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Why Sexual Assault Victims Don't Speak Up

From the horses mouth

BY Vongai Mbara

Nov 27, 2022, 06:00 AM

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Even in the Me Too era, many women who are victims of sexual abuse are hesitant about telling their stories to avoid being defined by their painful experiences.

Sadly, silencing such a traumatic incident carries a risk of bodily problems as well as a lifetime of emotional turmoil as witnessed in the film Mirage which was screened on the third day of the International Images Festival for Women in Domboshava.
Set amid the turbulent events of Zimbabwe’s historic 2017 “takeover” from Robert Mugabe, Mirage tells the thrilling story of three women’s plot to escape from one of the country’s notorious maximum-security prisons.

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Although the richly scripted film carries several themes, among them corruption, trust and motherhood, the storyline that stood out for me is how the lead character Tambu got into jail in the first place.

In a desperate measure to feed her hungry daughter, Tambu steals a chicken from her neighbour. Upon finding out, the neighbour attempts to rape her to compensate for the chicken, but when Tambu rebuffs him, he accuses her of stealing and she is given a five-year prison sentence for animal theft.

What really strikes a nerve with this storyline is how Tambu was arrested for theft yet her neighbour was never charged with attempted rape…because she did not speak out., which begs the question: Why is it that women do not speak out when they are abused?

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It was an intense and emotional debate as some victims shared their stories and justified their reasons for keeping quiet.

"My husband's friend tried to rape my daughter and when I told him, he brushed it off. He never even confronted him. So then if the head of the house takes serious issues like this lightly, I do not know what to do next," an elderly woman in attendance voiced her concerns.

Another one added, " Well sometimes we don't report because of desperation. My husband is the breadwinner. He pays school fees for our kids. If he abuses me, it will be hard for me to report him because how will we survive if he gets arrested? I will be left with no option but to protect him"

Another one blamed the police system: “My ex-husband abused me. He would beat me up all the time and when I went to the police, they wrote me a letter to give to my husband. How can I go back to my abuser with a letter as my only protection? That’s insane!

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“I got so angry that I grabbed one of the police officers by the collar and told him that I was not going back to my abuser with just a letter! What if he kills me? This kind of system discourages us from speaking out whenever we are abused.”

Some said they were afraid to speak out because society would judge them whilst some said their coping mechanism is to block out the experience and pretend it never happened. That said, all women agreed that speaking out about abuse is never an easy decision.

Tambu did not report her neighbour because he was her friend's husband. She protected her perpetrator but in the end, she was sent to prison. It was a highly emotional film. Tears were shed in Murape Hall, Domboshava. 

Women should learn to speak out! There is no reason valid enough to protect your perpetrator!