‘Me too’. He was my child hood friend. Our parents taught at the same teachers training college. I came from a family of 8 and his family was about the same number. As family friends, our parents kept us busy and in competition. They often divided us in teams. If we were not debating, we performed dance and drama. We learnt how to celebrate wins and accept defeat amidst tears.
Everything changed when we I met Joseph again at University. We hadn’t seen each other since we were children. Our families had gone separate ways when our parents were transferred to work in different places. At first, seeing Joseph brought back good child hood memories. I was proud to introduce him as my brother. We were happy we had made it to the University. Back then, there was only one University in Uganda- Makerere University. I had worked hard to get the required grades, to compete with the boys who dominated admission.
One day, there was an international student’s conference at Joseph’s hall of residence. He met me with my girlfriends leaving the conference. It was about 10pm. Despite my hesitance that I would return to see him another day, he convinced me to at least go to see where his room was located so I could easily locate it the next time I visited. I requested my friends to walk slowly so I could catch up with them. He promised it would be quick.
When we got to his room, he drew the curtains and locked the windows. I noticed something was very wrong when he switched off the lights, locked the door and put the key in his pocket. I rushed for the door questioning ‘what are you doing?’ He went into the narrative about our childhood good days and how we were meant to be together. I requested him to open the door, it was late, and I had to catch up with my friends. Then he became aggressive holding on to my hand. I was scared to the core but managed to raise my voice firmly ‘open the door because nothing is going to happen’. He refused. Then I begged, negotiated, pleaded, made threats, struggled with him for the key. He was strong and nothing I did or said worked. I was exhausted as I struggled to push him away from me. I wished his roommate, someone, anyone could come to the door. No one did. It was past midnight.
Finally, I told him if anything happened to me, my friends had seen him, he would be held accountable. In frustration, he opened the door. I told him I would find my way but he insisted walking with me, making all kinds of threats. He assured me he would harm me, kill me if I told anyone. He was not the same person I knew when we were children he assured me. The distance between his hall of residence and mine that usually took me 15 minutes to walk, took over one hour as he lectured me, refusing to let go of my hand.
He rejected any pleas to let me go until we reached the roundabout close to my hall of residence. I did not see it coming- he warned me one last time never to tell anyone, chocked me with both hands squeezing my neck until I blacked out. By the time I got back to my senses, he was gone. I think he must have thought he had killed me. I don’t know how long I had blacked out but when I woke, I was shaken. I was by myself and it was dark. I struggled to find my way to my hall. I couldn’t go to my room- I was terrified. I went to my friend’s room, couldn’t talk but cried uncontrollably. Am thankful she was patient and kind. I had survived the most horrific ordeal and she was there to comfort me.
The next morning I took a taxi to my sister’s house. After l shared what had happened to me, we decided it was best to keep silent. This is why I did not report.
· My mother would have stormed the university and I did not want to cause a scene. I feared public backlash especially from students, including Joseph’s friends who I would continue to meet on campus
· Many would not have believed my story especially that Joseph did not rape me
· I feared what Joseph would do, especially after threatening to kill me
· I would have been blamed for going to his room
· It would have caused a rift between our two families
Now I know better- thanks to the ‘Me too’ movement. I can see examples of survivors who have reported and have received public support. I have even seen some perpetrators, who once wielded so much power face consequences including losing jobs.
Message to fellow survivors:
· You are not alone 17,700,000 women have reported a sexual assault since 1998.
· Seek justice and help, there is hope, more than ever people have started to listen- many will believe you
· Make use of available resources-organizations and hotlines that support survivors
Advice to policy makers:
· Make and implement laws that address gender based violence/rape
· Give survivors a voice and involve them in decision making
· Create safe spaces for women and girls including addressing cultural tolerance and practices that facilitate abuse
· Protect victims from shame and fear- make it easier for them to report
· Punish offenders and provide rehabilitation services for victims
· From an early age, educate boys on how to relate and treat girls
Together we can make a difference to prevent gender based violence; prosecute offenders, protect and support survivors, and get rid of a culture that tolerates gender based violence