'I want to help people who, like me, have been failed by the law'

Patient testimony from a 29-year-old woman in South Africa

I live in Khayelitsha, a large township on the outskirts of Cape Town. I grew up in Eastern Cape with my parents and four older brothers.

When I was eight years old I was raped by my cousin. I never reported it at the time, I just pushed it away. I was traumatised and my behaviour changed a lot, I would steal money at home and I would lie a lot. I also isolated myself from my friends. I didn’t like it but I didn’t know why I was doing it. At thirteen my behaviour changed completely and I started to sleep with anyone who wanted me. At some point I contracted HIV/AIDS.

In 2002, I had been in a relationship for three months when I started to get flashbacks. Every time I had sex with my boyfriend, I would see my cousin. I didn’t tell my boyfriend. I split up with him, but it happened again with the next guy I was with, so I split up with that second guy and decided to tell my family that I had been raped.

They were shocked but they didn’t believe me. They said I was lying. I got some counselling but the flashbacks started again. In 2004 I visited the Simelela Centre1 and with their help I decided to report the rape to the police. I never told my family that I opened the case because I was scared; I knew they would disapprove. When the police came from Eastern Cape they took my statement and said they wanted to meet my family. Then I thought, this is it, they are going to know I have opened a case against my cousin. My brother told me I must look for another place to stay because he said he didn’t want the police coming in and out of his house as if he was a criminal. So now I live with another brother.

No family member ever supported me, they have never believed me. That hurts me.

In 2006 I was informed my case had been closed, the prosecutor said there was not enough evidence. My cousin was never arrested and I never got to court.

I frequently bump into my cousin. Once I confronted him and said “I will never forget what you did when I was 8 years old. I want you to know that I will never forget, I still remember”. He just left the room.

A lot of women feel ashamed after they have been raped. I used to wear long t-shirts and baggy jeans. I didn’t want to wear short skirts or low cut tops because I thought people would say I had asked to be raped but now I know that I never asked for it.

The rape had devastating effects. He took my virginity. He thinks he took my dignity and my life. But he didn’t. I am still alive, and I still have my life and my dignity.

I think that talking about my experience has helped other women. I remember a day when three ladies came up to me after I spoke about my experiences at an awareness raising event organised by Simelela and they told me they had also been raped but didn’t know what to do. I referred them to Simelela.

In the future, I would like to be a lawyer, or a paralegal, I would like to do anything that deals with the law. I want to help people who are helpless. The law has failed me so I want to help people who, like me, have been failed by the law.

I like to express myself in writing and I often write poems. The last one I wrote a few days ago was called “Go On”.

If I had one message to give to other women it would be that a woman is like a tree: with roots, a stem and leaves. Someone can chop the leaves and the stem but deep down the roots are still there. The roots will come out, the stem and the leaves will grow again. And then you’ve got a beautiful tree again.

Fumana is a volunteer with the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), a South African nongovernmental organisation that deals with gender based violence, HIV/AIDSand tuberculosis. She has publicly shared her experience of rape during marches and events in an effort to highlight the crime and change community attitudes.

  1. MSF coordinates the Simelela Centre for Survivors of Sexual Violence, which provides medical care, psychosocial support, forensic examination and police assistance to rape victims in one setting open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In 2007, nearly 1,000 survivors of sexual violence attended the Simelela centre.