Trigger Warning: Rape and sexual assault content
I am no longer a student at the University Currently Known as Rhodes (UCKAR), but I was in 2016, and around this time last year, RUReferenceList protests started. After I’ve recently sifted through the jagged information on the UCKAR Student Body Page, I felt that unprofessionally knotted rope join the sides of my stomach again and everything came back. It all came dripping slowly into my system, sieved by the protest songs I could hear just below my breathing. It is 11 months later, and I remember everything.
I remember the intellectual explanations of what rape culture is, the discourse on the dynamics of protest, the critique of protest methods, the academic analysis of why rape happens, the debates on whether victims/survivors should be believed, the articles explaining why rape is a gender problem, and everything else that comes with social movements. As necessary as intellectualism and analysis and education is, I’d like to put it all aside and say to you, dear victim and/or survivor, I believe you. I believe you, I see you and I see your pain and you are not alone.
I keep writing paragraphs apologising for the way society treats you, with the intention of transitioning the letter to a softer, kinder reminder that I believe you, that I have friends that believe you, and that there are people willing to fight for you. But it feels wrong, it feels disgustingly inappropriate to use a four-lettered word used for things as benign as spilling one’s drink on someone, to address what society does to you, what people like myself do not do for you, and for what you are feeling while reading this. So, my cursor keeps smirking at me, reminding me that language too, a tool of patriarchy, can be violent. Even now, while I try with everything in me to make language a tool of solidarity, it flaunts its violence in its lack of ability to effectively do that.
Last year, I witnessed a languageless solidarity. I saw womxn, and even some men, stand together against what happens to you. I saw a womxn refuse to be removed from her barricade, her fear so heavy, it held her to the ground she was being pulled from. I saw womxn take off their clothing, stand, vulnerable in front of personifications of violence, and disrupt the smooth process of victim/survivor neglect. And when these womxn were threatened, over and over again, I saw a powerful Black womxn, as terrified as everyone else, stand up and promise to accompany any womxn who was arrested. I held hands with people I had never met, as we felt a car rev into our stomachs, denying a man the ability to bring our disruption of his privileged day to a halt. I witnessed power.
Like I said, language, like everything else, is violent in its lack of commitment to make up for what society does to you, but I’d like to use to it to tell you something if that’s okay?
I believe you. I don’t care what you were wearing. I don’t care if you weren’t sure. I don’t care if you didn’t say anything. I don’t care if you didn’t react the way you’re ‘supposed’ to. I don’t care if he was a feminist. I don’t care if they were your partner. I don’t care if you didn’t report it. I don’t care if you went back to him. I don’t care how intoxicated you were. I don’t care if you haven’t told anyone. I don’t care if he doesn’t even know yet. All I care about is you, and that you know that I believe you. And it’s not just me that believes you, this letter is not about me, I have friends that believe you and I’ve worked with journalists that believe you, and I’ve spoken to academics that believe you. There are people who believe you, people who have committed their lives to making sure society believes you, and people who care about you.
I am not trying to dismiss your frustration with those who do not believe you, I am not trying to prove that your perception of how society treats you is wrong, I am not trying make you less angry. I just wanted to make sure that there was something, during this time of constant triggers and dismissal and trivialisation, that reminded you that you are powerful and that you are believed.
You are loved and you are cared about and you deserve to find peace.
We believe you.