‘My boss asked me, ‘Are you a virgin?’ I was shocked. He said, ‘We as older people don’t do it like you anymore.’ He took the longest way to get there, but I kept quiet. HE’S MY BOSS, after all.’

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“In 2016/2017 I worked for a company – the first place I was employed. I was so excited. Two weeks into my job, I got the shock of my life when a colleague of mine asked me to go to the shops. My boss offered to take me – I thought, ‘Okay, that’s nice of him to offer me a ride.’

Courtesy of Andrea Potgieter

We got in the car, we chatted about work and all of a sudden, he asked me, ‘Are you a virgin?’ I was shocked and didn’t expect that type of question from my boss. I replied and said, ‘Yes I am.’ He said, ‘We as older people don’t do it so much like you people anymore.’

I realized he took the longest way to the shops, but I kept quiet. HE’S MY BOSS, after all. As we got inside, he stood at the corner of the row and said to me, ‘I should go get the knives for the kitchen on the other side.’ I felt him looking at me. You just get the feeling when someone stares at you. I turned around. He stared at me. I felt uncomfortable. We drove back to work and carried on with our day. I kept quiet and didn’t say a word, because it was the first place I worked and thought, ‘Ok, everyone says it’s rough out there. Maybe this is normal?’

Courtesy of Andrea Potgieter

The next year, my family got bad news – my mom had cancer. It was the most difficult time of our lives. The waiting time when we don’t know exactly what’s wrong with her. The doctor told us it’s cancer but we waited for two weeks to hear what type of cancer it was specifically, and if it can be treated.

On top of all the stress we had as a family, stuff happened again at my workplace and again, I kept quiet. I was scared to tell my mom about it because I was afraid she would stress, and that was the last thing she needed. All I was thinking was, I need to be strong for her and my family.

Courtesy of Andrea Potgieter

The year my mom got cancer, I was sexually assaulted and bullied at my work place by my boss. Horrible things happened to me. I was emotionally abused and harassed, and I kept quiet. I just told my mom, ‘This work is not suited for me,’ and I cried almost every morning thinking of what’s going to happen today. I was scared to go to work but I had to be strong for my family.

I kept quiet about a man 30 years older than me. He touched and slapped my bum. He had sexual remarks about everything. He put golf clubs between my upper legs and groin area. He entered my personal space. He stripped me and assaulted me. I still kept quiet.

I cried in the bathroom every day and I had suicidal thoughts. I was angry at God and felt I couldn’t do it any longer.

One day my mom was admitted into remission and I broke down. She asked me, ‘what’s going on?,’ and I finally told her everything. The look in her eyes showed me how concerned and worried she was. She decided to come up with a solution, and a private investigation began. In light of the investigation, my abuser was suspended for a few months.

Courtesy of Andrea Potgieter

I had to give my statement, and with one voice, I reached out and other survivors felt the same way as I did. During the trial I was told I would be victimized by my co-workers, I was told people would bribe me in order to leave the trial. I was informed I needed to drive with someone because people may threaten me. I was stalked by people and people watched me on cameras and called me telling me they were disgusted by what I was doing.

Two months later, I received a phone call that we should be at the trial. I went and thought, ‘This is going to be the end. Everything will be handled, and I can move on with my life.’ While waiting for the jury to arrive, they told us he has a sick note and the trial was going to be extended until further notice.  I thought, ‘I have come so far – I’m not going to give up now. I am a survivor, not the victim this time.’ I proceeded to work in a very uncomfortable and difficult situation.

I felt disconnected, unwanted and worthless. They sent me to a psychologist to speak about the trauma I suffered. I went but felt, ‘Why should I share something with a person who does not understand what I went through?’ But still, I spoke to her.

Once I left, I felt as though I couldn’t understand what I was doing in this world. That’s when the suicidal thoughts increased. But I could not take that route because I was witnessing my mother who was fighting for her life, and I knew that life is precious.

In July 2017 I was transferred to a different branch in a different city. The trial went on for another few months and every time we thought ‘it’s the end,’ it got extended. October arrived and the trial finally ended – I faced the man I was scared of. I faced my fears. I thought it was the end and I could move on to the next chapter in my life, but all the aftereffects haunted me. I thought it was my fault, I blamed myself – I thought I did something wrong. I started to be scared of men around me. When someone hugged me, I felt they were too close in my personal space. It took me a while to realize not all men are like that.

I felt it was time for my story to be heard and for people to know they should stand up for themselves. It doesn’t matter what’s happening currently in your life – let your voice be heard. You might be reading this and be in the same shoes I was – please don’t be the victim in the situation, make it stop by talking to someone you trust. No person on earth should be a victim. Let your voice be heard.

I hope and pray someone who might be in this situation right now will find hope again. It wasn’t your fault. Go see someone even if you feel like it doesn’t help. It took me months after my incident to realize it worked. You’re going to be an inspiration to all the girls/women whose voices haven’t been heard yet.

Nadia Snyman Photography

Someone once asked me how I hold my head up so high after all I have been through. I said, ‘No matter what, I AM A SURVIVOR. NOT A VICTIM.’

And with a small voice in my head it echoes, ‘I am more than my trauma, I am more than my abuse, I am more than my scars – I AM.’ A lot of people suffer from traumatic events and let me tell you, let your voice be heard and don’t keep quiet.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Andrea Potgieter of South Africa. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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