One Billion Rising coordinator Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende in South Africa shares her incredible piece of writing I Believe You. To read more of her writings, visit her blog On Becoming Barbara, and Writing HERE.

Dear sister
I want to thank you for your emails and your inbox messages. It has taken me a while to respond to you, and that is because to be quite honest I did not know how to. I have not had the words with which to tell you what is in my heart, and even as I write these words, I am not altogether sure that they are the right words. After all what do I say to you who was raped, beaten and brutalized by someone you trusted and loved? What words do I use to console you? What words exist that can console someone after they have experienced such a night mare? All I can do is to use the words that I have available to me to try to express what is in my heart. I am not even sure that you shared your story with me in order that I say or do anything at all. Perhaps you just wanted to give your story a voice, and for that voice to have a witness, someone who hears it. I do not know why you chose to tell me your story, and I do not think that it matters why. It is simply enough that you did. I want to thank you for trusting me enough with yourself, your pain and your vulnerability to be able to confide in me. I am humbled and honored that you saw it fit to take me into your sacred space and to allow me to be there with you.I believe you, even if no one else does. I believe that you were raped, I believe that you still have nightmares and that you no longer go out on your own. I believe you that you can no longer make love without images of that horrific night intruding into what is supposed to be an intimate moment with someone you have chosen to share bliss with. I believe you when you say that in every relationship you have had, there is an undesirable and aggressive third party, a darkness that shows up and has ruined all your attempts to have healthy relationships. I believe you when you say you cannot let a man touch you any more, that you freeze up. I believe you when you say you now have murderous thoughts when you think about men. I believe you when you say you look at your child and you see a shadow of him and that your child is a daily reminder of how he was conceived: through violence and from unwanted seed. I believe you when you say that you told him to stop, that you thought that your NO was enough, until it was too late and he had forced his way into you, a most violent act of disrespect. I believe you when you say that you had never thought that he might rape you and so you were not prepared to fight him off. I believe you when you say you went to see him but with no intention of having sex and that it hurts when people ask you what you were going to his house for. I believe you when you say he laughed at you when you started crying and mocked you, saying that you were no virgin anyway, that he had slept with you countless times before this, that you were being overly dramatic. I believe you when you say he laughed even harder when you told him you would report him to the police, that he said the police don’t waste time on stupid “cry wolf” stories, that the police have better issues to deal with than some woman who says that her husband rapes her. After all how can a man rape his own wife? Is he not entitled to her body as and when he wants use of it? Did he not carry wine to your people and pay your bride price? I believe you when you say no one in your family would even listen to you, that they tell you he is a good husband who doesn’t cheat on you and who provides for his family; that they tell you how you have to perform your wifely duties which includes sex with him whether you want to or not. I believe you when you say that your aunties have told you that you don’t have to want it, that men are wired different from us and that they need sex more. I believe you when you say even when you cry afterwards and curl up into a fetal position he tells you to shut up so he can sleep. I believe you when you say he slaps you if you try to resist his advances and that he looks at you disgustedly after he has raped you. I believe you when you say that your older white husband, a pastor for a mega church who is involved in prison ministry, demands that you call him master as he rapes you and that when he pinches and bites you and you scream he whispers “ shush gal, you will wake the missus up.” I believe you when you say that he stops giving you money or buying food in the house when you refuse to play his slave girl in the bedroom and when you refuse for him to rape you. I believe you when you say that you have no family here and that they are all back in Jamaica and that you were in love with him when you married him.
 I believe you when you say that the man who raped you has sworn to kill everyone in your family if you expose him, and that he is now your serial rapist, coming after you whenever your parents are not at home. I believe you when you say that he throws money at you and tells you to get rid of it each time you tell him you are pregnant, and that three times you have had an abortion. I believe you when you say he has threatened to kill you if he ever sees or hears of another man around you, or if you even think about telling his wife and his daughter who is your class mate, thereby destroying his family.
I believe you when you say that after failing several classes and about to be rusticated you finally gave in to sex with college Professor X, then Y, then Z and that you contracted gonorrhea from one of them. I believe you when you say you went for treatment and took an HIV test that came back positive. I believe you when you say you are tormented daily because Professors X, Y and Z are sleeping with other students, spreading HIV but you are too scared to say anything. I believe you when you say you are scared the professors will make your life hell, and that everyone will call you a liar and a cheap whore. You still have one more year to go and if you disclose your HIV status you will be sent packing from school.
I believe you when you say that he was a pastor and he told you that you were depressed because you had an evil spirit in you. I believe you when you say that you had sex with him but only because he said the Holy Spirit had shown him your demon and that this was the only way to cast it out.
My sister, myself, I BELIEVE YOU!
I know you blame yourself for much of what has happened to you. But I want to tell you that IT WAS NOT YOUR FAULT. I want to tell you that no matter what you were wearing, how you spoke, where you went, what you thought or believed, the brute who raped you is the one who is at fault. There is nothing wrong with you and everything twisted with the man who raped you. He violated your trust, abused his privileged position of authority and he co-opted you into his own darkness and brokenness by invading your sacredness.
I want to assure you that what you have done, opening up to me is a huge act of courage and a big step towards your freedom and healing. Perhaps on some level your spirit knows this, which may be why after 15 years you chose to share your story with me. By Shattering the Silence that enshrouded the story of your rape, you have taken a step out of the darkness that your rapist left behind after he violated you. By ripping that veil of secrecy that has kept you prisoner to the rapist you have unshackled yourself and have started the journey towards taking yourself and your body back. Perpetrators lurk and thrive in the shadows of silence and like the cowards that they are they are they will have you believe that if you speak up they will hurt you more. Many know that keeping you silent keeps you vulnerable and forever a victim. Many also know that silence means they will never be held to account. What I do know is that the act of breaking that cultural code of silence is less about the rapist and more about you, getting your power back and getting rid of the shame, the guilt and self loathing that should not be your burden but should be the burden of him who committed the crime. My deepest wish is that society and culture will evolve to the point where women are not blamed for a crime they did not commit unto themselves. I long for a day when a woman violated can walk into a police station, file a complaint and that her safety is secured so that the rapist does not retaliate. I long for a time when women who are violated can scream for help and get it, can tell family and friends and be met with sympathy, a warm embrace and tools to take the next steps  towards justice. I long for the day when the courts and those charged with enforcing the laws will give due access to women who have been raped and beaten, and mandate sentences commensurate with the heinous crime of rape.
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You have broken the silence by confiding in me, and perhaps this is all the justice you need: telling your story and having someone believe you and acknowledge your pain. Maybe you want to take it further and tell your story to someone or people who can help you get the resources you need to begin to heal or to bring the perpetrator to book. Maybe justice to you is an apology from the perpetrator. Whatever it is, breaking the silence is the first step towards justice. It is one way you can give yourself a measure of justice. My prayer for you and for all of us is that we realize that we are not alone in our pain, and that in solidarity with one another we can create safe spaces for all of us to break the silence and share our stories. This will empower us to fight together for the changes in society and  in the justice system that we so desperately need. Right now, justice to me looks like authentic solidarity and shattering the silence around rape and violence.
One Billion Rising for Justice/Red Tent Cape Town
Thank you for your time and for allowing me to share with you in the same way you shared with me. I bow deeply
my sisters keeper