Gender-based violence (GBV) is a serious matter. South Africa has one of the highest rates of violence against women and gender nonconforming people in the world. Itumeleng Letsoalo, a 25-year-old woman from Tsietsi, Palmridge was assaulted by a man she knows. She spoke to The Daily Vox about her experience.
[Trigger Warning: This article discusses Gender-based violence (GBV) and includes trauma, stalking, physical violence, and harassment. This content may be difficult to read. We encourage you to care for your mental health, safety and emotional well-being.]
On my way to go and buy food, there was a taxi that passed me by and stopped. This guy got out of the taxi and I recognised him from my childhood. He used to live next door to a friend of my mum’s. I also remembered him quite well because he’s on a disability spectrum.When I last saw him, his mum was using a stroller to get him around. That influenced the interaction that I had with him. Usually when men approach me, I’m very quick to dismiss them. However, knowing how people are towards the diababled, I went out of my way to be very accommodating and courteous. It is my job now as a traditional healer to hear people out.
He escorted me to go and buy food. We had a random conversation and while we were waiting for the order he became very friendly with me and started touching me. I told him to stop. He kept insisting that I needed to help him with his leg because I’m a traditional healer. On my way home, we parted ways but he decided to follow me. I told him to go but he told me he wanted to come in. He fought his way in and started attacking me and we fought. At that moment, it all seemed very unreal and I wasn’t sure what exactly he wanted yet. When I started shouting for help that’s when he covered my mouth and that’s when I knew I was in trouble. I could tell he was experienced, he knew what he was doing, he’d done this before. I managed to corner him but he escaped.
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My friend drove me to the nearest police station and they referred me to a clinic where I waited for hours until I decided to go home because it was late and there were no longer any doctors to help me. This man came back the following morning and ran away when he saw my cousin and realised that I didn’t live alone. We called the police and they said they’d come but they never did.
I felt defeated and disempowered so I never took the situation any further. I just hoped that he wouldn’t come back again, but he did. He was seen outside my house and my neighbours said he was asking questions about me and trying to come in but he ran away when one of them started calling my cousin.
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I called the police station and there was no answer. I then found the station commander’s number and called her. I told her about the incident and how unhelpful her colleagues had been and she promised that they’d come. I waited until I eventually decided to call her again for an update and she told me that they were unable to help me because they were attending a murder case so I asked her if I should just wait for my turn to get murdered before they could help me and she hung up. A police van later arrived and all four of the constables sat in the car and told me that I should call them back if he comes back again.
They further told me how it was my responsibility to find out where this man lived and then they’d take further steps. I feel so unsafe and incredibly frustrated because this is how the system fails women every day.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.