To review a book about someone’s own personal experience with sexual assault is not easy. I’m not even sure whether it should be called a review. You are walked through her experience.
You feel like you are there, like you can smell and almost taste the salty sea air. The fear, hearts racing, shadows and the cold. The bitter cold, even in summer. I felt it, through her words.
The most compelling sentence in the entire book: “Then I hear them walking back to us and I know. I know.”
This sentence immediately had my heart in my throat. I knew it was coming. But this moment captured it all.
The first few chapters are undoubtedly the most gripping. It starts with the circumstances of her being raped on a beach in Muizenburg on the same night she presented her Honours thesis at UCT about male perceptions of rape.
Ironic? Yes. Strange or unfathomable that this, this rape could happen to her? Sadly, no.
Perhaps one of the most nerve-destroying chapters of all is the one on her interaction with the police and health care practitioners after the rape. Victim-blamed, shamed and made to feel guilty instead of receiving but any empathy or compassion, she collapses in hospital.
Their reasoning: Michelle and her friend were on the beach at night; they deserved to get robbed and raped. Not, women should be allowed to frequent any public space, whenever they want to as equal citizens of the state, men should not be raping. No. This was a stretch too far.
Michelle is of course one of those “luckier” rape victims. No this sounds like a preposterous statement. And it is. Yet it is perceived that with resources at her disposal, like a support network, a middle class upbringing, etc. it could be argued that her experience was “smoother” than that of a rape victim without any support or financial resources at their disposal.
But it was and is by no means easier. No rape is the same. The circumstances are always different. Yet, the crime remains the same. Rape is rape is rape. Whether it happened to a child, a young woman, a man or a grandmother, the victim is never to blame.
And even when resources to assist the rape victim are readily available, it is an experience that simply cannot be understood by anyone but the victim.
Michelle breaks down rape myths while simultaneously addressing the grave lack assistance for rape victims in Cape Town – one of the world’s rape capital cities. A necessary read.