. Others, because of their own prejudiced mindsets may hurt or withdraw from you. Both camps are useful to you. Allow yourself to be touched by their concern for you, to be pampered. It will restore your faith in humanity – one of the things that rape robs its victims of.
Don’t get into any debates that involve your validating whether the rape actually happened, or whether you are really the victim (as opposed to the rapist.) They may encourage you to react in some way or other, especially as concerns taking legal action. Their advice may be timely and well placed but it is wise to avoid making any major decisions until you are convinced of your personal ability to follow through with the consequences.
One of the hardest things I had to deal with is people’s cruel words; their suspicion and judgement of my actions, their fear and their hardness of heart. There will be people who will speak rashly, people you expect to understand. The rapist and his alliances will put out a campaign attacking your morality. It is common for them to bring up or fabricate your moral past, your real or alleged sexual exploits or to split hairs about motives. Their aim is to distract your public from the grim reality of his crime against you. Decide to look beyond the words, to ignore others and focus first on healing. Later on, you may explore your legal options as far as their activities are concerned. Remember that no one wishes more than you, that the rape did not happen.
You may want to keep things as they were before the rape. This is understandable but not possible. Whether the rapist is familiar or a stranger, you will loose some relationships. Even when these are significant, realise that all you need all your energy to get your life back on track. Life will provide a shoulder or two when you need it but for now, think about you. Accept that life allows relationships to run their course. Let go and enjoy the few who will carry you through this season. There will be a time to grieve the loss of old relationships; it’s just not now.
Take care of You
When someone rapes you, they have used you as a dumping ground; a toilet for all that is vile about them. Many survivors barely manage to go through their basic hygiene rituals let alone the cosmetic. Keep fit, eat healthily even when you don’t feel like it, and take your medication on time. The doctor will put you on Anti Retroviral medication for a month and you may be on antibiotics, antidepressants and sedatives. Take these faithfully.
Make special effort on your appearance. Visit your hairdresser and have them style your hair in an attractive, easy to manage style. Plan your wardrobe carefully. It will give you the boost you need when you come face to face with your reflection during the day. A word of caution though – be careful which scents you use during this time. Scents have a way of bonding with life’s seasons so that later on, a mere whiff may send you into the throes of depression. If you intend to use a perfume again, don’t use it during this period.
Remember that you are a woman, the climax of God’s creativity.
It is difficult to acknowledge God’s love during a crisis like rape. Part of the reason is that during this time, many of those who will blame and reject you may be strong adherents of your faith. You may blame God for allowing you to go through this time. You may however be one of the luckier ones who have people around to pray for and with you. Keep your spirit alive; even if all you can do is get on your knees and cry. A great part of your femininity is your spirit. Don’t trade it for the evil, the hardness, cynicism, the fear that violence proffered. Of great help is inspirational music, or short passages.
You will initially be averse to most male attention, and may feel no desire for sex. Don’t try to hurry things and don’t feel guilty when your desires begin to come back. Expect some difficulty when you begin to be active again, and be honest with your partner about these. Reassure him that it is not about him and emphasise your need to take things slowly. Do not allow your experience to rob you of your sexuality. Sex is beautiful; rape is violence. Re-learn the difference. You will get through this, one day at a time. I know it because I am.
For comments, counselling, referrals please contact the author on <firstname.lastname@example.org>
First Published on Eve Magazine in December 2004