letter to a survivor

when i first moved back to johannesburg to act in the soap i’m now working on, it felt like there was a much bigger reason for my return.  i decided that i would go public about being a rape and incest survivor. i felt like i’d been running for so long and that i’d finally turned around, faced the demon and gone, “BOO!” i did a number of interviews, set up a website with resources for survivors, called phoenix flying and though i’d really rather not be the poster girl for rape and incest survivors (there’s so much else that defines me), from time to time i am contacted by women who make me realize that there will always be a huge need for someone like me. i got a letter from someone on face book and this was my response to her.

thank you so much for sharing your story with me. you know, i tend to think that the only use for experiences like you and i have gone through, is to be there for the next woman it happens to, to be an example, to say, “you’ll be ok. you can survive this.”

i too fled johannesburg after what happened to me – 10 000 miles away, to be exact and it took me 12 years before i was strong enough to come back here. i’m amazed that it’s taken you so little time to get to this point where you can say that you’re over it. it took me much longer, but the path of healing is one we walk our entire lives and we go through different stages on our journey.

you say you’re trying to make sense of what happened to you. i can tell you, what happened to us makes no sense. it’s not something you or i deserved, it’s not because of something you or i did wrong. we were victims of someone else’s lack of morality and lack of humanity, but the thing that sets us apart is that we can choose to be SURVIVORS and not victims. 

how are you and your family after this? did your husband cope? and your child – does he have any idea what happened and how are they dealing with it? 

you say you want to help other women – the best way is to make sure that you’re ok first. you know, all we can do is be there for the women who come after us in whatever situation we come across each other. 

Sunlight in Knowth's western passage on the Equinoxi went public with my story because i thought it was important for people to know that this can happen to anyone. i thought it was important for other “victims” to see that we can survive anything. that we can transcend the dark night and come out into the light and that’s all i can hope for any of us, to come out of that long dark tunnel and out into nurturing sunlight.

by the way, after 3 years back in johannesburg, i’ve revised my perception of my return. instead of turning round, facing the demon and saying, “BOO!”, i’ve clasped my hands together, bowed and said “namaste”.  

i’m making peace with it.

the springbok rugby player’s sister.

 

yesterday i got a call from a journalist. she wanted my opinion about rene burger (springbok rugby player, schalk burger’s sister) revealing her identity in the wake of her rape ordeal a few weeks ago, seeing that i, too,  went public a few years ago about my experience. she wanted to know if i’ve had any reason to regret revealing the fact that i’d been raped.

i regret being raped. of course. but i don’t for a moment regret standing up and identifying myself as a survivor of someone else’s attempt to make me a victim. unlike rene, it took me years to reveal that information to the public, but if i had to make the choice again, i’d make the same one. and i think she did the right thing by pre-empting the media. i remember when my rapist went on trial. the media obviously could not reveal my identity, but one journalist subtly hinted by describing my friend and i as i sat waiting to testify outside the courtroom –  “two women quietly sitting smoking (can you blame me for smoking back then?), one white, one coloured.” it was a kind of signaling and i think rene probably just wanted an end to the speculation and the subtle hinting as to her identity.

we did not have a choice about what happened to us, but we do have a choice as to how we react. i think the only worthwhile thing which can come out of being a rape or incest survivor, is to be there for the next woman it happens to. because there will always be another woman it happens to. unfortunately. there will always be numbers to add to the statistics.

i went public in order to show other survivors that it is possible to overcome this experience. that even going through most women’s worst nightmare, does not mean that the world comes to an end. i went public in order to show that it can happen to anybody. that you can survive. that you can get through just about anything. that life goes on. oh, most of the platitudes you can think of, i am an example that they’re not just that. i am a woman who has been, more than once, through no choice of my own,  to the dark side,  and come out into the light. i don’t think rene has come through the dark yet, but she knows where she’s headed and i commend her and wish her well on her journey. 

i would like to wish her as much dark as she needs in which to cocoon and heal and abundant light to keep at bay the monsters of memory that live in the recesses of the dark. as i like to say, “even a single pixel of bright, defeats the dark.”  

sterkte rene. 

p.s. i have a website i created for survivors.

http://www.phoenixflying.net


 

it hosts some of my poems and images as well as online resources and phone numbers where survivors can get support.