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Rape survivors find their voice

Mother and daughter Karmilla Pillay-Siokos (44) and Athena Evangeline Siokos (17) have both been raped. Their journeys of healing and hope are an inspiration to others.

Karmilla was raped at 18, while Athena fell victim to her rapist at age 12.

“It is difficult to describe the impact of something as traumatic as rape. I have always been a fighter and martial arts was one of my favourite sports. "Being raped by ‘a friend’, in a situation where I couldn't fight back, was a huge knock to my self-confidence. It took a long time for me to realise that it was not my fault.

“The initial impact was fear, shame and guilt. When I found my voice, I was inspired to change the way we socialise our children and create awareness around the issues of victim blaming and our attitudes towards female sexuality,” said Karmilla.

Invisible and withdrawn

Athena on the other hand fell into a goth phase. She wore all black and was quiet and withdrawn. “I made myself invisible so that no one would pay attention to me and single me out. I sometimes still do this, but my biggest step towards healing was dyeing my hair bright purple. It took two years to speak about my experience,” she said.

The first time Karmilla said ‘I was raped’ was in an argument with her mother, who didn’t like the way she was living her life. After trying therapy, which didn’t work, Karmilla moved out. Soon af-ter, she met her husband and the next stage of her recovery began. “He respected me and was the first man I talked to about the rape. Later, pregnancy and childbirth had a profound impact on my attitude towards sex. It became a physical expression of love and was extremely healing.”

Finding her voice

Karmilla got involved with Slutwalk Johannesburg and did her first Slutwalk in 2011.

SlutWalk is a protest march calling for an end to rape culture, including victim blaming and  shaming of sexual assault victims.  “I finally let go of the guilt and shame and felt completely healed. I vowed to do everything I can to offer this freedom to other survivors.”

Both women stress that everyone’s healing journey is different. “Some days I can get up on a stage and tell everyone, but on other days dropping my pen is enough to make me want to cry. Rape is an intimate violation that affects us on so many levels,” said Athena.

But there is hope

“As clichéd as it sounds, it does get better. First, you feel like you’re falling into a bottomless pit and you will never see the light. You have to let it all in, don’t fight it. Wave after wave will try to drown you, but you will learn to swim. "You may never get all the way out of the water, but every new coping mechanism and the people we let ourselves trust will take us closer to the shore,” she added.

Karmilla attributes The TEARS Foundation, a Non-Profit organisation which assists and provides a support network for survivors of rape, as playing a key role in her healing.