Salome Zandukeli, 22 years old, Tbilisi

What happened in the street

“It happened exactly two years ago, on February 20 in 2016. I’d just started to work. Giving math and English private lessons at the same time, I had to go from Kavtaradze to Sololaki in the late evening and return home at Dighmis Masivi at night, at about 12. That day, I decided to walk home from metro to save money on a taxi. Considering I was born and raised in that neighbourhood, I had no fear.

On my way home, some guy went after me asking my name. I answered nothing of course – that happened a lot. I crossed the bridge and almost reached borough council office when he hurled insults at me. Having got furious, I answered back. A few minutes later I saw him coming after me together with two other boys. One of them was still a child, and the second one must have been about 15-16. They grabbed me. No one heard screams in the middle of the night.

Having caught me, they dragged me down to the hillside behind the office building and raped me. For a moment, I grabbed a stone and tried to hit the boy. I missed him as I found out later. Then, he tried to strangle me. I remember the feeling – he was gripping my throat in his hands, so I had to breathe dirt with my face down to the ground. It was like they say that your life flashes before your eyes when you’re about to die. That was exactly what I went through. I didn’t even hope for miraculous survival. The little boy was witnessing all these. In the end, they took all the money I had, robbed me and ran away.

I got up and went straight to the police. The police station is just a stone throw from the place. Arriving there, with my dress torn I was in a terrible state and looked awfully. Having taken a look at me, they didn’t believe me in the police saying I didn’t look like a “decent girl”. I got furious and shouted at them to go with me and see what and how it happened there.

Having arrived, they saw my things flung about the place including pants. Seeing that, one of the policemen said: “You’re a young woman, there’s no need to disclose and make a noise of it – you’re going to ruin your life”. On hearing this, I yelled at him “How can you say that, how can I keep it secret” I said.

Everyone was expecting me to burst into tears, weep, to behave typically in that situation, but I didn’t want to cry. I was outraged and filled with anger.

Eventually, the police initiated the case. They found offenders shortly afterwards. From then on, I had to deal with detectives. They treated me better and their attitude was also different. One of the detectives even lent me his mobile phone, which I still have at home as all my belongings, including credit cards, clothes and phone, were used as evidence at that time. The 10-year-old wasn’t arrested, but other two were. The underage boy was sentenced to 6 years’ imprisonment, and the adult was sent down for 13 years. The judge was a woman, of course.

The trial

As I found out later, that 15-year-old kid was a beggar and the older man has had a wife and three children.

The older man has never admitted raping me, and his woman lawyer defended him showing no solidarity or sensitivity to what had happened. As for the teenager, I had a feeling of utter misery and despair as he couldn’t write or read or even identify himself. He didn’t know his birth date. He used to leave thumbprint instead of a signature when signing. What could I tell him? I believe, there must be other ways of prevention together with punishment. He’ll spend 6 years in prison then will be released and what next? Maybe he’ll make up his mind to revenge? And if this happens, where can I hole up?

It was very unpleasant attending the trial being both witness and victim at the same time. Besides, the action is not regarded as rape if penile penetration doesn’t take place. So, the situation becomes a bit comical in court when you have to prove it with almost a centimetre preciseness in front of strangers. I wanted to attend all the proceedings, but nobody would let me know when they were held, date changes and so forth.

I wasn’t allowed at the teenager’s trial as the proceeding appeared to be closed. And the older man’s family made me an offer that he’ll marry me if I take my lawsuit back.

When the court finally sentenced him to 13-years imprisonment, his wife ran after me in a court building, grabbed my hair and began to beat me.

Pregnancy

A month later, I felt my appetite and sensitivity increased. I found out I was pregnant. It was shocking. I didn’t even consider keeping the baby. But even if I did, I was facing such a pressure from the people around that I couldn’t do that, couldn’t dare. I remember a relative, an aged woman talking to me: “Do you want to raise a bastard? Is it what you want?”

I had an abortion. The situation was even more spoilt by the fact that all my credit cards, which I had all my money on, were taken by the police as evidence. In fact, there were days, when we hadn’t any food at home. I can’t imagine how all these would end without a help of a relative, who supported us at that time. So, I think the government should support rape victims in case of an abortion.
I remember I published my story on facebook as I needed to speak up. I don’t think women should hide those stories. They should keep on talking about it all the time. Having read my facebook status, “journalist” Irakli Mamaladze published it in his magazine, despite my refusal. The picture featuring a girl sitting in the dark with her head bent accompanied the article. I made a complaint to the Georgian Charter of Journalism Ethics against him and he was found guilty of violating 5 principles out of 6 debated.

Mother

At that time, my mom and I alone used to live in our apartment. Mom had had Alzheimer’s for five years. Before she was diagnosed we were arguing all the time as her behaviour became irrational and I didn’t know what I was dealing with.

You shouldn’t have walked in front of the TV as they were watching you from there. Photographs were talking to her and icons painted by my father would steal her things.

She used to often speak to herself in the mirror. Once, in my absence, she flooded the neighbours living on a floor below and was taken to the mental hospital. It was there I found out she had an Alzheimer’s disease.

Eventually, her behaviour became more and more irrational, yet I could leave her alone at home since she wasn’t hurting herself. Having lost all her characteristics, she became more naïve and sweet though.

Having come home that night when I got raped, I went into the bathroom to wash. Mom came in. Seeing bruises and blood spots, she asked me what happened. So, I told her everything. She cried a lot. Then, an hour later or so, she asked again: What happened to you? Did you fall in the street?
Not long ago mom went into a coma and spent two months at the hospital. She passed away the week before last.

People around

I haven’t kept quiet about what has happened to me. I’ve been telling everyone. I was amazed to find out about similar stories of many other women around me. These were women who preferred to remain silent back then or were forced to marry the offender. I could never imagine such things happened to those people before.

There were various reactions from society. Friends stood shoulder to shoulder with me, coming and crying for my story, so I had to reassure them myself. I’ve kept going to a job where I have wonderful colleagues, and a sense of duty saved me from many bad things. At that time, I had a boyfriend who told me he would have killed himself, had he been me. It was, perhaps, the worst thing I had to survive. He also blamed me for not buying an airgun for self-defense. Some people around me advised not to disclose the story of the rape, saying that I am going to destroy my future. On these, I would yell as they dare even tell me this. What an utter nonsense a rape victim to feel guilty and ashamed. So, what comes out that I committed a crime? In literature and culture in general raped woman is called “disgraced” as if it is she who disgraced herself and not the offender. Moreover, there are no examples of successful women who survived rape. All of them either commit suicide, or their lives are destroyed. But from my experience, I know you can definitely continue to live, you can fight and survive. My fight was long and hard. Until now, I have to deal with depression, insomnia, and nightmares. But I still do not think of myself as a victim, but as a survivor.”

Author: Nino Gamisonia
Photo credit: Nino Baidauri
Translation: Nina Suramelashvili

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