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Boksburg mom shares her rape ordeal to inspire women to speak out

“Keeping mum about the traumatic experiences was a major obstacle to recovery, and the pain of the buried wounds is worse than facing the stigma that exists out there,” she said.

In line with the continued scourge of GBV  and August being Women’s Month, a Freeway Park mother shared her  gang-rape ordeal with the Advertiser and urged others to break the silence about any form of abuse or traumatic events in their lives.

The 46-year-old Joanita Smit, who now practises as a counsellor under her organisation called Smitten Love Foundation, shed some light on the topic many people, women in particular, often choose to keep mum about – due to fear of the backlash, stigma, the shame and victim-blaming often involved.

In the hope of encouraging others who are still mustering up the courage to speak out, Smit, who has now dedicated her life to helping others, spoke about her rape experience, how she finally found the courage to speak out, the journey to healing and finding hope and forgiveness following the pain she battled with for years.

Her main objective is to dismantle the stigma around sexual assault and GBV.

Smit was raped at the age of 16, by four teenage boys well known to her, while attending a 16th birthday party in the then Orange Free State. Out of fear she wouldn’t be believed, and the stigma and judgement she would face, Smit decided to keep mum about the traumatic experience.

“In our days, your mom didn’t talk to you about sex. It was kind of like a taboo. So, when it happened to me I didn’t report it because I didn’t want to hurt my parents. “There was a big stigma around being raped or molested. People did not believe you most of the time and I was afraid of being judged.

“Yes, at some point the self-blame kicked-in with me saying to myself I had a bikini costume on at the time. I did speak to everyone at the party. I was a very open and friendly person and I was already thinking to myself they are going to say I was looking for it or invited it.

“Another thing that was an issue (which I think has changed a bit although there is still room for improvement) is that in those years there were not a lot of female police officers, so you had to go and tell this thing that happened to you to a man in an unfriendly environment. There were no special rooms or victim centres like there are now,

“On top of that, you were expected to go to an uninviting government hospital to be examined.  It was a very cold process at the time, and that’s the reason I didn’t report it.”

However, Smit’s buried wounds had a devastating impact, leading to a prolonged struggle with depression and attempted suicide. At the age of 24, she decided it was not worth it anymore and tried to take her own life as a way of escaping the pain by overdosing on antidepressant medication.

Luckily, she was found in time and she survived to share her story with the world.

Turning point

Smit subsequently came to understand that the root cause of all her pain was the buried wound caused by the horrific rape ordeal she had bottled up for almost two decades, and she eventually broke the silence.

“It wasn’t an easy thing for me to talk about my story, but I realised that someone needs to be the voice for the ones that either don’t want to talk or are scared.

“To be honest, I think I still don’t have the courage to talk about it if you understand that by sharing my story, I’m putting myself out there for being part of the stigma.

“Talking about it was a positive turning point because I’m not crying or getting a panic attack when I think or talk about it anymore. I told myself that I’m a survivor and that it was not my fault. This mindset changed how I feel about the whole situation.

“I want everyone else who went through any similar ordeal to see themselves as survivors and not just victims.”

Smit reminded victims that as hard as it is to face the stigma of having been sexually abused, it is more difficult to face the inner or psychological crisis and ill effects victims suffer as a result of sweeping their trauma under the carpet.

“Keeping mum about the traumatic experiences was a major obstacle to recovery, and the pain of the buried wounds is worse than facing the stigma that exists out there,” she said.

“Immediately seek help, as speaking up is the right step towards full recovery from your traumatic experience.”

She also pointed out that speaking out may also help to bring the perpetrators to book for their actions and also deprive them of the opportunity to continue hurting others.

“As a counsellor, dealing with people suffering from mental health, I discovered that most of the people I dealt with were suffering from mental health either being suicidal or anxious the whole time, because the person was either molested at a young age or being raped by a family member or something like that, and then chose not to talk about it due to the attached stigma.

“Victims don’t want to subject themselves to a situation where they are blamed, labelled, not being believed, scorned and subjected to a lengthy criminal justice process.

“However, after the psychological crisis and pain I went through, I found the courage to rather face the potential backlash, and I want my story to be someone else’s survival guide.

“I want every woman who went through the same situation to say this woman (me) went through a lot – it was not just rape. She went through mental health issues, she attempted suicide and went through a lot of suffering. But, today she gets up every morning to do what she is supposed to do and takes each day as a new day. If she can do it then I can do it as well.”

When asked if she intends to report this to the police, Smit said, “I have not made a decision yet; but I hope that my story will make them understand the harm they caused me, and the possible consequences of their actions.

Support

Smit decided to take a short counselling course to offer pro-bono mental health assistance to sexual abuse survivors online.

She wants to broaden her studies and become an advanced therapist, to provide therapy for gender-based violence, mental health disorders, phobias, eating disorders, substance abuse, bereavement and youth issues.

Needing to cover a R16 000 shortfall to begin her studies, Joanita has launched a crowdfunding campaign on BackaBuddy, so she may use her talents to help others.

Support Joanita on BackaBuddy:

www.backabuddy.co.za/joanita-smith

Alternatively, donate via Snapscan:

pos.snapscan.io/qr/JoanitaSmit.

Also Read: Rape survivor shines the spotlight on survival for 27 days

   

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