sexual assault

Anonymous traveler, from South Africa

I’M ORIGINALLY FROM CAPE TOWN. In 2011, when I had just finished studying my honours and my friend had finished her post grad, we decided to go on holiday to Thailand for a month. My intentions and expectations were just pure fun. We wanted to explore the country, its islands and the culture. By the end of our trip, we ended up in Phuket.

One night when we went out, I went to the bathroom and when I came out, I couldn’t find my friends. I walked along the beach to my hotel but before I got there I was approached by four Thai men. One guy then raped me on the beach. I didn’t fight or struggle as the numbers of them made me fear for my life. I kept saying to myself “Do what they want and you’ll live.”

The abuse has shaken me to my core. Whenever I see a man from that culture now, I get triggered hugely. Back home, I was quiet for months due to the shame and humiliation I felt. I used to shower to try wash off the filth I felt. Once it completely debilitated me, I started reaching out and spoke with a counsellor for two years. During that process I opened up to very close friends and a year ago, I then shared my story at a women’s conference over six different evenings so now it’s widely known within my circles.

People react differently. Many don’t know how to deal with the information as it’s their worst fear (that’s what friends have told me). Some can’t go there with their emotions so they deflect and talk about something else. Some people are information seekers and want details. But I suppose the majority of people I tell go quiet and don’t know how to respond apart from “Oh my gosh” and “Shame, are you ok?”. And then they don’t really speak about it again.

To be honest, I try not let one night dampen the entire trip, as the oceans and snorkeling and boat trips on the islands were phenomenal. So I try compartmentalise the two: abuse and the Thai trip. However, I will never go back. Honestly, I can’t face being immersed in that culture again. It’s too raw. Too fresh. I don’t want to have to face that.

The fact that this happened overseas in some ways, made it easier, because it’s this thing that is now removed from my life. I’m in another country now, so if I want I can shove the feelings and hurt to Thailand and box it out of my South African life, I can. And yet, even though it physically happened overseas, emotionally I still brought it back with me to my hometown.

After it happened I wish I could have somehow told myself “this doesn’t ruin me.” Although it shattered me, it didn’t define me. It was good to also learn to allow myself grace to feel. It’s ok to have a day to cry, or have time to feel like shit. That’s ok. I can allow myself time to hold the pain and be ok with the pain, instead of pushing it away.