. . . feels let down by a system that tolerates gender violence
*ROSA Molise sits in a black couch in her lounge staring at a blank wall.
It is evident that a lot is on her mind but she is seemingly wearing a shield and shows no emotion as she narrates her rape experience.
The 36-year-old Ms Molise was on 16 October 2021 raped by two men with whom she had shared a 4+1 taxi from Tšenola to the Maseru CBD.
The two men took turns to rape her thrice each before ditching her.
As if that was not enough, police officers at Maseru Central Police Station went on to accuse her of contravening Covid-19 regulations when she went there to report the rape. They also accused her of fabricating the story.
On hearing of Ms Molise’s story, national police spokesperson, Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, encouraged her to lodge a report with the police complaints desk. She called the desk a few days later and was told she had to officially file a formal complaint for the police to consider her case and possibly apologise.
But she is not interested.
“I never want to set my foot at Maseru Central Police Station again,” Ms Molise says with a straight face.
“There is no sincerity in all their dealings. I have not heard a word from the station for over two months and I am constantly in fear lest I am attacked again.”
At a glance, one cannot discern the extent of the trauma that Ms Molise is dealing with. On close attention, one can notice that she is increasingly wary of her surroundings and “cannot trust anyone”. She is averse to contact with strangers.
“I am finding it difficult to trust strangers. Even before boarding a taxi, I think about it first, something that I never did before. Sometimes, I spend several minutes standing at the bus stop and I let multiple taxis pass because I cannot trust people anymore.”
On the day of the rape, Ms Molise had spent the previous night at her friend’s place in Tšenola. She boarded a taxi which had three other passengers at around 7am. One of the passengers, a woman, dropped off along the way and that is when her ordeal started.
“Instead of driving towards the central business district, the driver took the direction of Ha-Tšosane and stopped the vehicle somewhere near a dumpsite,” Ms Molise told the Lesotho Times in October.
“At first I thought the driver was going to drop off the other two passengers but when we got to the Ha-Tšosane dumpsite, the driver and the passenger who was sitting in front disembarked and started talking outside.”
The other male passenger who had been sitting next to her then ordered her to take off her trousers before pulling out a knife.
“He ordered me to take off my trousers because he wanted to have sex with me and I refused. At this point, he flashed his knife in my face and ordered me to sit on his lap. Shaken and scared, I obliged. But as I was moving onto his lap, he was then reprimanded by the driver and the other passenger who had returned to the car.”
They then drove off towards the CBD and the man blindfolded her with a hat and forced her to lie on his lap so that she could not see where they were going.
“After a while, the car stopped and I was dragged into a bushy area by the two men. The vehicle then drove off leaving me with the two men. They said they would each rape me thrice and if I caused any trouble, they would kill me.
“At this point I asked them to put away the knife and they did. They proceeded to rape me three times each as they had said. While one was raping me, the other would stand guard to watch out for passers-by as this was happening in broad daylight,” she narrated in between sobs.
And now Ms Molise says she is confused as to what caused the attack. In the past, she had heard stories of rape victims who were in short dresses and skirts and is failing to understand why she was targeted when she was in a “decent pair of jeans”.
“I really do not understand. Not to say that women and girls in short dresses and skirts should be raped but I don’t understand why I was targeted. I am so confused that each time I leave the house I have to think twice about my dressing. I am failing to understand why it should not be my choice as a woman to dress skimpily or the so-called decently. What does it even mean to say decent clothing? Decent in whose eyes? I feel that this is so unfair,” she says with an aura of misleading calm.
Ms Molise feels the Lesotho government is not doing enough to assist victims of gender-based violence. Apart from her nasty experience at the Maseru Central Police Station, she also had to toil to access the results of tests she conducted after the violation.
“I went to Queen Elizabeth II Hospital where I received post exposure prophylaxis. They then took samples to test if I had been exposed to any sexually transmitted illnesses (STIs) and I was told to return after a week. When I returned, they told me that I either had to redo the process because the doctor who attended to me the first time had allegedly been moved elsewhere and my records were unavailable or I would have to find the doctor myself. It didn’t make sense that I had to redo the test after a whole week. What evidence would still be there after seven days?”
Frustrated, she left the facility and took to social media to share her experience. A stranger on Facebook then connected her with a Health Ministry staffer who managed to track down the doctor who had attended to her and got the results.
Fortunately, the tests came clean. But it does not change her view of the world. To her, most men are cowards who are failing to protect the women around them.
“I grew up knowing that men are our protectors but that is no longer the case. A man, the driver of the taxi actually facilitated my violation. I was raped by two men. How should I trust men when at one go, three men worked in cahoots to ensure that I was raped?”
While she entertains no hope for the case ever being solved, Ms Molise says harsher punishments are needed for convicted sexual offenders. Strikingly, while a sizeable number of people have called for castration of sexual offenders and even the death penalty, she sees it as a misnomer.
“Firstly, the police must be equipped to do their jobs. If I could be treated like that by police officers in the capital city, what about women and girls in rural hard to reach areas? Secondly, offenders must receive harsh punishments.
“Some have called for castration and the death penalty but that enhances the cycle of violence. It will also force the offenders to kill their victims to ensure that there is no evidence of the crimes left. So, that will not solve the problem. We must just ensure that we have a functional police force and a thorough justice delivery system,” Ms Molise said.
Ms Molise went through counselling sessions with a therapist. The therapist, Paul Luanga Banda, thinks she is still harbouring rage within her and requires assistance.
“When people go through traumatic experiences, they deal with the trauma in different ways. When a victim is still in shock, she could appear emotionless. This is why it is important for victims to go through serious therapy. There are several things that victims could experience for which they need the assistance of a therapist in the healing process,” Dr Banda said.
Ms Molise’s experience is not unique. When she was raped, she posted her story on Facebook and ended up getting messages from other victims. The victims said they had been raped after boarding taxis. However, some never reported their cases to the police.
“Two women sent me messages saying that they were also raped after boarding taxis. The drivers actually helped the perpetrators rape them but sadly they never reported to the police. This made me realise that rape is a scourge in our communities. It made me sad that taxi drivers who must assist passengers are actually accomplices to these heinous crimes,” she says.
Lesotho is currently commemorating the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence like the rest of the world. However, it seems the country continues to go through the motions and no real action is taken.
According to the World Population Review, an estimated 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced sexual harassment in their life time. In its March 2021 report, the World Population Review ranks Lesotho as third in the world in terms of rape. The only countries with worse records than Lesotho are Botswana and Australia.
Lesotho records 1777 rape cases per every 100 000 citizens.
The report also says for various reasons, victims choose not to report the crimes with less than 40 percent reporting the violations and less than 10 seeking assistance from law enforcement.
*Name changed to protect the victim’s identity.