Well, I'll go to the foot of my stairs...

Often startled, frequently amused, sometimes scared; rarely speechless. Can be found at witchywoo22@yahoo.co.uk

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Blog to Raise Awareness of Sexual Violence

Twenty six years ago my cousin was eighteen and a lovely young woman - bright, funny, full of life. The youngest of four children, she was part of a close knit family of devout Catholics. She'd finished her bacalaureat and she and her older brother decided to go back-packing around North Africa. Lots of French kids did this....well, lots of kids from everywhere did this - Morocco held a fascination for us at that time.

They'd been there just over a week when it happened. They were camping on a beach for the night - just the two of them - and their camp was invaded by four local men. They took her brother off somewhere and came back for her.

They subjected her to a lengthy ordeal of horrific sexual violence that put her in hospital for five weeks. She was gang raped and sexually assaulted in every way possible. It was completely brutal.

Her brother had been knocked unconscious and tied up out of sight but still within earshot. When he came round he heard it all.

It was reported but never investigated.

She'd had plans, my cousin. She had dreams. In a few weeks she was going to university to study. She wanted to become a children's social worker. Those four men destroyed all that.

She went to university, as planned. She did give it a go. She lived alone in a rented room off campus. She didn't go home much and, though her family kept in regular contact with her, she didn't say much. She was changed. They thought she was recovering, albeit slowly. She had a therapist and was on medication for depression and anxiety. They thought she was busy with her studies. They tried to support her. They found out later that she rarely ventured out of her room. It was there that they found her some months later. She had hanged herself.

Reading through her papers her family discovered the emotional torture she'd tried to live with since that night in Morocco. She'd drawn endless, savage pictures of what had happened. She'd written pages and pages, trying to explain her tangled feelings. Her guilt. The shame she felt. The note she left was very simple.

She told her family that she loved them all and that she was so sorry. So sorry because she was no longer a virgin and, therefore, wasn't a good Catholic. That God would now turn his back on her as a sinner. That the only way to stop the anguish she felt was to end her life; even knowing that that would preclude her from Heaven but that didn't matter because she wouldn't be going there anyway. She'd failed everyone and she was ashamed.

They killed her, those four men. They destroyed everything she believed in. They stole her life.

One Moroccan police officer, by way of an attempt at an explanation for the incident, had told her parents that "blonde girls are much prized" so, in his view, it was her fault.

As you've read this far, could you quietly tell her that it wasn't her fault; that men who rape are responsible for what they do; that no shame lies with her. She may hear you.

Her name is Catherine.


  • At 2:46 PM, Anonymous le lyons said…

    I've been reading posts since last night, trying to get everything "organized" and ready to go for the "big" day...and yours was the last one for the morning...

    You have brought me to tears. You have reminded me why we are doing this. I am so sad right now, but in a positive, mourning way - we have to mourn the losses. We have to fight so that eventually we don't have to mourn anymore...but as we fight we are still losing so many. I am surely rambling right now. Thank you for writing this.

    And Catherine, it wasn't your fault. You are good and innocent...and if there is a heaven or some sort of afterlife...I hope that someone there has been able to comfort you and take away your pain.

  • At 7:55 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said…

    Thank you for communicating so well that the damage from a sexual assault doesn't end when the attack ends.

    Your cousin's experience highlights the real damage victim blaming can do to victims.

  • At 8:03 PM, Blogger spotted elephant said…

    I'm so, so, so sorry.

  • At 9:00 PM, Anonymous girl, uninterrupted said…

    That is so sad, I'm very sorry.

  • At 9:25 PM, Anonymous Stephanie said…

    I'm so sorry. I don't even know what else to say. I just know that I'll tell Catherine's story to others.

  • At 10:51 PM, Anonymous Laurelin said…

    Oh god, I'm so sorry Witchy. Wish I knew what to say.

  • At 1:15 AM, Blogger witchy-woo said…

    Thanks, everyone.

    It was kind of cathartic writing that post. It's not something that's talked about much in my family anymore but I often think about my cousin. It felt ok to tell her story today...just so that more people know about her, really.

    She's one of millions - and they all matter.

  • At 4:35 AM, Anonymous Zenith said…

    I'm so very sorry Catherine. I believe you are with the angels now. May you sleep peacefully in the hand of God.

    I'm so sorry you couldn't stay :(

    I understand.

    Thank you so much for sharing, Witchy. Catherine deserves to have people hear her story and cry for her. At the very least.

  • At 12:28 PM, Anonymous deviousdiva said…

    I don't know what to say. I am glad you found the space to write about Catherine.
    I am so sorry. For her and for the millions of women who have suffered like her.

  • At 12:45 PM, Blogger Winter said…

    I can't think of an appropriate comment on this. It just deserves to be read.

  • At 2:05 PM, Blogger Artemis said…

    I'm so sorry. Thank you so much for telling her story.

  • At 6:27 PM, Anonymous RedDragon said…

    I was crying, reading this. Catherine, I hope you are at peace now. Witchy, thankyou for sharing.

  • At 10:14 AM, Blogger Kim said…

    Thank you for this post Witchy.
    Catherine: I'm so sorry. I'm peechless as well, it seems.

  • At 10:25 AM, Blogger Kim said…

    Should have been speechless.
    Sorry Witchy -- nothing to joke about in this post.

  • At 7:44 PM, Blogger witchy-woo said…

    No probs Kaka :)

    I'd have changed it for you myself but I haven't worked out if I can edit comments on Blogspot yet...

  • At 4:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This is belated, I know, sorry for that.
    Witchy... I am so sorry that had to happen.
    Catherine - I do not know where to begin or end. I only hope you know you are not to blame.

    To Witchy - I was wondering how did her brother fare? I do not mean to pry or anything, and the last thing I want to do is bring up bad memories - honestly. I only ask because I am male and I can only imagine how this would have made me feel if I had been the brother. I don't know if I could have coped with such a horrible event, especially coupled with the guilt of being the ostensible protector and yet being powerless to stop this horrible thing (being socialised male you are taught to be the protector - not saying this is right, just that it is).
    Like I said, I don't want to bring up bad memories, so please feel free not to respond.
    Again, I am so sorry that this sort of thing ever has to happen.

  • At 2:01 AM, Blogger manxome said…

    Thank you for sharing Catherine with us, Witchy.

    Catherine, I am so sorry for the pain you've been through, which was too great for this world to relieve you of. You are loved, and will continue to be loved. You are why we will never stop fighting. I hope we can make you proud.


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