I am no saint. I have hurt the people I love the most in the world. But no matter what hurt a person believes we’ve inflicted, nothing gives them the right to reign terror on our lives, to hijack our peace of mind, to make us so paranoid that we’re afraid to walk down the street, to sleep, to eat, to see a car linger a few seconds too long in our street. Last September, a man who was enabled by his family and closest friends, did this to me.
He sent a series of threatening text messages to my phone which were framed as threats of a political nature. He faked his own kidnapping and then went around to people in my networks telling them that I had arranged it. He gained access to my Google account via a computer I’d loaned to him and used it to access my email and social media accounts. He created a fake Facebook profile, pretended to be a girl who was raped and tried to get me to meet him.
When I went to the police at the station nearest to where I lived at the time, they didn’t take me seriously. They brushed me aside, told me I was having a bit of man problems and did nothing to protect me from him. When I went to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), the officer there was kind, he listened and in the end he told me that there was nothing he could do for me. In matters like mine, he explained, it was my word against my abuser’s word plus there was no legislation at the time to deal with cases of cyber bullying. CID could offer me no protection.
A social worker I interacted with during those weeks, advised me to go to the Magistrates’ Court and get a protection order. I went to the court, I filled out the necessary paper work and then as I was leaving the room the man – who I believed was helping me – touched my arm inappropriately and said words I now cannot recall. I did not go back to the court that afternoon to swear before the Magistrate so that the order could be issued. I was confused, I was afraid and I felt like the more I tried to get help, the more I was exposing myself to danger. The Court could not protect me.
When he went to the same police station, they listened to him and they showed up at my house. During those weeks, there were many misunderstandings about whose belongings were at whose house. His examination certificates and passport were left at mine. The first I didn’t realise were there and the latter I knew I had and eventually lodged with the police at Brickdam. Why did the police respond to him and not me? Is it because of his skin colour and profession? Is it because he’s a man? Is it because his complaint was easier to deal with than mine? Why didn’t they protect me? I don’t understand why.
And the worst part is that I am not his first victim. He’d been implicated in attempting to burn an ex-girlfriend’s apartment (something I learned after I suspected he’d staged his own kidnapping). When I reached out to her for help, she told me that even during 2016 she had still been receiving threatening text messages from him. Less than two months after his reign of terror on my life, he started a relationship with a woman who used to be my close friend. His behaviour seems to follow a pattern based on a series of unresolved emotional issues.
This is not about him though. I have made peace with that episode of my life. I have forgiven him and his enablers. I hope that they get help and heal eventually. But what I have not resolved is how the systems which should have protected me failed to do so. While I’d like to tell you that I’m over the fear, I can’t. I’m very afraid right now. What if he reads this and becomes angry? What if they try to terrorize me all over again? Will the systems fail me again?
I am lucky that last year I was surrounded by people who knew me, people who stood by me. But what about women who are completely alone? What happens to them? Who stands with them? How do they heal? Do they become victims of men like the one I encountered at the court? Are they stereotyped by police? How many of them end up dead because of these systemic weaknesses?