Police crime statistics released in September 2012 state that in 2011/2012 there were a total of 64 514 sexual offences reported to the South African Police Services (SAPS), however this does not represent the thousands of survivors who have chosen not to speak out and report the crime. Our next youth decided to speak out last year, six years after she was sexually abused. Monique tells us her story and why she decided to speak out.
Monique Van Vuuren, 27, from Michell’s Plain, tells us ‘despite growing up in a dangerous neighborhood, I had a good childhood. I was safeguarded and bubble-wrapped by my family’s love. I was protected and I was nurtured. I was taught to have impeccable values and to be a good girl, because – in the end – goodness matters and those who are good will reap what they sow.’
‘We were a small, close-knit family. I was the first-born child and eldest grandchild, which was significant, because – as the first born – I was given scope to have an opinion, and to contribute to family discussions. “Like mother, like daughter”, I wanted to get things done perfectly, because my mother would only pride herself on greatness, and that became the way I wanted to live. I was determined to make my mother proud.’
Monique became the girl whom her peers would apologize to, if a swear word was let loose in her company. For several years, she was part of the Learner’s Representative Council (LRC) and she excelled at school overall. She matriculated and was accepted at UWC to study law. ‘Since young, I had been passionate about justice. I always felt I wanted to fight for minorities rights.’
‘Life was good, I remember few months after my 20th birthday I was invited to visit a friend – the son of our pastor. My mom drove me there. There was a chill in the air, but I was hot, excited and flustered. My mother waited in the car, while I knocked on the front door. The friend came outside to meet us. I smiled and my hands felt sweaty. I was nervous, yet happy that – after all those days and nights of exchange text messages – the time had finally arrived for my friend and me to meet face to face.’
‘My mother enquired as to who was at home, and he said that his uncle, who was his “newly-appointed chaperon”, was there. My mom and I laughed in response to this reference. She agreed to let me stay while she visited her cousin, who lived not too far away.’
‘We entered the house, the house smelt musty and looked dusty. I asked him where his uncle was, and he said that he popped out, but should be back soon. We watched some movies and I was having a nice time. I felt safe and comfortable in his presence. He told me that he had poured us each a glass of whisky, I was surprised but did not want to look like a sissy, so I had a few gulps, and told him I did not like the taste. Suddenly, I felt so dizzy. I told him I didn’t feel well and needed the bathroom. I don’t know how I managed to get to the bathroom, my whole world was spinning.’
‘Next thing I remember, I was saying, “No, stop, you are hurting me … you are hurting me!” My phone rang. He answered, I could hear my dad’s voice, he told him he will bring me home. I wanted to scream, but I felt numb. Suddenly, I noticed the blood, I was surrounded by blood. He said, “all those other guys before were not doing it right.” I felt anesthetized.’
‘I recall being in his car and walking to my front door. He knocked and stood next to me. I went into the kitchen and stayed there. He left. My mom asked if I was okay, but I did not answer. She asked me several times if anything had happened but I remained mute and went to my room. I bathed and scrubbed my body, but still felt filthy.’
‘I started crying, and then decided to pull myself together.’ Monique did not tell a soul about what had happened. ‘After numbness, came the blame, and the shame. Nightmares emerged, and every night I replayed the scenario in my head. Each time I replayed it, I was to blame. I was the one who had consumed the alcohol, which resulted in what happened. I felt dead, yet I was living.’
Despite the horrific incident, Monique did not acknowledge what really had happened to her, ‘I never labelled the incident as rape, rape was something that happened to other people.’ Regardless of her efforts, the incident had a profound effect on her life. ‘Studying law soon felt wrong, I had been through an injustice and law seemed so black and white. I lost the passion that I had for it. I felt that often justice in the everyday is an abstract, far-fetched concept. Out of reach for many people, justice is trapped in a legal system, and we are trapped in our communities. I had lost faith in the system and I couldn’t continue’. Monique’s grades declined and she changed her degree.
The rape did not just affect her studies but also her ability to integrate with people around her. ‘I lost a lot of confidence in myself and felt less valued as a woman, I struggled to trust people easily and I became isolated; I didn’t know what to do.’
Over the years, Monique began to get sick, after a number of tests it was revealed that she was suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, ‘all those stomach-churning experiences made sense. My body was reacting and although there was a medical explanation it felt as though the trauma in my life was literally being expelled from my body. I learnt to listen to my body and my health became my priority. It felt that my body, mind and spirit began to reconnect.’
After her diagnosis, Monique had an altercation with her mom, ‘I cannot even remember what it was about but it triggered something inside of me and I began to write. For days I wrote down everything in my life, everything I didn’t want to face with brutal honesty. I began to find my freedom, my voice and myself.’
Monique’s writing allowed her to start to grieve and deal with the trauma, once she finished her writing she felt strong enough to tell her mother, ‘I gave my mom my writings. After she read them I told her about what happened. I was so relieved and I felt that a huge burden had been lifted of my shoulders and for the first time in almost six years I could breath.’
‘Anybody who has had to keep a secret knows that it is like a dark, suffocating shadow, constantly looming. With the passage of time, I have come to possess quite a collection of secrets. Over time, I have learnt that these secrets actually possess me. The more we suppress what we feel and what we think, the more oppressed we become.’
This awareness sparked Monique to continue writing and speaking out about her experience. ‘I decided to write a book about my life experience and through the process I saw a call for people to be part of a ‘Speak Out’ campaign by Rape Crisis. I knew that this was my chance not only to tell my story but to encourage others to do the same’. Through the campaign, Monique was offered counseling. ‘Writing the book made me realize how much I needed counseling and I began to start having regular sessions. This gave me the space to speak freely and deal with not only the rape but all that followed after. I realized that for many years I tried to rationalize what had happened when what I needed to do was acknowledge and deal with how it made me feel.’
Monique decided to further her education in ‘Women and Gender’ Studies and she is a UWC post-graduate student. She has become a self-confessed activist. I’d like to encourage the youth to conjure up the courage and look within to stand up for their rights. Every individual can be an activist in his or her own right. This is the way we become victors and not victims of our circumstances.’
Monique closed by saying, ‘from a young age, we are taught not to lie, because the act of lying is bad. We are taught that lies are unacceptable, but at the same time we learn to keep secrets, and society often turns a blind eye to this suffocating practice. We duck, dive, run, hide and hope that, as time passes, the secrets buried deep inside to not abscond.’
‘After conversations with many different people, I realized that we all experience hardship, and we all face different challenges in our lives, but problems are problems all the same. We can relate to each other because difficulties exist no matter how small and irrelevant the trials may seem.’
‘I am convinced that in order to create a more empathetic world we all need to tell our stories and for this reason I have decided to dedicate my life to inspire people to share theirs.’
Monique is an Activist for Rape Crisis.