C’EST LA VIE!

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Thakane-Rethabile Shale

I saw a dead body for the first time when I was six. The woman who lived across the street had been shot by her lover, a policeman. At the time, this was confusing to me, as I had been told the police were there to protect us. I was too young to comprehend it though. Fast forward, years later at 19 one of my friends was stabbed to death by her boyfriend. She had reported the abuse against her to the police and had been given a restraining order. I have no idea how that piece of paper was supposed to protect her. It ultimately did not.

In 2015, I left home to live alone, and this was when a madman began to stalk me. He would come to the office and demand to talk to me. Since I had told everyone about the problem, they would refuse to let him through and he would hurl insults at the receptionist. He would text me at odd hours with promises to marry me and declarations of love. It was a lot of things that he did that scared me, but finally one night he texted me that he knew I was alone in our small block of flats and that my neighbours had gone out. This was true. So, scared I called a cab and went home that night. This was the final straw, so I finally went to the police. My boss advised me to go to the child and gender protection unit as she felt that is where I would get the most help. Ha! Upon arriving and tearfully telling the officers my story, I was met with derisive laughter. The female officer asked how I ever hoped to get married if I kept rejecting advances from men! Did I mention the man in question had a rape and kidnapping case against him? Finally, one of the male officers told me he understood my predicament, but since he had yet to do anything, their hands were tied and they could not help me. I was not even given a piece of paper like a restraining order. The general consensus was, come back as soon as he rapes your or murders you then we can help.

Needless to say, I was also hearing stories around, which were further giving me pause in my trust in the Lesotho police force, but I still remained hopeful. Then a close friend was raped and I went with her to the police to report the matter, after the usual attempts to victim blame her by asking what she was wearing, where she was, whether she encourage him, they were finally satisfied that she had been sleeping in her bed so she was in their eyes an actual victim, (quite frankly I expected her to be asked if she was wearing a sexy nighty to bed). The police promised to come to her place and investigate further. This was late 2015, we still await their arrival.

In the following years, I heard stories of rape and femicide dockets going missing in the hands of the police, victims being subjected to further inhumanities and just a general blasé attitude when it came to gender-based violence. The people in my circle quickly learned that if you got raped the best thing to do is head straight to the clinic where luckily you will be assisted without having to open a case. The police probably assumed the prevalence of sexual assault in Lesotho had decreased, it has not. We simply grew tired of their inaction and accepted our fate. If someone gets murdered, we cry not only for the dead but in frustration at our helplessness in the face of a police force that cannot or will not assist us. C’est la vie, we say to younger women. It is what is.

I was rattled out of my apathy a few months back when driving home. After more than a few drinks with a friend, we were stopped by the police. To be fair, she was driving drunk so stopping us was well warranted. After ascertaining that we were, in fact, drunk I got into the squad car with the other officer while the one got into her car to drive us to the police station to be held till the morning. It was a bitterly cold winter night. It seemed to me that they took too long to drive as we were to follow but I was not in my most sober state so my perception of time was not the most accurate. Anyway, we drove. I was quite worried of spending the night in a cell, as it was bitterly cold so imagine my delight when the one driving my friend’s car headed us home and told us we were free to go. Turns out she had had to pay for our freedom by being sexually assaulted with a gun placed in plain view. I was angry, but perhaps I was angrier at myself for feeling relieved that that was all she had to endure because I knew that had she gone to the actual cells she might have actually been raped perhaps by more than one person. I was angry that I lived in a country where having to touch a strange man’s genitals in exchange for freedom is cause for relief.

So, if you have a vagina in Lesotho, my advice to you is to stay as far away from the police as possible  

 

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