My Name is Karen Howell and this is a story of rape, yet not of rape but of justice, survival and persistence.
Part One- Physical Rape
Whoever thinks it could happen to them?
A door slams. I am jolted out of a deep sleep.
Sitting upright on my bed, I just know something is wrong, yet it is the middle of the afternoon.
Tentatively I walk down the passage and I am instantly grabbed by two men.
The ring leader, whom I get to name “Manchester”, glares at me with such malleolus in his eyes. I know they mean business.
I know, I know, I know I am going to be raped, or die or both. Absently my mind tries to figure which one I prefer...
With my heart in my mouth, barely able to breath, I freeze, my wrists immediately tied together.
I make no move as I feel the cold blade of a knife against my throat and the deadly whispers from “Manchester” “If you make a noise, I WILL kill you!!”
This sets my mind straight. I have to survive this as my child has nowhere to go if I am not here anymore. Whatever they do, I have to survive this.
Terrified, I’m pulled and dragged around my home.
Cupboards are ransacked, draws emptied, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.
The nylon rope around my wrists cuts deeply into my flesh as they tug and drag me around.
I have a flicker of hope that this is just a robbery and I may yet escape without harm, but that hope dies when I see their faces they find nothing of value.
I try to negotiate with them, offering to take them to an ATM to draw money. This falls on deaf ears.
My next attempt to deter them is to tell them I have Aids...this doesn’t faze them in the least.
At first I try to fight them, but what match is a woman against one man, let alone two?
They take turns invading my body, but I will not allow them to invade my soul.
I remain calm, going into another world, yet taking it all in.
Part 2 – Institutional Rape
In a daze I am taken to the police station where I am told to sit in a small room with no windows.
Feeling claustrophobic, a woman police officer attempts to take my statement.
Not hospital first, but a cold impersonal noisy police station, filled with inconsiderate, disinterested and unsympathetic men. Even the woman that tries to take my statement has zero empathy. Her chatting to friends and ordering KFC is vastly more important than comforting a woman victim to the single most degrading and invasively violent crime imaginable.
TIA. This is Africa. Rape is commonplace and regarded as petty by some. Why would they be concerned with my emotional state?
Constant interruptions of people in and out of the small room, laughing, organizing food amongst themselves.
Two hours go by and she has managed the most basic of statements, all of half a page long.
At the hospital we spend another half an hour trying to find my Investigating Officer who has been assigned to my case. Eventually we find him lazing in a chair seeming in a world of his own. He now attempts to get a statement from me, but not even able to get my name correct! I want to scream......
To make things worse, he is 6ft4, and is almost sitting on my lap invading my personal space as he attempts to take down details that I later discover were totally incorrect.
I also found out later on, that the police were to send me to a clinic somewhere in Hilbrow that do not even do or have Rape Kits!
Thank goodness a friend intervenes and I get sent to Olivedale Hospital. Oh no...Seriously.... a male doctor to conduct the very invasive and intimate examination of a rape victim? The procedure is two hours long....almost as invasive as the rape itself.
After the exam is completed all I want to do is have that shower that my body and mind have been screaming for!!! At the hospital is the biggest and best shower I have ever seen in my life.
Feeling half human again, I am offered counselling at the hospital. Although exhausted, I think maybe this would be a good idea.
15 minutes later an elderly male comes rushing into the room apologising for keeping me waiting, but he has just had to leave a patient dying to come and see me....Are you kidding me?? Now not only am I made to feel guilty, I’m saddled with another male!!
What could he possibly know or even understand what I have just endured?? I am out of there!
It is now 10 hours after the rape and my daughter and I fall into bed exhausted at a friend’s house.
Part 3 – Judicial Rape
The following day I arrange finger print experts and Forensic experts to come to the scene of the crime to collect evidence. Me. Not the cops, but me.
I sit back and wait for justice. My broken body healing, my soul needs to heal and I crave justice.
Exactly one week after the rape...
No! It couldn’t possibly be...could it?
Sitting on the payment across the road from my home it’s not Manchester but my other rapist almost basking in the spring sun...not a care in the world!
I contact the police, but by the time they arrive, he is long gone.
I am outraged at the nonchalant attitude and the sheer lack of fear of being caught!
This however makes me even more determined.
I create a network within my suburb talking to people, finding out about other crimes in the area and creating awareness.
Another week goes my and I am back at the hospital. With bated breath I am handed my results of the first batch of blood tests. Blood tests to see if I have been infected with the HIV/AIDS Virus.
My stomach is in a knot as I tentatively open the envelope with shaking hands.
With a sigh of relief, and a silent prayer of thanks, the results are negative, but this is only the beginning. This process would go on for a year.
The next thing my phone is ringing. It’s one of my contacts that I have been networking with!
My heart skips a beat as I answer my phone.
Hello? “Madam, come quickly!!”
I rush to my car, so many thoughts going through my mind. As luck would have it, every robot turned red, every truck seemed to be in front of me.
I remind myself to take deep breaths and calm down.
I have no idea what to expect. Not 300 meters from my home, I am to find a security van on the pavement, and a police van in the middle of the road.
I explain my story to a very disinterested police officer and request the back door of the van to be opened.
Weak at the knees, heart pounding, the back of the van is opened.
My eyes immediately lock on one of the two men sitting in the back of the van...”Manchester”
My entire body goes into shock and I can’t stop shaking, barley able to hold my phone.
With “Manchester” in the police van, my neighbour drops me off at the police station, just 3km away from my home with the promise that a lift would be organized once my statement had been taken.
Hello....I’m here. You have my rapist in custody! But it is like I am a salt pillar. I am being ignored like a stop sign. My whole being shouts with joy of impending justice!
But, it’s only me. The cops are not interested at all!! He was caught 300 meters away from my home! He is going to jail!
Two hours later I find a lift home. My statement sadly remaining in my head. No-one took notice of me, No-0ne is interested. It’s only rape after all. My soul screams in torment.
Another couple of weeks go by. No way...there he is again. “Manchester” is now in custody, but my second rapist is still out on the street...my street, again!!
This time not sitting on the pavement, but going through rubbish bins across the road from my house! The difference this time is that I am not going to let him out of my sight.
Sitting in the car next to me is my 5 year old daughter, Keara. We are on the way to nursery school. I tell her to hang in there baby, as we have a job to do....to catch the bad man!
I phone the sector vehicle numbers that have been given to me, but surprise, surprise I get voice mail. Somehow I dig deep and remember the main landline number. I drive around following him; waiting for the police to arrive.....instead I get a phone call from them asking me where Boundary Road is...seriously?? The police station is just off that exact same road not 3 km from me!
Eventually they arrive. I park my car and Keara and I both jump into the police van. Still rummaging through the trash we pull up to him, and I positively identify him as my second rapist!
Back, to the police station yet again. And yet again, this time with my daughter in tow, I am left standing in a passage way unattended...un-noticed, unimportant and just another rape victim.
An hour goes by and Keara is now frightened and confused.
We leave and I take her to school, go home, have a shower, contact my Investigating Officer and give him the good news and go back to the station, guns a blazing to wait for him....well...as we speak I am still waiting for him to arrive..!!
I have had about enough of nobody taking me seriously, so I take action and speak out!
I discover that there is only one holding cell at the station.
It has been known to happen that lawyers come to the cell looking for work. Because my statement has not as yet been taken identifying him as one of my rapists, he could have been released on that basis....he can’t go to jail for going through the trash!!
I ensure my rapist is now taken from the holding cell and locked in a room where nobody can get to him and be let go by “mistake”
But yet again, I have to leave unsatisfied, with only a small victory.
The next day I receive a phone call from my Investigating Officer. YES!! Things are happening, I’m getting JUSTICE!
He is calling asking me where “Manchester” has been taken too....are you kidding me...?
The low my soul goes after such a high is devastating! Especially as I realise that my statement also wasn’t taken after him being arrested and taken to the station....he also would not go to jail for an attempted break in on the day he was arrested.....maybe he has been set free!
The adrenalin that pumps through my veins makes me almost pass out.
Hours go by. Much later I find out to my relief that he has been taken to the Randburg holding cell. My nerves are shattered...
I leave numerous messages for the Brigadier with not so much as the curtesy of a return phone call.
Fed-up at the incompetency of the station, I now barge my way into the Brigadier’s office. I’m a woman on a mission. Full of fire and fury, I’m out to get JUSTICE. He has no choice but to hear me out! With as much diplomacy as I can muster, I tell him about the many blunders his men and the station have made to date....with the hope that if he is aware of them, changes will be made...and request...more like demand a new Investigating Officer be assigned to my case.
Needless to say, my speaking out and making the Brigadier aware of what was happening at his station, this police station has made remarkable changes.
After a lot of chaos and red tape, I have a new IO and a 6 page statement, as opposed to the half a page done previously at the police station, which would never have been enough as evidence to stand up in court....the court case begins.
Bail is denied for both suspects as they are illegal immigrants.
I start to feel that I may be vindicated, but I temper my hopes. The road is still going to be a long one, but the tiny flame of hope keeps my spirits up. I may prevail after all. I may get a chance at healing.
3 months later and the court case begin. The rape is extended for yet another two years, exacerbated by incompetence and compound lack of interest.
Documents go missing, prosecutors are chopped and changed, the original IO has done an incompetent job and the chain of evidence is broken. I am being violated yet again. The judicial system is raping and raping me....commonly referred to as secondary rape.
Interpreters don’t’ pitch, witnesses aren’t available, the suspects attorney becomes ill, the stenographer machine breaks down, no stenographer available! Postponement after postponement after postponement...but, I never missed a court hearing. I willing submit to the rape in order to have that glimmer of hope of the chance to heal, the chance at justice.
I developed a relationship between my expert witnesses and IO and my prosecutor....whom I am still friends with today!
I face the rapists in court, over and over again. Being raped every time, but I hold onto that hope...
Two years later and finally it is time for the verdict. The mixture of emotions overwhelms me.
Fear....exhilaration... trepidation. How will my life change if they are not found guilty? After two years of judicial procedure the state only has some evidence against “Manchester” and my word against theirs. Will it be good enough??
Will I experience the final and ultimate rape?
As the only person that was a witness for the state....it is my word against theirs...I had to prove that it was not consensual and that I had not invited them into my home.
Will the sentence be further rape or will I be validated. Will I complete the path of healing and be free?
The court room is so quite you can hear a pin drop. All I can hear is my heartbeat pounding in my ears!!
The magistrate’s voice fills the room. Accused No 2, Kululanie Sabanye...on both charges against you...you are found guilty....and sentenced to 40 years’ imprisonment to be served consecutively.
Accused No 1, Philip Mabasu- -“Manchester”, on all 4 charges against you......you are found guilty....and sentenced to 59 years imprisonment to be served consecutively.
The feeling of relief and closure overwhelms me....I can’t believe what I have just accomplished. The court room erupting into applause!!
Perseverance, determination and a need for justice is what drove me....to be an example to the other woman out there....to be the first woman to accomplish what I did despite all the frustrations of the police not doing the basics, the court system and the emotional trauma experienced.
Part Four – The aftermath
Now it may sound like I totally dislike the police. Well that’s not true. They are not all incompetent or disinterested in their cases. In fact there are many, many police men and woman that are fantastic at their jobs.
I believe I was given the worst of the worst scenarios to be able to experience the journey that I did.
How else would I be able to pass on the knowledge and show you that no matter the odds stacked against you, be it the police, the lack of support or the slow judicial system, feeling like you just want to give up....Don’t!
If you speak out, you will get a brilliant Investigating Offer in the police, a fabulous Prosecutor at the courts...just like I did.
Sometimes you need to make it clear that you are not going to accept anything less than what you deserve, fight for what you are entitled to.
Sometimes YOU just need to make it happen!
The rape happened in September 2011 and the sentencing in October 2013.
It has now been just over 5 years....did I find healing...have I found peace?
Yes I have...and now I want to help others speak out!
I believe God was with me the entire time, protecting me and giving me the strength to endure all the things that went wrong for me to be able to help others.
People often ask me how I got over it.
• Knowing that I did everything in my power to assist the police in my case and getting justice.
• As a result of that, my rapists were convicted and given heavy sentences.
• I have prevented these men from hurting anybody else
• The police station involved got to improve their service.
• The silver lining in all of this is that my daughter was not with me!!
I am grateful it happened to me. People look at me like I’ve lost the plot, but I firmly believe God had a plan for me when I experienced this. He is the one that gave me the strength and the guidance to figure out when thing went wrong in order to be able to pass this knowledge onto others.
If people are empowered with the knowledge of what they can do...what their rights are, and not to just leave everything up to the police, but to help them and also to SPEAK OUT!!
Yes, it has changed my life. Through God all things are possible. Empower yourself, knowledge is power. Never give up, believe and you will receive whatever it is you need.
My life will forever be changed...but
I am victorious...I am FREE!!!
My name is Karen Howell...and that is MY story!