Michelle Hattingh is the author of I'm the Girl Who Was Raped. Follow her on Twitter @ms_hattingh.
A detective comes and tells us it’s time to go to the hospital. It’s three am. The four of us walk back into the rain. I am so cold. I am so tired. Julia is still wearing her pink Power Ranger outfit and she is bossing the detective around, telling him what to do and how.
The detective is wearing plainclothes and has curly hair. He doesn’t look either my friend or me in the eye.
We drive to the hospital. There are four of us, so hopefully we are safe with this man. He doesn’t talk. I can’t get a read on him. He is handsome, late thirties, unbothered and unencumbered by what happened to us. I get a whiff of irritation. He thinks we are useless.
When we arrive at the hospital he tells the man at reception,“I have two rape survivors with me. They need to have rape kits administered to them.”
I realise I already hate that word, “survivor”.
It is not what he thinks of us. It’s what they told him to call us. At some workshop where they served cold coffee and tuna mayo sarmies, they told him to refer to us as ‘rape survivors’. And he does, not because he believes it, but because it is part of the ‘proper procedure’.
My friend is outside on the phone. She is telling her parents what happened. Julia is with her. Malini takes my hand and we wait in yet another room – the nurses’ station. Malini’s wild hair is curling with the rage and emotions I know she is doing her best to keep inside. People run around and through us, I watch them moving through a thick fog.
I sit on a plastic chair and wait. Malini stands guard. My eyes won’t open. Two nurses work at a table with their backs turned to us. They have yet to acknowledge we exist. The detective goes to them.
“Hey auntie,” he smiles at the nurse and his tone is playful.
“Wat het jy nou vir ons?” The nurse is curt, unresponsive to his flirting. She wants to know what he has for them.
They carry on speaking in Afrikaans. They don’t know that I can speak Afrikaans.
“Two students who were raped. They were at the beach, they were partying. You know how it is.” The teasing tone never leaves his voice. They have their backs to us. “What are they? Stupid? They know what the world is like!”
The nurse is mad. At us. The ‘rape survivors’. I feel anger pushing and rushing about inside of me.
“Listen,” I say, in Afrikaans, to their backs, “if you have something to say about what happened to me tonight, please do it to my face.”
Neither the detective nor the nurse turns around.
“Ja, I will,” the nurse says. She does not turn around. “What were you thinking? You know what the world is like!!”
I can’t speak. I can’t feel. It was my fault. It was my fault. She just said so.
“Listen here, my friend really does not need to hear this right now so will you please just shut up,” Malini sneers at the nurse’s back. She squeezes my hand.
They shut up. But now I know. Because strangers won’t lie to protect you.
It is my fault. I deserved this. I had it coming. I am broken and it is my fault. I know better than to think like this but I am so tired. And the people who are supposed to help me just confirmed it. The people our government pays to help ‘rape survivors’ just told me the truth.
No matter what the theories and my feminist principles say:
It’s my fault that I got raped.
Is this really happening?
A different nurse tells me to go to the bathroom and pee in the cup. I leave the room without looking at the nurse or the detective, Malini behind me. I pee in the cup, my warm piss spilling over my sticky hands,running onto my sleeves.
In the hall on the way back to the nurses’ room, I collapse. Everything inside of me is done. It’s all gone. Like a helpless cow, caught in barbed wire, I struggle for life and air but I’m defeated. I am blind with pain and I’m no longer me. Tears, tears, so many tears.
“Aaaaaaaaaah,” I moan and rock my body. Snot, spit, piss, sticky sex and tears. That is who I am now. “Is it my … fault? Did … I do … this?” I heave. Malini grabs me and holds onto me.
In the distance, I see the detective walking down the corridor in our direction. His expression doesn’t change when he sees me lying on the floor. He turns into the room.
“Malini!” I am hysterical. Lost. Out of control. “It’s … my … fault!”
“Mich, no!” Malini holds me. “None of this is your fault! You cannot blame yourself!”
I am glad that she is there. But I don’t believe her.
I gather myself. Again.
And I push myself up. Again.
“It’s going to feel like you are being raped again,” Julia says to me before they administer the rape kit.
I still haven’t been able to wash myself or drink anything since I was raped. It is now about five-thirty am. I go first. The doctor is a young female. The purple circles under her eyes are pronounced despite her thick, smeared glasses. She is thin and has dark stains on her scrubs. She asks me what happened. I tell her. “Well, at least nothing else happened. You know, you weren’t stabbed or anything.”
I get it. I was “just” raped. Fabulous. Yay me.
I take off all of my clothes and put them into a plastic bag. “I’m on my period,” I realise. How did I forget about it?
“Are you wearing a tampon?”
“Take it out and give it to me.”
Naked, I dig inside myself for my tampon. I am cold and dry.
I move my fingers, digging deeper. Finally, I find the tampon. I wrench it out. “Oh, that is so good! Lots of DNA evidence there!” The doctor folds my tampon away. I comb through my hair. Yank strands out. She swabs my nails. She cuts my nails. She swabs my cheek where he licked it. She pricks my finger for an HIV test. She decides it is an appropriate time to speak.
“You know, a lot of doctors struggle with bedside manner. I, however, was really sick as a child and spent a lot of time in hospitals.” She plucks a pubic hair. “This made me better able to empathise with people and while it was hard being sick so often, I do believe it has made me a better doctor.”
It’s like they’re hitting me over and over again with a cartoon anvil.
“Well, my parents got divorced when I was nine because my dad went bankrupt,” I tell her. “My sister died in a car crash when I was fifteen and when I was nineteen, another guy forced himself on me while I was drunk. I also have clinical depression. So yes, I do get that bad things happen. I just kind of thought that I had reached my quota for a while,” I say in one breath.
She shuts up.