“Shame this always happens to pretty girls” they said.
I no longer want to be anonymous:
My name is Robyn Keyser and I live in Cape Town. I am 22 now, and I have green eyes.
The last year has been without a doubt the toughest and most searching year I could have imagined.
Although I can’t remember your face, I can remember your desperation, I can remember the ache in my muscles for weeks to come and I can remember how I pitied you; how dark your soul must be for you to hurt another in that way.
That night, you handed me a box of darkness.
Rape ironically makes one look inward.
We look at all the things that we did wrong and do wrong, and when we can’t find a reason we turn to our flaws. This inevitably causes the most excruciating introspection of one’s character. We search for meaning; there must be meaning behind this form of theft, this need to steal strength that was not yours to take. The box of darkness you handed me grew in size every day, ultimately filling each corner of my mind and consuming every second of each day.
Today, one year later, I am going to open that box with you; it only feels right that we both learn what is inside together.
Rape feels a lot like I’d imagine drowning to feel.
You are surrounded by water; you learnt as a child to trust in its nature.
You are held afloat by it, at peace and freed by its enormity.
Suddenly its nature changes, it begins to storm and no longer holds you high but begins to tug at your ankles.
Wave after wave, it crushes you.
Your lungs begin to fill and your eyes cloud over, you cannot hear and you cannot speak.
You are being consumed by a force much greater than you but still you fight as you sink.
You look up to see the sun but it gets smaller each second.
You feel a sharp pain in your chest and it is mortality telling you that you are impermanent and you are transient.
The water has made you give up, even for just a moment, on your most primal urge to fight for your life.
Sometimes, we are lucky and we float back to the surface when the storm passes, eventually feeling the sunlight on our face.
But most times,
the water consumes us and we sink to the ocean floor, alone.
Forever betrayed by the water that surrounds us.
Things I have learnt:
1) I believe with every part of me that it is possible to emerge complete and capable of love again. Rape does not need to define you.
2) Anonymity in rape is expected. I do not resent the survivors who hide their trauma from the world in any way, in fact I envy them. In some ways we feel damaged, weak and broken. But what’s worse is that we are seen as damaged, weak and broken. We are made to feel it is our responsibility to protect you from the horrible reality that is rape in South Africa. This is no longer something I will be responisible for.
3) Being raped does small and big things to your soul when you least expect it. Many rape survivors such as myself can experience secondary or recuring trauma in the form of night terrors, body dysmorphia, involuntry surges of adrenalin and PTSD.
4) I am not ashamed. The type of good I hope to come from this cannot be achieved while remaining anonymous; I want you to know my name, remember my face and learn the colour of my eyes even though I do not wish the same of you.
5) I want you to see that strength cannot be taken.
6) If you are raising boys and girls, raise them as equals.
7) As little boys and girls we are taught to fear the volatility of men, to fear their strength and to fear their power. We are taught that rape is a condition of being a woman, our strength and femininity is its cause, it is what drives this. Wrong!
8) It must be known that we can teach our young boys about vulnerability, about love and that masculinity does not equate to power.
9) I will cry each day as I know I was not the last; this is a struggle so many will still have to face.
10) No matter where you were, what you were doing and who you were with- It is never your fault.
It is time to be brave and start a conversation that matters – one can only understand a system when one tries to change it.
I ask those who read this once again, to start a conversation that matters. Show others that vulnerability and strength live together.
Rape is a manifestation of hate and weakness, there is no strength in the act.
I must thank a friend who sat in silence holding my hand waiting, while the doctors argued over who would take my case, “shame this always happens to pretty girls” they said. I must thank my best friend, who showed me the very next day how a man can deal with vulnerability, that a man can hold a woman and draw strength from her and that strength can be shared, it does not need to be taken.
I thank my family for becoming an army, for fighting and protecting me from all that was consuming me. You remind me that love and strength are transcendent.
I must thank the nurse who on my return to the hospital held my hand without diffidence and whispered, “No loneliness exists like a man who cannot understand love. You, my darling, know love and strength; you will never feel alone again.”
Robyn Keyser, 22
Paintings by Mark Demsteader