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Can we talk about my rape?

2019-06-19 01:21

Having consensual sex with a man once doesn’t mean he’s entitled to your body whenever he feels like it. Bonnie Meslane, a respected PR practitioner, says she was failed by the justice system after opening a case against her alleged rapist. She tells her story to Charl Blignaut and Rhodé Marshall 

The alleged rapist in this story will not be named because he has not pleaded in court.

But he won’t be appearing in court because the case against him has been withdrawn due to a “lack of substantial evidence”.

It’s a he-said she-said situation, and the police – Bonnie Meslane says – seem to believe his version of events.

Since deciding to fight back against the man who she says raped her violently twice, Meslane’s life has been a nightmare and a healing space, but mostly a nightmare.

“I suffered mental breakdowns and would think the best way was to die,” she says of the darkest times in her quest for justice.

She says she received no updates from the police and had to constantly pursue the investigating officer; that she was kept waiting for hours to meet with officials; and that the police were often rude, condescending or angry.

She was threatened with legal action that would destroy her, and she showed City Press evidence that her phone had been hacked.

So were the phones of the reporters on this story. We also received a threatening phone call from a woman claiming to be a gender activist, but who ended up being a close business associate of the accused man.

Bronwyn Pithey, head of the Violence Against Women Programme at the Women’s Legal Centre, says: “Her experience is very reflective of other experiences with the system, and we have a system that is not victim-centred. The big picture is very often skewed towards conviction rates and arrest rates rather than looking for justice.”

Trigger warning: Bonnie’s story

Meslane refuses to cry or even let emotion into her voice as she tells her story. She’s poised but on edge. She spares none of the details, even those that play into her alleged rapist’s hands.

“This is a man I have known and worked with since 2013. We knew one another quite well, so I agreed to go on a trip to [the coast] with him in 2017, around April. I had ended things with the person I was with. It was even more reason to get away. That was the only time I had consensual sex with him, because I felt like it was expected of me because he organised the trip.”

But, six months later, things turned nonconsensual.

“The first time he raped me was in October 2017. At the time, a business I co-owned was not doing well and I was still struggling with my break-up. He used to help me by calling me Ubers to meetings or to my office. Later, the police would say he claimed to be my blesser – as if that changes anything about the rapes. Either way, he wasn’t. He asked me for plenty of favours. I have done free PR jobs and strategies for a number of his clients.”

She was happy to show her bank accounts to the police so they could try to find cash payments from the man.

“One day he said he would request an Uber for me to where he was and that he would then take me home. We hadn’t seen one another in a long time and he wanted to catch up. I conceded. Once I got there, we got into his car and he asked if he could pick up something at the estate he was driving into. I sat in the car. He asked me to come in, and at first I refused because he was newly married. I had not met his wife and it did not feel right. He assured me that was not their home – they didn’t reside there.

The case was withdrawn as per the decision of the prosecutor [as there were] no grounds for a successful conviction. To this end, the allegations by the complainant of misconduct by the investigators are now being investigated

“He came to where I sat, pulled me up from the chair and started kissing and touching me. I kept saying no, he must stop. He did not. He raped me. When he was done, he drove me home. I never said a word to anyone. I knew something unwanted and completely uninvited happened to me and I avoided being around him for a time.”

Meslane says she later continued working with him on some projects: “Most often he would not want to make time to meet in the day, claiming to be busy. He would want to meet at night. I always declined and would come up with excuses not to meet him.”

Then, she says, it happened again.

“On February 8, I received a call from him asking if I could help him with a PR strategy. Because I work from home, I always have people over. I was wearing denim shorts and an oversized black T-shirt. He sat on a couch opposite me and showed me videos on his phone about the project. After that, he insisted that I dance for him, saying he is my blesser. I refused, but when I heard his tone change, I said I would when the right song came on.”

Meslane is clear that the man is known for losing his temper and intimidating colleagues to get his way – a reputation confirmed to City Press by another woman who has worked with him.

“He asked me to sit next to him, and then on top of him. I was uncomfortable with this request, but I played along a bit. He started kissing me. I got up and went to the kitchen, but he followed me. I kept politely asking him to leave, and he said he won’t leave. He then picked me up and put me on the kitchen counter, touching and kissing me. I asked him to stop and to leave, and said I did not want to have sex with him.

“He lifted me up from the counter and I asked him to put me down. He lay me on the living room floor and got on top of me, kissed me. I pushed him away from me. I kept saying I do not want to have sex. He responded that I must stop being a child, he won’t penetrate. He pulled me to the bathroom, almost closes the door, makes me face the wall and takes his penis out and pulls my shorts down. This happened while he kept putting his fingers inside me. I pushed his hands away. It was uncomfortable and painful.

“He made me face the wall again and penetrated me from the back. I kept saying he must stop. When he was about to finish, he pushed me to the edge of my bed and made me face him. I asked him not to ejaculate inside me. He pulled out and said it’s a pity that I only worry about falling pregnant and, by the way, he is not HIV positive.

“He pulled his pants up, walked out of my room and said he was not done briefing me about the project. He asked when he would get the work. I said as soon as possible. He left. I followed him and locked the door. I then ran to shower because of how dirty I felt. I drank myself to sleep that night.

“On Sunday, he messaged me with a ‘Molo’. I said to him I had been raped before so anything sexual triggers me. I never enjoy sex and that I should go back to therapy. This was my way of protecting myself from him, in case I did not report this [rape encounter] too. His response was: ‘Who did that to you? I am going to kill them. I am so sorry, Bonnie.’ He said that I should find a therapist and that he would pay. I thanked him. He didn’t ask about the project again.

“I then confronted him again on February 17 after a difficult week of nightmares; drinking myself mad – trying to escape how I felt. I messaged him. He tried to call me about eight times, I did not pick up. He sent me messages. In some of his messages, he apologises, says he will hand himself in to the police and is willing to take the full punishment and responsibility for what he did. Then, in some, he says I am lying about being raped by him, but then apologises again.”

Meslane says she gave these messages, which City Press has seen, to the police and also shared them with friends at the time. These friends have testified to the police.

Responding through his lawyers, the man told City Press: “As our sexual interactions were always consensual, I do not know why Ms Meslane recently decided to portray our sexual relationship as having been anything than consensual. I view Ms Meslane’s allegations of nonconsensual sexual relations against me as defamatory and reserve all my rights in this regard.”

Dealing with the system

Meslane was adamant that, despite sleeping with the man consensually once, no means no and she was raped. She went to the police.

Bonnie Meslane

“I reported my case on February 19. Myself and a friend who accompanied me were told to wait for the detective to meet us at the Randburg Police Station to take me to the clinic. We waited for four hours, but she didn’t show up. She called and asked if we could meet at the police station the following day at 8am.

“Dealing with her in particular as the person assigned to my case was a horrible experience. She would not update me on anything unless I called her. If I go to someone above her or showed up at the police station to question why she was not updating me, she would get angry in an intimidating way, making me feel bad for asking.”

Delay followed delay.

“I previously explained to them how important it was for me to know what was happening, and why I was anxious and getting sick from this – they said they understood. The detective and her senior were scared to tell me that my case had a lot of loopholes and that it would be difficult to prosecute, hence her avoiding me.

“The prosecutor I saw seemed to understand the complexities of rape and she questioned me, saying she needs to know if I will be able to answer should we go to court. She seemed positive, but said she would then refer the matter to her senior, who would make a decision. On May 30, the supervisor called me alerting me of the decision not to pursue the case. I calmly thanked her for the call.”

Pithey, speaking from years of experience, says: “It is important to acknowledge that there are individuals within the criminal justice system who work really hard and are very committed, but, unfortunately, the majority of cases are not being investigated and prosecuted properly.

“The nature of a sexual offence very often is that there are only two people involved. The majority of cases don’t involve injuries. So to restrict the cases that you are prepared to investigate as police to those that involve violence and injuries is dismissing the majority of cases.

“The problem is that the National Prosecuting Authority [NPA] has the right not to prosecute a case based on whatever it believes the test shows from the evidence that it has recorded. The test that it uses ... there must be a prospect of a successful prosecution. If it feels that there is no prospect of a successful prosecution, it is within its rights not to pursue it.

“Her right after that is that she can request to make representations to the NPA and to see whether it can give her reasons for the case not being pursued. You have the right to pursue private prosecution, but that involves a lot of money and most people can’t afford that.”

“Dealing with her in particular as the person assigned to my case was a horrible experience. She would not update me on anything unless I called her.

NPA spokesperson Phindi Mjonondwane said: “The prosecutor and senior public prosecutor declined to prosecute. After considering all facts contained in the case docket, they came to a conclusion that there were no prospects of a successful prosecution. Where victims feel aggrieved with such decisions, there are recourse mechanisms they can exhaust to satisfy themselves that the prosecutor’s decision was the correct one.”

Police spokesperson Brigadier Mathapelo Peters said: “The case was withdrawn as per the decision of the prosecutor [as there were] no grounds for a successful conviction. To this end, the allegations by the complainant of misconduct by the investigators are now being investigated internally to establish whether there was any wrongdoing on the part of our members.”

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July 21 2019