South Africa has previously been labelled the rape capital of the world. Some statisticians estimate that one in three South African women have been raped or will be raped.
Lily Reed became that one in three on the 23rd August 2012 when she was gang-raped, robbed and beaten by twelve armed men during a home invasion in Malawi.
Her six year-old daughter and her partner’s nine year-old son were held hostage to witness the events of that night.
In her book The Dark Seed, she writes about the brutal home invasion – rape fest and robbery – as though she were describing a battle.
“I see the silhouette of a man standing high over the figure on the ground as he plunges a panga down onto the body with a loud thump.”
“I hear a bedroom window being smashed in….
“I am shocked into action in an instant….I have thirty seconds before they break down the door…
“Five or six black men are in the room; I can see their wet, red tongues and smell the sink of their breath…He is holding up a lead pipe and with no warning brings it down bluntly on my head….”
She believes that she was meant to have this experience. “I knew that I lived because it was meant to happen. All my experience as a rape counsellor made me able to survive. It happened for a reason.”
As it happens, as a psychotherapist her first ‘client’ was an 18-month old baby that had been raped.
After she saw starving Ethiopian children on television she decided – she knew that wanted to work with the impoverished, the vulnerable and the marginalized sectors of society.
She knew that her purpose was to make the world a better place and her passion was fired by the injustices of the world.
In all mythic traditions, the archetypal adventure begins when the hero (or heroine) feels there is something lacking in their lives. They are then compelled to take off on a series of adventures beyond the ordinary. Either they are attempting to recover what was lost or they are on a voyage of discovery. There is usually a cycle, a going and returning during which the hero is transformed in some way and has a lesson for the tribe.
Before she set off for Malawi, Lily Reed got a tattoo on her wrist.
It is a mandala with the words Forgiveness, Dignity and Faith. There is also a clock hand.
Other words say Intention, Integrity. Attitude.
It is her warrior woman tattoo.
She knew she was on a spiritual journey. It was a spiritual journey of discovering herself, breaking herself out of her shell, leaving her valley. She had divorced and miscarried two babies. She had been in a clinic for depression.
“But,” she writes “sometimes, to get yourself off the road to nowhere and onto the road to somewhere, you need to be a little more than brave. When chasing a dream that leads you into darkness before it shows you the light, you have to close your eyes and just jump in, feet first, hoping for the best.”
She left Cape Town with her six year-old daughter Emma in a utility vehicle they had named ‘You Go Girl.’
“Seeing the majestic beauty of Table Mountain fade behind in the distance created a few moments of apprehension. However as we drove through the Huguenot Tunnel and emerged at the other side as the sun rose to light the day, I felt as if I was being delivered into a new world, as if I had shed my old skin and it had blown off me like ash in the wind.”
She was, she says, rebirthed. Ash fell from her “like Pompeii.”
She describes the opportunists she met while driving the 3000 kms to Malawi. One traffic officer tutted while inspecting her vehicle, searching for a reason to fine her. He said it was against the law in Zimbabwe to have firewood in the back of your car. She was forced to pay him $25.
Another fined her $80 for speeding and confiscated an extra can of petrol in the car.
Lesson number one: Corruption is a valid career option in Africa.
“But I was moved by my adventurous spirit, surprised by my courage, amazed and in love with my daughter and in awe of her blossoming personality.”
Of course she meets a man who travels through Africa with his 11 year–old son.
“He saw me coming,” she says wryly. “A narcissist and a manipulative snake. If the energy around you has holes in it because of trauma or low-self-esteem, you attract people who suck into those holes.”
One night, uncharacteristically, he left her alone at the Lodge at which they were living. This is when the attack happened. She believes it was an “inside job,” perhaps a violent revenge for one of his business deals gone wrong.
Extraordinarily she has no bitterness.
The transformation of the heart is a wondrous thing, no matter how you land there. Who was it who said “every transformation is invariably a loss. The transformed must be mourned before the transformed-into can be relished. The mystery of the continuity between the two — between our past and present selves is one of the greatest perplexities of philosophy.”
She is grateful every day.
“Your soul chooses to be born into a life to learn the lessons that it must.” She has learned that It is an appreciation that life is such a gift. She is so optimistic she sees the attack as a blessing.
“I was as one set of tracks. This shifted me. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Her book about her experience, started as an outpouring on a Facebook page that Lily created in 2013 just months after the attack happened in an effort to purge her thoughts onto paper.
Lily wrote with raw, unedited emotion and reflected with profound insight an understanding of the journey she was about to begin in order to heal.
Within 3 weeks she had 17,000 followers gripped by her daily revelations of what happened that night and what she was experiencing in the days, weeks and months that followed.
“I wrote because I was trying to find where the hurt was coming from.”
It was her heart. The attackers, she believes, plant a ‘dark seed” in the hearts of their victims. This seed must be excavated and replaced with a beautiful garden. The heart is the garden.
In real life, she does adore her garden and finds inspiration and peace when she works in it.
“The brain rationalizes but the heart makes you have that ‘ahhh, I get it’ moment.”
Negativity, in all its forms, is the fruit of the dark seed.
“There is another mega analogy,” she says. “There is weather and there is climate. You have to know, while you are being attacked, that this is weather, a hurricane, a storm and it will pass.”
Despite appalling post-trauma treatment in Malawi, and a complete third-world failure of justice meted out to the perpetrators, Lily feels no anger.
“I will not let twelve men affect my relationship with the world. Nothing will be allowed to influence my daughter’s thoughts.”
She becomes frustrated by the distractions that divert peoples’ attention.
“South African Airways (SAA) is due to get yet another R10-billion bailout from the government. Can you imagine if that money were injected into the economy? If every family could get money?”
A girl she was at school with is working at Hope House, an NGO in Welkom which takes care of unwanted babies who have been born to rape victims.
Hope House doesn’t even get money from the Department of Social Services.
Lily is an old soul, a clever woman trained in counselling and psychiatry. These are part of the tools which enabled her – perhaps – to recover from her ordeal.
But what is the x-factor that enabled Lily to cope? She is still trying to figure it out.
“Rape is not about sex. It is about brutality and violence, about purging the ugliness into someone else. You must prepare yourself to how you are going to think while it is happening. No-one actually talks about that.”
Lily talks to me about experiments with rats. If there aren’t enough females, the males start raping the females. So it is, she thinks, with men. They have lost their way. Men have lost their place in society. They have abandoned their traditions, lost their place in the family.
The corruption in this country, the need for instant gratification because here in Africa you can die at any time….
I read a book by the Dutch journalist and Africa correspondent, Aernout Zevenbergen called ‘Spots of a leopard: on Being a Man’. His book is an examination of what it means to be a man in Africa.
I am attempting to understand why men rape.
Since the attack, Lily has committed herself to raising funds for Women Against Rape, the NGO founded by Janine Rowley who helps women who have been victims.
“If there is one message I have it is that rape is not a death sentence. We all know how to prevent it. We all know what to do afterwards.”
Lily Reed is the author of The Dark Seed.