14.02.2020-BONELA CALLS FOR URGENT PROTECTION OF WOMEN LIVING WITH DISABILITIES FROM RAPE

 Merlyn*(not her real name), a partially  sighted young lady of around thirty something years struggles to relate her agony from being raped and how difficult it is for her to find closure owing to the further disabling effect of her ordeal six years ago.

It was around 2100hours on a Wednesday that she completed what had been a hectic week of stock taking at her workplace, which ended unusually late that day. Merlyn then hastily rushed to a hiking spot in Mogoditshane for Molepolole bound transport. Luckily, in a few minutes a silver grey sports car stopped at her feet where she was in the company of two other ladies who found her at the spot. They all got in. Hardly an hour later they reached their destination and the two were dropped off first at their preferred spots. She was then told by her would be assailants that it appeared they were headed for the same direction as hers.

“A brief while later I got raped at the edge of a knife blade, by the man on the passenger seat of that car.  The memories of the moment and that day remain very much alive in my mind. On hindsight I realize they were able to pick that I had an issue of sight which they used to determine that I should be dropped last,” Merlyn reminisced about her traumatic ordeal.

She says she was then left in the bush some several hundreds of meters outside the village from which she groped her way to the adjacent residences whereat the police and relatives were called to attend her. But no one was arrested in connection with the incident because the victim could neither identify the faces of the culprits nor could she say what the number plate looked like.

A day later, it came up in the news that two ladies had been raped the same night of her experience around a nearby liquor store within a radius of the hiking spot where the “rapist” car picked her. On that basis Merlyn was prompted to go to the Police again, this time around to ask them to allow her to go and have a look at the arrested suspects in case she might be able to identify her adversary for ultimate prosecution.

Possibly based on their physical observation of her sight the Police would not grant her request arguing a parade inspection stood to compromise her safety especially in the event the suspect went off the hook despite having noticed he was being pursued by her survivor. Merlyn’s insistences that she would be able to identify the suspect through her sense of smell since she still recalled the culprit’s odour also fell flat with the law enforcement officers.

The experience, Merlyn says has changed her life in one felt swoop from the adventurer that she was despite being partially sighted, to the most unsafe person that she now feels.  She has been living in fear ever since and has now become an introvert. BONELA laments that Merlyn’s experience is just a grain of sand in a societal ocean flooding with cases of mostly unreported rape. This is the predicament of many people living with disabilities. Women and girls in particular are the most exposed to the risk of sexual violence.

“But one thing is clear, whilst rape leaves a permanent scar in the psyche, emotional and other aspects of the victim’s life, it certainly is an even bigger problem for vulnerable and marginalized communities such as women and girls living with disabilities as they are disproportionately affected. We must improve access to justice, psychosocial support and other social services for women and girls with disabilities, to protect them from the heinous crime of rape,” Executive Director at BONELA, Ms. Cindy Kelemi stated.

According to an Internet article by Halley quoting from Women and Disability-An Issue; A Collection of Writings by Melbourne based Women with disabilities whose exact publishing date is unknown, rape is a violent, physical and mental attack. “Women are often in a state of shock, rage and or disbelief after being raped and it is important to seek help as soon as possible and to talk to someone you know will believe you as soon as possible,” the women in the article stated, adding that disability accentuates their feelings of vulnerability and helplessness.

Executive Director of United Nations (UN) Women, Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka further reaffirmed the challenge posed by rape on a global scale at the 2019 International Day of the Elimination of Violence against Women. She said, “Rape isn’t an isolated brief act. It damages flesh and reverberates in memory. It can have life changing, unchosen results-a pregnancy or a transmitted disease, with the consequences of a one- time act capable of sprawling into long term effects and affecting everybody around the victim.”

Against that background, BONELA appeals to members of the community, national and traditional leaders and civil society movement in general as well as individuals to accept as a matter of urgency their collective responsibility for protecting people living with disabilities especially women and girls from the escalating rape epidemic in Botswana.

For more information, contact BONELA on: +267 393 2516 or Cindy Kelemi at cindyk@bonela.org  and follow BONELA on Twitter @bonelaethics and like our Facebook Page BONELA