Featuring HER (16 Days of Activism): Raeesa Jassat
TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual Assault
Thirty-two-year-old Raeesa Jassat candidly opens up about her experience with sexual assault and offers advice she wished she'd been given.
Mummy said, "Always be good, don’t accept ice-cream from strangers." Daddy said, "Do well in school, sweetheart. Get a degree, a good job. See, the world is your oyster, Rara."
So I floated through life as if on a feather. Somehow through sheer will, the strength of my character and firmness of my core values I got through 25 years of life with a PG13 rating at best. I believed that I could live an unconventional life, that women were a force to be acknowledged and that there was justice in the world.
The closest I came to trauma was being bullied because I had a curious mind in school. But Mummy and Daddy never told me that your soul aches when you watch your 6-month-old nephew’s broken heart beating through his chest after having open-heart surgery. Mummy never told me how painful it was to kiss his frozen and lifeless lips for the last time.
Daddy never told me that the statistical probability of your home being burgled is high and that it would take a year for you to feel safe in your own bed, in your own head. Daddy didn’t tell me that when the weight of the world feels too heavy, you should be careful who you turn to.
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Aunty *** always yelled at me for wearing lipstick but never explained her anger. Mr *** never explained why he closed the door to ask me if the water pressure in the shower was okay when I spent the night at his daughter’s place.
Mummy never told me that monsters have normal-people faces. Mummy told me that God said that girls should never be alone in houses with boys, but she never told me why. Daddy never told me what evil men want from women because daddy probably thought “No, not my little girl.”
Colleague *** never asked my permission when he grabbed me on top of his body and forced my hand into his trousers. He never asked me if I found it romantic when he pinned my limbs to the floor, but he sure said that he was trying to be when I reported him to HR.
Family member *** told me that I just enjoyed feeling sad. Cousin *** said that if I prayed to Allah the devil would stop haunting my ill mind. Cousin *** didn’t know that the demons in my head would send Shaytaan running for the hills.
HR representative *** promised me that nobody was above the law, but didn’t explain to me why Colleague *** got promoted after I reported him and I got threatened with retrenchment if I didn’t return to the building.
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Mr CEO of a large South African bank sent out emails to the entire company saying he had a zero-tolerance policy for assault and harassment but didn’t explain who his zero-tolerance policy applied to when he responded to my impassioned pleas to him with “I am a busy Chief Executive of a large company and do not have time to get involved in every case.”
Managers X, Y and Z called me rude and hostile, but never explained to me the correct way for an assault victim to behave during formal reports of sexual assault.
Mummy said to pray to Allah. Daddy said nothing. Suddenly Mummy and Daddy were in unchartered territory. Sound familiar?
Now that I have this part of my story out of the way, I just want to say that this is not a pity post. This is a real post. This is a guide to the things nobody told me when I started the dark and lonely journey of reporting assault by myself.
Here are some steps to follow:
Seek legal advice from the start before laying a complaint.
Tell an HR rep your story, show them your evidence and ask if you have a solid case.
Know your rights. You never have to be present with the accused during any phase of the proceedings.
It is not illegal to record any meeting so that the truth can be captured.
Choose an external arbitrator not paid for by your employer. Pay yourself or fundraise. Arbitrators hired by your employer are not fully impartial.
File a restraining order. You might have to identify the person when it is served, and if done at the workplace your assaulter may countersue for defamation of character.
Take someone you trust into meetings regarding your complaint, whether a colleague, friend or Diversity and Inclusion Officer. It’s a difficult thing to do alone and vulnerable people can be taken advantage of.
Do not accept any decisions made by anyone. Challenge, appeal, and go to the CCMA if you have to. Just make sure you have a solid body of evidence.
You don’t have to remain silent in the workplace, the media or on social media if you have not signed a non-disclosure agreement. They may claim defamation of character, but if your evidence is solid, that’s worthless.
If you have been raped, call a trusted therapist - if you have one - to go with you to a police station and to have your rape kit done.
With every medical aid, you have a 21-day admission benefit to a psychiatric clinic. This was the single biggest healing step I took to reducing trauma.
When Mufti *** said on the radio one day that revenge is your right, but leaving retribution in the hands of God (the best Punisher and Judge) I let my anger and need for vengeance go.
I thought I believed that there is no justice in the world but Socrates said that sinners wrong their own souls. So, long after I have moved on Assaulter *** will bear the black spot on his soul.
Despite this, I want you, fierce warrior woman, never to go gentle into that good night. Rage! Rage! against the dying of the light.
Raeesa Jassat is a 32-year-old consultant by day and musician whenever she can find the time. She is somewhere between 'survivor' and 'victim' of sexual assault. She believes that the status quo constantly needs challenging. Tempora mutantur, 'The times they are always changing'. She is also a firm believer in a Divine Source of all things in the heavens and the earth and everything in between.
If you are in need of someone to reach out to, Raeesa has generously shared her email address: email@example.com