This a couple months late, I apologise for that but I really wanted to put it up.
She shouldn’t have to feel like it’s her fault. It shouldn’t be her secret to keep. She was just a child, and you were supposed to be taking care of her. But you took advantage of the vulnerability, the trust they placed in your hands. This should be your shame, your guilt. Not hers. Yet she’s the one hurting. The one silenced by what the world will see her as. Silenced to mistrust everyone because you broke her, and society allowed you to.
How tragic is it that at age 5, she already knew her place as inferior? How unfair it was to strip her of the innocence of youth, and yet force her to carry the weight of covering it up.
If she’s lucky she can bury it so far down, that she can go days, weeks, feeling normal, pretending it never happened. But in the dark corridors, when whispers of similar tragedies circulate, the pain resurfaces. But how?! How can we let this keep happening?
It’s our fault that she feels so powerless. Her tragedy goes unrecorded, so we go on unaffected. Yet thousands like her go on hurting.
It’s time to give them back their voice, their power.
In August, Women’s Month, I participated in the Silent Protest, a march against sexual abuse. It was my first time participating, even though, I had seen it throughout my varsity life and my close friend being involved several times. Each year, she donned the purple T-shirt and black tape, and I couldn’t imagine the amount of courage it took to do that until I had to do it myself.
I got to school early that day to avoid possible queues. But there were only five people when I arrived. The organisers asked what shirt I ordered.
“Silenced,” I responded and she pointed me to the right table. From there, I was led to the taping circle.
The lady there was nice enough. She told me that putting on the tape meant I won’t be able to eat for a while. Lastly, she said that if I felt overwhelmed at any point in the day, I should take off the tape. At that moment, my heart began to race. Why would I feel overwhelmed? Could I actually do this? But I nodded in acceptance anyway.
Soon, I was on my way to class, with my purple t-shirt and taped mouth. The campus was a bit busier at this point, so there were more people shooting me quiet stares and inquisitive glances. The anxiety was rushing through my veins. Panic unbearable. I took a usually unpopulated path and sat down. Sat to cry, to feel the pressure. I wanted someone to find me, ‘cause I felt so alone. I stood out in the crowd, and it wasn’t something I was used to. The silence seemed a daunting secret, that I felt everyone could see, but chose to ignore.
I wanted to take it off right then, and this was all before eight am.
But I pushed on and made it to class. A few more stares but I brushed them aside, ‘cause I thought some of my friends would join me in the same purple shirts, and I wouldn’t have to feel so alone anymore. But they were running late, and would only be able to collect the t-shirts after classes. Again, I felt alone.
Luckily, all my classes in one place, so I didn’t have to deal with more curious faces. As the day progressed, it became easier to deal with. The tape became more of a well-concealed secret, and I was able to function as a normal again.
At the end of the day, there was a march across the perimeter of the campus, shining a light on the issues to everyone else. In this crowd, I felt safe. I didn’t feel so alone anymore. There were hundreds of people like me. I felt safe, maybe even proud to be standing with them. It was no longer a secret.
After the march, we all gathered in an open space to perform what is known as a ‘die-in’ where you lie on the ground, as lifeless as possible for 5 minutes. This is to commemorate all those who have lost their lives or felt dead on the inside because of what happened to them.
The organisers shared their tales of how they started this protest almost 10 years ago. They described how nasty people were to them for it. But they pushed on and now the protest is held across South Africa, with thousands joining them. Later, some survivors shared their stories as well.
It may not seem like you’re doing much in the silence but even if you are just making people uncomfortable, there is hope for change. It opens up channels for conversation which is necessary.
I’m glad I finally participated. It was an insightful experience. And really opened my eyes to this issue.
We need to do more.