Tanya*, now 29 years old, says the horror of that night seven years ago will forever be burnt into her memory – despite the SAPS paying her R125 000 in damages in 2015 for unlawful arrest.
“I was 22 when I was sexually assaulted and many people refused to believe me,” she says.
Tanya had been at a friend’s party in Alberton, southeast of Johannesburg, Gauteng.
“I was living in Durban [KwaZulu-Natal] at the time and came to visit a guy I liked in Joburg. I didn’t know the other people at the party very well but back then I still trusted others easily,” she tells YOU.
Tired after the day’s long journey and after a few drinks, Tanya went to lie down in one of the spare rooms.
“I woke up at around 10pm. Someone was touching me and there was the flash of a camera,” she recalls.
The man was fondling her – when she woke up, she discovered he’d pulled up her shirt and bra and her panties were around her ankles.
She says she was so scared she didn’t know what to do.
“I froze. I didn’t fight – I just pretended to still be sleeping. I’d tried thinking what my options were but then there was a noise outside the room that frightened the man off,” she says.
The only person Tanya knew at the party was the guy she liked. She asked another woman for help and spoke to her crush too but neither believed her. The man who’d allegedly taken the pictures of her was their best friend.
“They maintained he’d never do something like that.”
She called her dad, hundreds of kilometres away, and asked what she should do. All the partygoers were either too drunk to help her or simply didn’t believe her.
“My dad persuaded me to report the incident and I went to the nearest police station,” she recalls.
There, her nightmare continued. She says she waited for hours for a police officer to take her statement.
“It was hard to make a statement – of the five police officers, three were men. I felt ashamed to describe the specifics in front of them. I was tired and alone. The sun was starting to rise when they eventually took my statement.”
Tanya says the police changed their attitude the moment they realised she hadn’t been penetrated.
“I know I wasn’t raped because I was having my period,” she says.
“But he touched me and took [nude] pictures of me.”
Tanya was given the chance to call her dad to tell him where she was before she was searched and put in a cell.
“They put me in a cell with men and laughed at me – both the police and the men in the cell. At least they didn’t leave me in there. It was more for their own amusement but I was horrified.”
She was kept on her own in a cell, then handcuffed and taken to another police station. A full 36 hours passed before she could at last speak to a lawyer. She was taken to court the next afternoon on charges of perjury and making a false statement to police.
“The holding cells at court are just as traumatic. One man pulled down his pants and grabbed his genitals as he walked past me . . . It just didn’t stop,” she says.
The magistrate threw the case out and ordered Tanya’s immediate release. Tanya’s lawyer, Johan Britz from GJB Attorneys, lodged a civil case against the SAPS and Tanya was eventually awarded R125 000 in damages.
“I wish I could say I felt better after winning the case but I didn’t. I was never the same person after that night. I developed post-traumatic stress disorder and eventually had to be treated in a psychiatric clinic. For years afterwards I was still on anxiety medication and antidepressants. I had to pretend I was fine – but I wasn’t,” she says.
Tanya still has friends and family members who don’t know the story and that’s why she’d rather tell it anonymously. The alleged perpetrator was never formally charged either.
“Thankfully, there were people who stood by me and supported me. But I want to tell every woman, ‘Know your rights and if they’re violated, fight back’.”
Tanya says she believes those police officers hadn’t been fully aware of what the law entails and it seemed they didn’t think a crime had been committed because she hadn’t been raped.
Johan says he was shocked at the police officers’ lack of empathy. “The support [she should’ve got] that day was shockingly lacking. Though the sexual assault case never went anywhere, we at least got some justice for how she was treated afterwards.”
*Not her real name.
• People Opposed to Woman Abuse (Powa) offers counselling and legal assistance: 011-642-4345
• Tears Foundation provides comprehensive support to victims of violence: *134*7355# or 010-590-5920
• Gender-Based Violence Command Centre: 0800-428-428