Watch the Sitholes every Thursday at 17h30 on e.tv
Durban - In hiding for fear of reprisals as the bail hearing for two police officers accused of sexually assaulting her looms tomorrow, a young single woman and her mother spoke to the Sunday Tribune of her ruined career and psychological devastation.
As detailed in our lead story on page 1, she was forced to endure a sexual encounter against her will, and then found the very people she expected to support her sided instead with the aggressors.
“I could not withdraw the charge, although one of my attackers begged me in tears. At work they were banding behind the men who violated me. They called ‘prostitute!’ when I passed them. If I took back the charge, I would have lost the little honour that I still had,” she said in a voice raw with emotion.
The 27-year-old woman employed by Durban metro police, said she had “fear for my life”, and become an outcast in her workplace following an alleged assault on her by two male police officers, during which she was abducted against her will, taken on a hell ride through Durban’s suburbs, and forced to endure a sex attack that culminated, according to her, in one officer forcing her head into his lap, while she fought to free herself, and then masturbating until he ejaculated on her clothing.
The woman said the second officer drove the car and was a party to the abduction and assault. When she appealed to him to help her, she said, he replied: “He (the attacker) is just doing what men do.”
Although the woman immediately reported her attack to a close friend with whom she shared a flat, she was too afraid for many weeks to lodge a case against her assailants.
“I knew I had to do so when I started getting threats and people began labelling me ‘prostitute’. I had done nothing wrong, and yet they were so willing to believe these men, because they had power.
“The people who called me names are those who look for favour from people who have more power than them in the police force,” she said.
“I moved house because I was afraid I would be attacked to stop me testifying. I also asked to be moved to a satellite police station to get away from the men who attacked me and the people who supported them against me. It has been a very long, hard road, and it is still not over.”
Counselling psychologist Judith Ancer said the victim had been failed by every individual and institution who should have protected her.
“That she suffered severe trauma goes without saying, but this woman’s violation has been amplified by a secondary victimisation. She has learned that she cannot trust anyone to support her rights. All the structures that should have done so failed spectacularly.
“Even with professional counselling, it is quite probable that she will feel anxiety, shame and guilt. For me, the most appalling aspect of her ordeal is this failure by the community, society, culture and judiciary of this country.”
Jeanette Sera, a social worker speaking on behalf of People Against Women Abuse, a Joburg gender violence survivor support group, said the organisation had encountered other examples of female police officers sexually abused by colleagues.
She said black women in South Africa suffered even more than their white counterparts when it came to the failure of the laws meant to protect them from assault and other forms of harm.
“In black culture… women have been taught to see themselves as objects that are there to provide male pleasure. The SAPS and metro police workplaces are still male-dominated terrain.
“Our courts also fail to send out the message that abuse of women and children will not be tolerated. We have a terrifyingly long way to go before we can say that the South African constitution actually protects and defends the most vulnerable victims of crime.”