This is the second in my #YesAllWomen series – you can read the first here – of recollections from women who have written to me to share their stories of rape, assault and sexual harassment. Jessica is one of those who emailed me to share hers. When I asked if I could share it, and said I would change her name, she said, “You don’t have to change my name. I have been hiding my story for such a long time… When we stand together, we give others the strength to come out and share their story.” This is Jessica’s.
I thought, he is a man; he will protect me – Jessica Juma, 2016
About five years ago, I was sexually assaulted by three men in my home country – in Malawi, Africa. (The location doesn’t excuse the fact that sexual assault is taken lightly by some men.)
I still remember this fateful evening – the 19th of November, 2011. I used to volunteer for my church’s youth group. I was the secretary. When we had fundraising events, something like a barbecue, I would be the one to go to the shops to compare prices of the foodstuffs we needed.
That day, I left for the shops at around 2pm. I spent around two hours doing my duties, and decided to get the bus back home as it was getting dark, at around 4:30pm. I got off a bus at my stop, together with one of the men that attacked me. He walked in front of me, faster than I did, pretending to be on his phone. I thought, why not rush to be at his pace in case something happens – he is a man, he will protect me.” Little did I know that he had two friends waiting for him in the little path to attack me.
He then slowed down until I was in front of him – I guess his plan was to come at me from behind. He put his arm over my neck from behind, choking me, and his two friends ran towards me from the bushes. One of them had a bottle of some dark liquid and he grabbed my mouth and made me drink it. I fell to the ground within seconds, intoxicated, drowsy from this liquid. I was not fully unaware of what they were doing while I lay there.
That day, I wore a dress. I guess it made it easier for these men to do what they wanted. They took turns getting on top of me until I started to regain consciousness. I started to scream, but I guess my screams were faint… They started biting me to shut me up. Biting my fingers, my lower lip, just below my eye socket. To make it worse, when they heard some people walking towards the path, they kicked me in my ribs and took my phone that lay on the ground and ran off.
I was taken home by a woman who found me, and then to the hospital by my family.
The worst thing was not having to go through the torture of healing from my wounds and fractures, or having to take rabies shots for all the bites, or having to take an antiretroviral drug for six weeks to make sure I didn’t contract HIV… The worst thing was when the police were involved. They were all men; they questioned my wearing a dress that night. Why didn’t I wear jeans, knowing women are at a high risk of being sexually assaulted? They were basically saying I brought it upon myself.
For years I battled with self hate… I blamed myself for wearing a dress that evening, for being out till 4:30 during the day and for not being able to fight these men or scream louder for help.
I saw a psychologist for a while because, after that, I didn’t want anything to do with men or sex. I was seeing someone at the time who, luckily, understood that I couldn’t be intimate for a while. I felt dirty, I felt used, bruised… Even today, I never feel comfortable being out even later than 6pm.
That same year, I left Malawi. I’m currently living in Dublin.
I’m saddened when people still think today that it’s the woman’s fault if she is sexually assaulted or harassed.
I hope one day to be able to share my story with so many other women who feel that it’s their fault that this happened to them.
If you’d like to share your stories – and we all have them, from mild to extreme and everything in between – I’d be glad to listen (or read). Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. (It’s never your fault.)