Trigger warning: This article contains references to rape and child abuse
According to the United Nations, one in three women experiences physical and sexual violence in their lifetime. These statistics do not only involve women, so men also need to take a stand to stop sexual violence. At least, that’s according to *Khanyisile Khwezi, who survived being raped at five years old. She spoke to The Daily Vox about her life as a survivor, going public about her rape on Twitter, and the limitations of support structures for survivors.
On living with being raped as a child
You’ll never be a child again. I don’t care what people say, you are never a child again. You are a woman. You have to do women things. You have to protect yourself. You know the freedom of children playing in the street showing your underwear? I had to hide myself. I had to wear long things. I couldn’t do my hair like other girls did. I just wanted to hide. It brings you to a point where it’s always going to be your fault. You have a vagina and he doesn’t have it. It’s your fault because you have this.
“What were you wearing?”, “What were you doing at night?”, “You went to his house”. Those things aren’t asked just in the community. They’re asked in court. They protect the rapist. There’s a lawyer out there who needs money for this rapist to be protected. And unfortunately that’s not something we can change.
On tweeting about her rape experience
The reason I wrote that tweet [about #Iam1in3] is because I thought it’s time for people to understand what we go through. Maybe someone who is thinking about it, who has raped before, could just know the graphics of it. It’s not rape – it’s someone penetrating a five-year-old. It’s not just rape because it’s a girl and the man is older. It’s a girl’s private parts, whose pelvic bones are messed up because somebody decided that they’re going to be monsters. You can’t be quiet. I know people are going to be stigmatised as victims. The perpetrator does not get as much attention and pointed fingers as we do.
On raising a girl child
It’s so hard, I wanted a boy because I felt that it was going to be so much easier. I’m too much of a lion with my daughter, but I want her to enjoy her life. I don’t even know what I’m going to do with myself when she goes to creche or when she goes to school.
I’m sure he [the rapist] has moved on if he’s still alive, he’s got kids and he’s forgotten about it. If I saw him again, I would confront him. I would say, do you know what you did to me? This is why when my brother holds my baby I freak out and look at him funny.This is my brother, someone I grew up with – and I have to worry.
The rapist continues with his life. But you will live with that thing for the rest of your life. I’ve been in a lot of failed relationships – I’m no longer with the father of my child and I’m not saying it’s because of this rape. I can’t even believe that I’ve been able to be in relationships with other men. Today, I’m comfortable raising my daughter alone because I don’t want to experience a man, I don’t want to deal with them.
On remembering – and failing – Khwezi
When I saw those girls standing in front of Zuma, I thought, “Oh my God this is it, this is what we’re supposed to be doing” – confronting them like this and saying we will not be quiet about this. They need to be punished. Those girls who stood up for Khwezi were standing up for a lot of us. Men will never listen, for them it was a political plot, it was something to punish Zuma. No! To us, it meant so much more than that. It helped us to speak up. It doesn’t matter if this person is respected by the community.
People said, “I wonder if they are opening old wounds”. Her wound will never be closed because us South Africans never stood up for her. What a waste of a beautiful life. She was a writer but because powerful men are protected, her legacy will always be rape. [When she died] I really cried for her because I felt that she was standing up for all of us. She had all of us on her shoulders as South African women because all of us are potential rape victims; it’s almost like it’s inevitable. She stood up for all of us and we failed her.
On therapy and support groups
I never got therapy as a child, I tried it as an adult and after four sessions I was over it. I cried, I told my whole story and I felt like I was done with telling the stupid story. Nothing is changing. I’m always going to be the victim. It’s never going to be about him. He can move on but as a woman, I will never be able to cut it.
It’s always us women who have to do talks: “I was raped but now I’m fine, I survived”. And you clap hands for them. We are the ones that stand there and make fools of ourselves sometimes. We need to have men standing up there and saying, “I was a rapist and this is how it affected my life”. I’m not going to stand there and tell my story and then nothing is going to happen.
I don’t attend these talks because I feel so depressed. There’s nothing empowering about teaching us how not to get raped. It’s always about how you must dress, how you must talk to your husband, how you must react to him cheating. It’s about how to deal with it and to forgive, forgive forgive. It’s time for people to be punished or to realise it’s not your body – it’s my body. If I want to wear see-through leggings, I want to wear them. If I feel as a woman, if it’s too revealing to wear see-through leggings it’s because I’m uncomfortable and not because I might be raped.
On men standing up against injustices against women
When is the right time to speak about rape? There’s never a right time. In South Africa, we don’t even know how to speak about rape. When a woman is raped it is nothing normal. You men are being quiet but because men have the power, history will judge you for your silence. You sit quiet and never say anything and when other men stand up, you bash those men.
I want a man to stand up and say, this is how a man must react to his wife. Why is that we must always fix things?
I want men to know we are not doing this because we want attention. We are telling this story because it hurts like hell. We always have to go back to that dark point in our life where our innocence is taken away. They need to do something about it. They need to stand up. They need to march. They need to be vocal as we are.
*Name has been changed