Queen Bessie: From Victim to Queen

Her palms were sweating through the handkerchief she held in them. She tapped her foot on the tiled floor nervously. Her heart pounded so loudly that she heard every beat. She shifted in her seat, glancing towards the door. She figured she could make it out of the restaurant fast enough that she would not run in to him on her way out. She pushed her seat back with her and was preparing to get up and run when the waitress came to her with a smile, “Can I get you a drink while you wait? Maybe some bread for the table?” She leaned back, looking at the waitress while she made up her mind. “Actually, yes! Can I get a cocktail?”

“Which one? We have our house cocktail ‘the club special’; we also have a Pinacolada that has won some awards. Oh and….” The waitress was overly eager.

“Which is your strongest?” She cut her off rather crudely. She definitely was not interested in their award winning cocktail ingredients.

“Well, it kind of depends. We make them very mild to suit everyone but we can increase the alcoholic content at your request. Say! For instance……”

“Ok. Good! Get me your Club Special with the maximum alcohol content you are allowed for it.” She cut her off again. She wasn’t in the mood for friendly human interaction.

“Ok, Ma’am.” The waitress was still at it. “And may I ask? Do you prefer a slice of……” She had really had it with this perky cheerful drop of freaking sunshine waitress so she gently placed her arm on hers.

“Sweetie. I know you’re doing your job and you know what? You’re great at it.” The waitress’ eyes sparkled, indicating that this was not a thing she heard very often. “But I’m not in a chirpy, hyperactively good customer service mood. So get me your club special, lots of booze and no ice. No fruit, No vegetables, nothing. That’s it! Can you do that, honey?” The waitress nodded and skipped away.

She turned towards the door again. She was now facing a new variable to her calculations. She was now evaluating the possibility of escape before her drink or her date had arrived. She got out her phone. It is was 15 minutes past the hour. He was late, a little but still late. She didn’t know if this fact brought relief or anger. Did she want him to be late? Did this momentary lapse of punctuality raise a red flag that she was not yet aware of? Did this mean he was always late and she should get used to it? Was he standing her up? Had he forgotten about her? Or did he hear something from someone about her? It must have been something he heard or something he researched. With Google and online government databases, not to mention that ‘the incident’ was indeed public knowledge, he must have found out. Once again she regretted it; the party, the assault report, the dreadful court case, everything.

It had been exactly 2 years, 8 months and 13 days since she was raped by men, no monsters, whom she had assumed were her friends and she had never really been the same afterwards. Maybe it was the betrayal by friends she’d held dear, or the unnecessary intense scrutiny she had received reporting the case, Maybe, it was the case itself and the way her school’s publication followed every motion, every ruling, Maybe it was just the rape. The whole thing had changed her so much. She was once outgoing, overly social and extremely friendly; the real life of the party. But one fatefully rainy day in November, her charismatic strengths led her to her impending doom. She in her third year of Veterinary School and so far she was enjoying every part of it. Her grades were good, she was sufficiently involved in campus activities and she had made friends, most of the male variety, but only because not a lot of women glamorized the care of farm animals like she did, but it wasn’t something that had bothered her much. One Friday in November, she was invited for a small after-school get together. The message had said, “Lots of food, music and drinks. Bring your own girl.” At the time, she giggled at the sentiment that each was to appear with a female companion. At the same time, she was relieved that she wouldn’t be the only female attending this party. Friday evening rolled through swiftly, she walked with a few of her closest study buddies to an off-campus residence apparently belonging to a friend of a friend. They said he didn’t mind a bunch of strangers partying at his house, he actually enjoyed it. On their way there, Bessie did what she assumed was research; diligently asking Kobe if he knew this guy enough to trust him. He didn’t really know him. She asked Patrick and Phil (Short for Philemon) the same, they gave no more detailed answers than Kobe. She stopped dead in her tracks, the boys soon after she did. She said, “Guys, are we sure about this? I mean I love a party just as much as the next girl but I don’t know how I feel about this.” The men were quick to calm her with words like, “You’re going with us aren’t you? We’ll make sure nothing fishy happens. Don’t worry. He’s Jay’s Friend. We’re all friends, aren’t we?” Looking back, she now knew that was the moment she should have turned back and walked straight to her hostel a few paces away. She wished she did, but instead she believed these friends of hers and walked on towards her personal Armageddon.

It was twenty minutes past the hour now. The overly cheerful waitress returned with her drink and enough sense not to say much to her. Her date was now twenty minutes late and counting. She stirred her drink with her straw before she took it out and took a large swig of her drink. It was strong but for the kind of day she was having, it wasn’t strong enough. She would need a few more if she was to make it to the end of this evening and even more to spend the evening on this date. You see, Bessie had been having a totally normal day when she received a message to a friend with a link. “Gang Rape at Veterinary School: Do you know what you’re children are doing while away?” Her heart had sunk at the moment when the headline popped up on the screen. It hadn’t returned to normalcy yet. She knew the court case was public record but she had never assumed that some journalist would use it. Apart from her rescuer and a few friends, no one knew what had happened. The school publication had been smart enough to redact all facts that led to her identity. Despite this fact, she had not returned to school after that. She dropped out and convinced her parents that she was more into entrepreneurship now. She wished she had let her parents know exactly what happened that November Night. But now the damage was pretty much done. There was no saving face or damage control at this point. The stage at which she had arrived required truthfulness and courage to relive the incident every time she told it. It was excruciating to think about. She hadn’t read the article all the way through, just the headline was enough to send her stomach into painful knots.  She got out her phone. It had been off since she read the headline; she wasn’t quite ready for the mental torture. She would see if she was now. She powered it up. The tiny aluminum colored device began to dance on the table violently; everyone was looking for Bessie. Her name must have leaked in the article as her phone vibrated violently seeking her attention. She ignored the messages, she wasn’t in the mood to be pitied and judged all at the same time.

The headline had already made it to her browser’s news reel. She clicked on the headline. As it loaded at what seemed to be a snail’s pace, she could already tell that even though the headline seemed generalized and informative, the article was specific to her case and vindictive. For why, even though he thought he was serving the greater good, would a journalist publish her name and all the particulars of the case without asking if he should share or conceal her, the victim’s identity. The first thing that she saw on the website was her school ID picture. She must have been 17 when that was taken. The caption read ‘Beatrice, now 20, was forced to drop out after she was unable to convince the school administration that her rape was not her fault.’

“What?” Bessie exclaimed loudly. Everyone turned in their seats to look at her. She did not notice. She began reading the article. And as if the publicity surrounding her rape were not enough, the author of the article all but asserted that Bessie caused her own rape. He used quotes like ‘A girl like Beatrice is known to play hard to get in the daylight and let too loose in the evening. These girls tease our boys then get intoxicated around them expecting them to express nothing but self-control and awe for their tiny outfits’ Again, her inner voice reminded her that reading this article would cause nothing but harm and emotional trauma. She had to police her heart, her therapist had always insisted. You mustn’t allow yourself to be exposed to triggers for your condition. That’s what he called it, a condition. At first, it had bothered her so she asked that he called an illness meaning that it was curable. He had declined stating that it was in fact incurable but optimistically he added that it was a treatable condition.  She stared at her phone. She should have been calling the therapist or at least her date but instead she kept reading the foulest words she had ever heard or read about herself.  This time she focused on seeing if any of her rapists had been mentioned. Then another quote ‘Your sons like these young men charged with the alleged rape of Beatrice are being lured like snake bait and then arrested for giving in to their most primal urges. Ludicrous!’

“Ludicrous?” She was laughing now while she spoke out aloud. “It’s not ludicrous to be a rapist in the first place?” When she looked up from her laughter, her date stood before her gazing at her. She composed herself quite quickly and said hello. He replied taking his seat across from her.

“Why you’re in a good mood for a girl whose date is half an hour late. What are you reading there?” He gestured at her phone. She instinctively covered the phone not wanting to bring up the whole article or rape thing and looked straight in his eyes. They gleamed with curiosity behind the gleaming was a sparkle that you could not miss. The sparkle in the eye of a man about to crown his queen. This man had been obsessed with her for a few months now and she couldn’t figure out why. They never did anything other than meet for meals and talk. He had always been a gentleman and never even asked why he was never permitted to ask her out on a more intimate date. Most guys gave up at around the third month of expensive lunches and fancy coffees but here he was, eight months later, with that damn sparkle in his stupid big brown eyes. Why didn’t he just give up? Why didn’t he just run!

“So? What’s so ludicrously funny?” He leaned forward, placed his hand over hers and looked deep into her eyes. She was uncomfortable, blood rushing to her face. She began to breathe heavily, deeply as if taking him in, all of him.

“It’s nothing. Just this article.” She wasn’t going to say anything more but somehow it just slipped out. “It’s about me actually. I made the news.” His face lit up.

“Can I read it?” She glanced at his hands over her hands over her phone. It felt like a crude metaphor for what would be of their relationship when she showed him. To reveal what had happened to her, would require her to detach from him first; for her to see him, not as a potential lover, but as a stranger or a plutonic buddy. In her mind, there was no way for them to continue down the path of love after he knew what happened to her.

“No. You can’t. I shouldn’t be reading it either.” His face cringed, he withdrew one palm from the table then the next.

“Why?” The look in his eye was less loving and more curious now. Bessie looked him genuinely trying to decide if her rape was coffee house conversation or pillow talk or one of those ‘never’ conversations. How would this man react to hearing what he wants has been had over and over again by force over her screaming and kicking? He could tell she was battling something deep within. He reached out for her hands again. She withdrew, leaving him to cuff her wrists. She tried to break free, the sensation of his hands around her wrists feeling oddly the same as that night. A feeling of restraint, not affection. Phil had held her down, just like that. She tried again. He wouldn’t let go. He was looking at her squirm and obsess like a caged animal. It seemed absurd, since he didn’t mean to restrain her but to keep her from withdrawing from the conversation. He let go eventually with a heavy sigh; he gave up trying to pry it out of her.

“I read it, Bessie.”

“What?”

“I read the article. It’s everywhere, I’m sorry.” She looked away, fighting back tears with every fibre of her being. He continued speaking, “Frankly, it was distasteful and in my opinion, downright disgusting.” Bessie buried her face in her hands, realising that she couldn’t fight the tears anymore. “I know this is not how you wanted to break it to me. I know maybe you didn’t want to break it to me at all. I know you’re scared that what those animals did to you will follow you forever. I know this article kind of reinforces this fear.” She looked up now, scrambling for a napkin to dry her eyes. He continued while she blew her nose noisily, “It’s not your fault. It can’t even be. I wasn’t there, I know that but I also know you. You are kind-hearted and cheerful and no one!” He took her hands in his, looking her directly in the eyes which at this point felt like a dagger to her soul. “No one, Bessie, least of all you deserves such hostility and injustice. They tried to strip you of your soul, your being and your essence, yet here you are standing tall exuding strength and bravery that I could only dream of. I know you thought I’d run; for a hot second I thought I would too; but how? How could I leave a gem just because it is buried somewhere beneath the surface? I couldn’t possibly leave when I know that I will not, no, cannot find someone as brave as strong as the queen who sits before me. “

Breaking Chains

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Judgemental Women: I’m man enough to admit I am one

It’s Monday morning; I’m moody. Don’t think that makes much of a difference cause every Emm Morning is a Moody Morning but I digress. A co-worker, who also doubles as a friend walks up to me and begins to speak. At the utterance of my name, I shoot her down assuming that she wants to indulge me in some vain-themed conversation about weaves or handbags. (My first mistake) She walks away. The energy in that room should have told me I fucked up; but being as anti-social as I am, I don’t notice. (My second mistake) Few minutes later, she’s at my desk confronting me about how I had behaved earlier. I give a vague excuse; I’m Monday Morning Moody. (My third mistake) She doesn’t buy it. She eventually tells me that the reason why she had wanted to speak to me in the first place was that she had just discovered “EmmBoldened” and it inspired her; she wanted to exchange some ideas, maybe collaborate on a few pieces. My heart sinks; there are genuine tears in my eyes. Let me tell you why.

You see as much as I’m the loudest feminist in every room I enter, I’m not a very good one. I think it stems from my youth, but I’ll get to that. I feel horrible because I dismissed my friend. We’ve never had a deep conversation about our experiences as women so I didn’t view her as ‘my kind of woman’. She lives the life of the average woman; so I never ever for a second imagined that she had some sort of feminist agenda like I do. A few genuine conversations in, I can tell she has something to say; something similar to what I keep saying. It’s almost as if I imagined that you had to be overweight, single or bitter to fathom my concept of feminism. I am deeply ashamed to admit that I am a feminist who judges other feminists.

Let me take a few to diagnose myself. I am who I am because of how I grew up. I’ve told you guys enough times, I was a frampy kid; a bit overweight, too smart for my own good and with enough social anxiety to keep me quiet and invisible. Girls did not like me; actually people did not like me because I barely spoke, when I did I almost always made you feel dumb and also I wasn’t very pretty to look at till I turned about 13. So throughout the early primary school years, a lot of mean girl stuff happened to me and most of the time I wouldn’t speak to defend myself. I was once blamed for petty stuff like stealing someone’s something and since I mostly hung out alone I had no alibi. In the end, I found out she stole it herself to get me in trouble. Girls would read my diaries out loud in class (yes, this happened twice. I stopped keeping a diary after that), spread outrageous rumors about me (Say hello to the girl who supposedly dealt narcotics when she was 13, I have still never even done them) and the best of them, call me out all the fucking time in public where I did not thrive. (I don’t want to detail this one, still hold some childhood trauma). Up until I was about 17, I had never kept a female friend for more than a school term (usually about 3months). (No I am not counting my sister, who beat the shit out of most of the girls mentioned above, Thanks Romie) So I have always been skeptical about being friends with women. They never seemed to pan out in the end or were actually just fake from the beginning. Now, I know I have projected this onto almost every average woman I have met since. by average, I mean women who are not weird off the bat. I keep my distance and wear my life stories close to the vest. In so doing, it’s not entirely a surprise that most people that know me don’t know why I’m still single, why I don’t believe in marriage or soulmates or even why I don’t want children and these are integral parts of my feminist self. Let’s be honest, a feminist that cannot connect with other women no matter their background is a shitty feminist. I am a shitty feminist.

The events of this Monday morning sent into a mental tailspin; picking up on all the side shade I throw at women I don’t know or understand just because they don’t look like me. It sent me back to all the comments I have made about women who cross me on the street wearing too much make-up. Who I am to say that make-up is too much, to her it’s just enough. It got me thinking about all the women I laughed at because they were freezing their asses in micro-minis at the club. Who am I to declare that her clothes don’t match the weather, she felt it did. All the women I judged for dating older men for their money. Who the fuck am I to declare that dating for money is a crime or a social vice. How  I ask not to be faulted for not wanting children while I fault others for wanting them too early or too bad? I have lived my life running away from social standards while deep down I set them for all those around me. Who the Fuck do I think I am!! Women can do whatever they want and if I am not a testimony to that, I don’t know. How am I fighting the patriarchy yet bringing down equality between women themselves? How do I scream, “Let me be” while I can’t let others be. It almost seems as if its not women’s equivalence to men I want, its mine. I want to be held equivalent without holding others the same.

Now sneer at me all you want but I’m not the only one. Some of us are guilty too. Or have never made a comment that supported the rape of a random lady because you were too conservative to wear what she was wearing. “Now if she gets raped, looking like that, who will she blame?” The rapist that’s who! Have you never judged a pretty girl because she was just better looking and attracted more male attention; called her a ‘whore’ or something worse because what you desired came so much easier to her. We are women and that’s just what we do, right? WRONG! We are feminists and we refuse to grow up competing with each other for what really comes down to men’s approval. It’s what society wants but it’s not what feminism entails. For me, I have seen the error of my foolish and even more selfish ways; and if you watch this space, you will see me collaborate with all kinds of women on everything woman and woman adjacent; fashion, hair, feminism, female oppression, domestic violence. If it’s for women, I want to write about it, I want to talk about it. Because she is you and you are her. I am you and you are me. We all jump the same huddles.

Now, allow me to make one more declaration, the last I will ever impose in a woman. I will steal it from some Mexican women protesting sexual violence a few years ago, “Ni santas, ni putas, solo mujeres” “No saints, No whores, Just women” We cannot win this very real war by putting each other down and the first step to correcting a mistake is admitting it. I admit I can be a hella bitch to other women sometimes and I also admit it almost never has anything to do with them. To you that I have judged, I apologize and make this public declaration to pick women up or shut my mouth for as long as I live. (Yes, you can hold me to it) Feminism is about your choice to be whomever you want and as a fellow feminist I refuse to stand in your way and promise to pay you enough encouragement and compliments to get you there. You are no saint, you are no whore, you are just a woman and that in itself is enough for me.

Help! Rape!

In this land of red, green and black, crime isn’t new. It isn’t rare either. A phone here, a purse there, a wallet here is not something to exactly tremor about. It happens, we say. However for most Kenyan females, one specific crime scares us straight and tearless. Rape! I know that many of us ladies would rather die or be completely penniless after a robbery than have a stranger steal the most sacred and secret part of you. I know I’d trade everything to give home untouched, as pure as I left. But sadly, we are not all so lucky. According to statistics, one in four Kenyan women are raped every year. Even with this large number of rape victims only a handful ever visit the hospital or the police station after the ordeal. Rape and defilement remain widespread but somehow muted issues in our community. Even with the publicizing of some monumental cases of rape and defilement through the media and all the subsequent debate, some ladies are still bared down by their shame and other heavy emotions that come from such an ordeal they find themselves unable to come forward to seek both help and eventually justice. I understand these women to some extent.We would always rather not recall such gruesome events at all. However, in the interest of his next victim and the one after that, surely we must say something, do something in order to change how things are.(Or at least ensure that one rapist is off our streets) To do that first, we inform ourselves!

What is Rape? What is defilement? And when can you assert with certainty that such a crime has been committed against you?

Rape is, simply, sexual intercourse with an adult without valid consent. Defilement constitutes sexual intercourse with a  minor below the age of 18. The key word here is valid. So Uhmm No, sir that drunken slurry unrecognizable mumble does not count as valid consent. Intoxication and unconsciousness invalidate sexual consent as the party may not be fully aware of their actions or their consequences. If you don’t recall giving clear and valid consent, then you are a victim of rape. Don’t panic, keep reading!

What do you do when you have established you are a victim of rape?

First things first. Find a safe place to stay, preferably far away from the offender. Call some one you trust such a family member or a friend. Alternatively, call a rape hot-line you know of. if you don’t know any, well what are you waiting for! Follow this link to a number of  helplines in different towns in Kenya which are useful for not only rape but other human rights violations.

Next, you must preserve all physical evidence of the assault. This means; Do NOT take a shower, bathe, eat, drink , wash your hands or brush your teeth until you have been examined by a medical practitioner. Save all the clothing you were wearing during the incident as is in a paper (not polythene or plastic) bag. You also should seek medical attention IMMEDIATELY. Many of the worst health side effects of rape can be mitigated or treated if the victim is able to get medical attention fast enough. Also, professionals are able to take appropriate steps towards the prevention of STI transmission from the offender to the victim and also subsequent pregnancy. So even though you may not want to report the matter to the police, it is still very important you see a doctor as quickly after the incident as you can. Where you suspect that you were drugged (date rape), ask your doctor to take a drug test to confirm or deny the same.

Then, write as much of the incident as you remember.Try to ensure you leave out no details. After this, it is important for you to make a few decisions such as whether to report to the police, tell your friends and family, what effect the news will have on your family, et cetera. To make these decisions, I recommend you call the help line again. These foundations have professionals who deal especially in such cases and will understand as well as shed some much needed light on your situation and the way forward.

Finally, even though you may not be open to publicizing your ordeal, the help and listening ear of a professional such as a counselor. What you went through was in no way your fault. Not your dressing, not the way you walk or speak, not your hair, just not you. People say ‘Bad things happen to good people’ which is true but it is also true that ‘BAD PEOPLE DO BAD THINGS’. It is not your job to tone yourself down just in case a predator somewhere can not control himself. Women may be smarter but men have brains too and in a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to pay for his lack of self control.However, this world is far from perfect and sometimes bad things happen to undeserving people like you and me. So the best we can do is get up dust ourselves off and move forward. And maybe one day, when enough women have spoken out the penalty for this offense will be some punishment worthy of our collective innocence and pain, and of those that suffered before us and those before them.

How I avoid potential rape?

First, always remember that rape never was, never is and never will be your fault. So if you were to be raped, it is 100% the rapist’s fault. You can avoid the danger,

but in the end, there is nothing you could possibly do that would cause or justify this act. The next is to stay safe in social situations. This involves being aware of your surroundings at all times especially late at night and early in the morning. Avoid using electronics while alone; they distract you and make you an easy target. It also involves not leaving your food and drink unattended in public places. It is also advisable to travel with a group of friends and stick together. Ladies, there is strength in numbers.

You must also be assertive while in public. Do not let cat-callers and the like turn you around, confuse and intimidate you. Ensure that you keep sensitive personal information off social media sites and in private. Be careful even with verbal sharing such information, as a significant fraction of rape victims already knew their rapists before the ordeal. Always ensure you travel with at least one fully charged phone so that you are able to call for help in times of emergency. Trust your instincts; Women have excellent gut instincts and you know ‘if it quacks like a duck…’ When you feel trapped, you are advised not to settle or give up. Make an effort to shout and scream as loud as you can for as long as you can. Draw as much attention as you can to yourself.

Changing your dressing or cutting your hair short is not a credible way to deter rapists. It has nothing to do with that. If you own a self defense weapon, carry it only if you know how to use it. Last but not least, look out for a sister today, tomorrow a sister will look out for you. Do not ignore potential rape situations involving another female. Try to intervene calmly if the situation has not yet escalated to violent or call for help immediately if it has.

What can you do to help?

Well, the first is to be informed; which now you are. The next would be to inform others. Share this helpful information with your friends. You never know who you’ll help.
Basically, Be enlightened, Be empowered, Be emmboldened.
Signing off,
Emm

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