Trigger warning: rape, sexual assault, sexual violence
I’m a nice girl. I’m from a nice family. I went to a nice school. And nice girls aren’t raped. Rape is something that happens over there. It’s not something that happens to nice girls.
I arrived at Rhodes University in 2013, full of expectations of ‘the most liberal varsity in the country’. I expected to be challenged by my environment, and to grow. I did not expect to be raped.
I didn’t actually acknowledge that what happened to me was rape until two-and-a-half years after it had happened. I never reported my rapist. I didn’t wear a survivor’s T-shirt at Rhodes’s iconic Silent Protest. In my mind at the time, my rape wasn’t rape. It was just something that I refused to acknowledge.
It happened in March 2013 on a Saturday night. I’d had a drink while I was getting ready with friends and two cane and creme sodas later at the club. But it had been a long week and the dance floor was empty; I wasn’t particularly in a party mood and planned on leaving to go back home soon.
While standing at the bar waiting for another drink, I struck up a conversation with a guy. He seemed nice and, better yet, his residence (res) was in my dining hall, and he was thinking about leaving too. Would I like to finish my drink and he’d walk me home?
I’d been drilled by my House Committee to never walk home alone at night and to always tell my friends if I was going to leave with someone else. I did both these things, and I was still raped.
While we were walking up the hill towards our dining hall, he pulled a cola from his bag and offered it to me, saying water would probably be better for keeping hydrated, but that I should drink something anyway. I accepted. I knew better than to accept drinks from strangers but this was a nice guy from my dining hall; he was hardly a stranger, right?
By the time I was really aware of what was happening, I was naked in his room. I felt like I was being held down by invisible ropes; my limbs felt so heavy. Slipping a condom on to his penis, he told me to be quiet because it was after visiting hours and I might get in trouble if I was to be caught in his room.
It didn’t last long. Or at least it didn’t feel like it was. Just before he penetrated me, he turned down the photo frame of him and his family. Once he was done, he turned it back up again. He handed me my clothes, but he kept my underwear. He walked me to his res door and told me to walk home safely. My res was only 100m away from his; we would have walked past it on our way.
The next morning, my friends presumed I’d hooked up with him. I laughed along because it was easier. I figured that if it was just a really bad one-night stand, then that was all it was. Nice girls don’t get raped by nice boys.
That April, my rapist participated in the Silent Protest, wearing an In Solidarity T-shirt. I chose to be a Silent Protestor, with tape over my mouth. He took pictures during the march.
In August, at a party organised by our dining hall’s two residences, he raped me again. This time I was truly drunk and although I’d been avoiding him, he got me again. He pushed me into a room, pulled off my underwear and, leaving my skirt and shirt on, raped me. Pocketing my underwear and pulling off the condom, he said, ‘I’ve been practising for you.’
He was in my dining hall for two years. I had to watch his life continue as normal. Meal times were anxiety-riddled. I was embarrassed and ashamed; I was silent. It couldn’t have been rape. It was just two bad hook-ups, right?
Then two years later in August 2015, I was in a tutorial class about systems of power when fellow students discussed how survivors blame themselves. It was then that I realised that I had been raped. A light bulb clicked and shed its light on something I’d hidden from myself. I had never consented to anything other than to be walked home. I still struggle to this day with the rapes. There are times I still believe that it was either my fault, or that it couldn’t have been ‘real rape’.
He continued to be a part of the Silent Protests. He continued to support other survivors while I still pray that I am the only survivor he created. I’m about to start my fifth year at Rhodes University. At this point, I have two degrees, and am on my way for a third. Beyond my closest friends, I’ve never spoken out.
Whenever I encountered him on campus, in a bar, or on social media, I experienced panic, anxiety and crushing shame. Nice girls aren’t raped. Nice girls aren’t raped by nice boys. It’s not something that happens to nice girls.
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