The trauma of rape

The trauma of rape

MASERU – SHE told him “no” and she meant it. He interpreted it differently, convincing himself that she was simply playing hard to get.
“He raped me, yet he was a friend I trusted,” said ’Mamosalla.
After ’Mamosalla, 29, whose full name we have withheld to protect her identity, was sexually assaulted as a student at one of the local universities, she didn’t report the case. The perpetrator is still walking free.

Her case is not isolated. She is one of many Basotho girls and women suffering in silence after being raped by friends or boyfriends who betrayed their trust.
In ’Mamosalla’s case, she was raped by a college mate she trusted and considered a friend.
She said the man volunteered to accompany her to her rented house after a party they had attended. She agreed because she didn’t want to walk alone.
“I gladly accepted his offer unaware of his real, cruel intentions,” ’Mamosalla said.

She said he politely asked if he could go in for a glass of water when they approached her house.
“Maybe I should have realised the signals but I didn’t and I started to see his real intentions when he demanded to lie down a bit in my room” she said. “I refused.”
Despite her refusal and attempts to get him to leave, he insisted she should “stop playing hard to get” as he could see that she wanted him as badly as he did.

“The more I said I wasn’t interested, the more he persisted and suddenly he was physically stronger and we fought until I lost the battle and he got what he wanted,” she said.
“He took off my jeans and raped me a couple of times. I cried myself to sleep that morning.”
“It was a strange feeling, I was paralysed with fear. I bathed hoping to remove all the reminders of what had transpired. Physically I did, but I could still smell his scent and get flashbacks.”
’Mamosalla says she lay on the bed “overwhelmed with disgust, self-blame and guilt”.

She said she didn’t report the incident to anyone in authority.
“I doubted they would believe me as I let him in my house and I had been drinking. Also, the idea of being interrogated like it was my fault discouraged me. Yes, I have heard of the trauma that victims of rape go through when reporting,” she said.
Worse, the perpetrator was not a stranger and that he acted as if nothing had happened in their subsequent and frequent encounters at school.

“There was absolutely no one I felt I could turn to for help. My mental and physical health quickly declined and I started performing poorly at school,” she said.
She said she dealt with the trauma on her own until a few years down the line when she shared her story during a venting event.
“I was afraid of being judged,” she said.
She says the pain still cuts deep.
“I learnt to live with it although it makes it difficult for me to engage with men. I am so uncomfortable around them and I just wish they would understand and let me be.”

Another survivor we will identify as Lisemelo said she was raped by her father, who then rejected her when she was 12.
She said she had to live with him after her mother died when she was only 10 years.
Narrating her story, the now 25-year-old woman said she felt someone touching her when she was asleep and she thought she was dreaming only to wake up to find it was her father.
She said he persisted and went as far as sucking her tiny breast until she woke up.

“Surprised, I asked what was happening and he said I was his only daughter so he wanted to make me a real woman,” Lisemelo said, adding that she did not understand what he meant until he tore her pyjamas, opened her legs and spit in her female organ before raping her.
“I cried so loud hoping he would stop but he didn’t. Rather he put my panty in my mouth as a way of silencing me,” she said.
“My own father broke my virginity and acted like nothing had happened.”
She said she informed her aunt as her mother was deceased but she instructed her not to tell anyone, saying she would handle the matter.

“My aunt protected that monster. I hate her for not protecting me. Maybe I would feel better if he had been arrested. The trauma is not fading away,” she said, adding that she grew up with so much anger and self-hate that she started doing drugs as a youngster as a way of trying to ease her pain.
“I dropped out of school because I had no drive. My future was bleak.”
Lisemelo said she felt hopeless until two years ago when she claimed her life back.
“I stopped my heavy drinking and found a job. Now things are a bit better.”

Former Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla, in a case he presided over when he was still on the High Court bench, said “the trauma and stigma of rape to the victim of such act is as dehumanising as it is penetrating”.
“In fact no amount of sentencing can parallel its debilitating effect on the victim’s psychological well-being. It thoroughly corrodes whatever dignity and self-respect she has,” the judge said.
Psychiatriconline.org says “feelings of shame, confusion, and guilt are common” among survivors of rape.

It says a survivor may feel bad for not stopping the assault.
“They may worry about what others will think, or they may possibly blame themselves,” states the publication.
The online magazine’s study found that most survivors report experience flashbacks where they keep replaying the assault in their minds over and over again.

It also says survivors of sexual assault may also be at increased risk of mental health issues such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorders, eating disorders, and anxiety.
“Individuals who have been assaulted multiple times may be at an even higher risk for mental health issues,” it says.
The magazine says negative reactions from friends, family members, or professionals may increase the risk of mental health issues even more.
Not being believed or being blamed creates greater psychological trauma, it says.

It advises that whether the assault happened yesterday, or it occurred decades ago, a mental health professional can assist you in coping with sexual assault.
“Therapy is a confidential, non-judgmental place to work through challenges,” the magazine says.
“A therapist may help you deal with your feelings, identify new coping skills, and manage your stress.”
“You can discuss specific issues, like how to deal with flashbacks or how to improve your sleep. You might also explore whether you decide to share the fact that you were assaulted with friends or family members.”
“Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness.”
HelpGuide.org observes that “the world doesn’t feel like a safe place anymore”.

“You no longer trust others. You don’t even trust yourself. You may question your judgment, your self-worth, and even your sanity,” it says.
“You may blame yourself for what happened or believe that you’re “dirty” or “damaged goods.”
In 2018 in Lesotho’s mountainous region herdsmen participated in UNFPA-supported information sessions, which introduced them to ideas about human rights – including women’s and girls’ right to live free of abuse and violence.

They learned about the importance of respect and communication.
In an article titled “Navigating Lesotho’s legal system to address gender-based violence” the March 2021 issue of UNAIDS.org says less than 40 percent of women who experience violence report it or seek help in Lesotho.
It says during Lesotho’s lockdowns, UNFPA worked with Gender Links, the Lesotho Mobile Police Service and others to support efforts to prevent and respond to incidences of gender-based violence.
“We are ensuring that a helpline, where people experiencing gender-based violence can call, is in place and is working and we are also providing relevant information through various platforms for people to access all the information they need on gender-based violence,” says Manthabeleng Mabetha, the UNFPA Country Director for Lesotho.

Gender-Links told thepost on Tuesday that it has helped several sexual assault victims to access professional legal, psychiatrist and other services.
At least 90 percent of all male prison inmates were in jail after they were convicted of rape, according to Dr Mahali Phamotse.
The survey was carried out when she was still Minister of Justice in 2019.

According to the Bureau of Statistics Crime Statistics report 2016, sexual offence is number three on the chart, with house-breaking and stock theft being number one and two respectively.
According to a United Nations study conducted in 2015 Lesotho has the highest rape rate in the world, with 61 percent of women reporting having experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives.
The country had a rate of 88.6 rape cases per 100 000 inhabitants in 2011, according to a UN report.

’Mapule Motsopa

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