Content warning: sexual abuse, self-harm
I was 16 years old when a substitute teacher at a former Model C school in Makhanda took advantage of me. It went on for two months. I thought, at the time, that we were in a relationship. We were not.
When she ended things, she still had a few weeks left at the school. Those were the most painful weeks of my school career. I hurt myself every single day. In each class of hers, I would ask to go to the bathroom to escape for a few minutes. I could not be around her.
And then she left. And life carried on. I pushed this so far away from myself.
Until Deon Wiggett’s My Only Story. It was a painful podcast series to listen to; I was not prepared for how it would upend my life. I listened because colleagues suggested I listen to it; I did not, at the time, think I would relate to it.
After the first episode, I was back in the classroom, back at my former high school where the ‘relationship’, series of abuses – what do you call it when you still don’t know how to name it? – took place. It took place, mostly, at school, during school hours. And nobody noticed. For two months. Nobody noticed. Or if they did, nobody said anything. Nobody did anything.
I see scars on my body and can now remember how they got there. Imagine that; to have pushed something so far away from yourself that you do not remember the map of it on your body. It has been almost 20 years since it happened.
I write this anonymously because this is a small town, and many people know each other. The dots are easy to connect. I cannot add my name to this letter because she is friends with almost everyone I work with.
How do you speak about something like this 20 years later without undoing important relationships? I cannot bring myself to do that. The only solace I have is that she no longer teaches or works with young people. If she did, I would be compelled to do something about this.
For the longest time, I was confused by what had happened to me. I thought it had to do with my sexuality, but the person who took advantage of me was straight; is straight.
But, again, in My Only Story, they speak of how it is not about sexuality but power. Adults identify vulnerable children and work at earning their trust or entrapping them in a secret to take advantage of them.
I was a vulnerable child, and for the longest time, I believed that nobody did anything because they did not want to deal with or did not know how to deal with someone like me.
While it has been very difficult to confront what happened to me, I do not know if I would have ever remembered (not anytime soon) or begun to heal if it were not for Deon Wiggett’s work on My Only Story.
When I was at school, I was not the only one. I knew of two other pupils at my school being taken advantage of by one other teacher – he no longer works there. And the teacher who took advantage of me had a friend who was teaching at another school and in a relationship with a pupil. Their best friend now teaches at one of these schools with the very knowledge of what her friends did. How do you begin to untangle this all?
I hope My Only Story wakes schools up to the truth. Schools might be embarrassed by what is coming to light. But it needs to happen because so many of us have been hurt, and that is an injustice.