Exposing abusers isn’t a walk in the park

One of the stories that made the headlines in recent concerns the alleged rape of a young woman by two popular DJs. The issue came to light when the woman in question “exposed” them on social media. A case  has been opened with the police, and the DJs’ employer confirmed that they duo has stepped down from their jobs until the matter is cleared. 

When a matter like that breaks on social media, it is almost predictable what the reaction will be. There will be those that believe the alleged rapists should be nailed on the cross immediately because they’re using their celebrity status to abuse women and get away with it. Then there are those that attack the victim for wanting her 15 minutes of fame by slandering two wonderful people who have worked hard to make a name for themselves. The other group will be sitting on the fence singing, “innocent until proven guilty”. I don’t know which group I should align with regarding this issue.

I’ve encountered scenarios where people would rather believe the more powerful person in the equation, who’s almost always the alleged abuser. They will say things like, “He has the world at his feet and can get any woman be want. Why would he force himself on her? It just doesn’t add up.” Then one day they will have to wipe egg off their faces after realising that their upstanding citizen is actually a serial abuser. An undesirable  picture is already starting to form around one of the DJs in question, with more accusations popping left, right and centre. It is also possible that men can be lied to by women who choose a sick way to settle a score. So we will have to sit this one out with our ears to the ground. 

In the early 2000s I was an intern at a big daily paper in Harare, Zimbabwe. As soon as I joined the paper, someone took a very keen interest in me. He called my extension around the clock, flirting  and asking me about my life. I was cautious with my responses because I didn’t even know who he was, except that he was in the building. I started looking at all the young men in the newsroom with curiosity wondering if any of them was my secret admirer. If any of the more handsome boys smiled I’d immediately want to think that was the mysterious caller. Before long, the caller told me he would come to talk to someone sitting near, but wouldn’t speak to me to avoid being raising eyebrows among colleagues. No-one came, except a middle-aged guy who chatted briefly with the colleague and walked away. I was actually hoping he would leave quickly because I thought my caller was waiting in the wings to come and show his face. I waited with bated breath and was only jolted from my reverie by my ringing extension. My caller asked if I had seen him come next to me. I was horrified. The middle-aged man wearing a wedding band was the caller! The red flag immediately went up in my head. He worked in a different department from mine, even though we were both under the same flagship. He was one of the executives, who I will call him Jason.

Upon realising who he was, I immediately made efforts to put a stop to the calls. I was just a wet-nosed intern in my early 20s, what could this man want from me if not one thing? Unfortunately the calls became even more aggressive. It was hard to focus on work or anything else as I was now always agitated. I told him to stop calling, and he was dismissive, whatever I said fell on deaf ears because he was unrelenting. Eventually I decided to crack the whip at him and told him in no uncertain terms, “Don’t ever call me again.” He retorted, “Or what?“ I told him I’d report him to one of my editors. A few minutes later he showed up in the newsroom and headed to the editor’s office. He stood there with my bosses, chatting and laughing. The camaraderie was evident. Occasionally he would look in my direction as he carried on with his conversation, with the look that said, “I dare you!” 

The calls did not stop. Every morning I’d wake up on the verge of a meltdown at the prospect of his endless calls. I didn’t understand why he insisted on calling when I had indicated in more ways than one that I was uncomfortable. He continued to call forcing conversation and always lurking around my workstation without saying anything. Eventually I spoke to a peer in the newsroom about my ordeal and how I was afraid to even show my face at work. One day, one of the female senior journalists, called me to her desk. She was an imposing no-nonsense woman and I followed her with my tail tucked neatly between my legs. She asked me how I was coping in the new environment, and I said everything was good. She must have realised I would not be “snitching” on anyone so she asked what Jason had been up to. I had no idea how the news had got to her and was afraid to ask. I also didn’t know how to respond, just in case she was one of his cronies. Without me saying anything, she said I had a right to complain if someone was harassing me in the workplace and what Jason was doing was unacceptable. I then poured my heart to her, telling everything I’d gone through. I even shed a tear or two from the relief. She said she would sort everything out. 

I don’t know what strings that woman pulled, but Jason stopped calling. When we met in the corridors, he just glared at me and walked on by. He stopped coming to the newsroom to suffocate me with his presence, but that was only the beginning of my problems. There was suddenly a hostile vibe towards me, even from people who had been friendly to me. One of them approached me and asked why I was trying to ruin Jason’s life. I explained to him exactly what had. Jason had been trying to ruin my life! He asked if he had touched me inappropriately, I said no. He went to ask if I wanted him to lose his job just because he said something I didn’t like. Do you know he is married with children? You could ruin his career and his marriage, all because he called you on the phone? I thought you were more sensible than that, he said.  Another took me for lunch and told me all newsrooms were like that. People joked with each other that way and life went on. With an attitude like that, I wouldn’t make it as a journalist because Jason had friends in high places and I could be blacklisted. I knew I had been wronged, but suddenly started feeling as if I’d overreacted. Maybe I could have toned down my response, I second-guessed myself. I never spoke about that matter again, but something triggered it during a conversation with my cousin last year. I looked up Jason’s name online and lo and behold. Shortly after I’d left the paper, an intern accused him of groping her at a party. I continued digging and realised he was still with the same organisation. He’s essentially got away with his obnoxious behaviour. I don’t think coming out in the open about sexual abuse is easy. I totally believed the DJs’ accuser when she said she took anti-anxiety medication in order to be able to write about her experience on Twitter. I’m not saying the DJs are guilty, but I know for a fact that many men use their social standing in society to abuse women. And more often than not, they do get away with it. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Safrea or its members.


6 Responses

  1. Touching story and I totally agree that reporting an abuser is not easy. The fear of what people would say, especially if the abuser is respected and well known. And there’s feeling like you somehow caused it. Maybe the skirt you were wearing was a little too short or maybe you were too friendly…those thoughts can keep a woman quiet for years.

    I always encourage my daughter and women around me that they must talk. No matter what people might say, whether they believe them or not, they should sing like a canary. They might save another woman from going through the same thing.

    Thank you for sharing your story, Charlotte. Hopefully this article will make people understand why some women wait so long to report such offenses.

  2. Thank you for sharing this story, Charlotte. I recently experienced the trauma a lady was going through as she was being harassed by someone at her place of work. She was too scared to share this man’s advances with anyone because company policy states that everything in the organisation is confidential. She innocently believed that because it was happening at work, similarly to what you shared in your article, i.e. he didn’t touch her, but he harassed her via email, phone calls, trying to hack her computer, etc. she had to remain silent. I advised her to report it – harassment does not form part of the “confidentiality” clause. It is amazing how many victims of abuse are not believed. It is no wonder that so many women choose to suffer in silence. I hope that the more the victims speak up, the sooner this unhealthy pattern will change.

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