A Western Cape transgender woman is doubting that she will ever see justice after she was sexually assaulted at an empowerment activism workshop.
Aurora Moses, 20, from Stellenbosch, says that on 13 November 2021 she was sexually assaulted by a volunteer after the first day of the workshop, hosted by LGBTIQ rights group Triangle Project.
Moses, who was previously discriminated against by her school because she is transgender, describes herself as an activist who aims to stand as an independent candidate in the next elections.
According to Moses, the incident took place at around 1:00 a.m. at a bed and breakfast in Gugulethu at which the workshop participants were accommodated. She says that the alleged perpetrator, who identifies as a gay man, also misgendered her.
“He pulled me towards him. He is taller than me so he lowered his lower body so I could feel his penis. I did at points freeze but didn’t allow it to go as far as rape. A lot of emotions came up in me because I am a survivor of rape and sexual abuse. I can still smell him to this day, his body odour,” an emotional Moses tells MambaOnline.
“I couldn’t sleep, and my body knew something happened to it but I didn’t have the right wording for it. I only found out the wording when I decided to talk about what happened to me,” she says.
She reported the incident to the event organisers the next morning and was assisted by Triangle to report the matter to the police. “Triangle was very supportive and has assisted me in trying to get justice,” Moses says.
The process of dealing with the police and navigating the criminal justice system, however, has left her frustrated, depressed and increasingly despondent.
Moses says that when she reported the case at the Gugulethu Police Station, the officer who took down her statement made several mistakes, which she later had to return to correct. Furthermore, she claims that the officer also initially incorrectly insisted that her case was one of crimen injuria and not sexual assault.
While she says that she was not overtly discriminated against at the police station, “I believe that they labelled it as crimen injuria because I am transgender,” says Moses.
Later, she was appalled when she received a call from the investigating officer who, she claims, told her “that I had to go with him to the predator’s house to point him out,” a prospect which would have further traumatised her.
While this claim was later denied, Moses says that the officer also appeared to try to dissuade her from continuing with the case.
“In the new year, the investigating officer came to my house. He was so discouraging, and said that I should just leave it. He said that it was going to be a waste of my time and my money. He encouraged me to not seek justice.”
“What if there are other LGBTIQ people that were discouraged,” she asks. “If I didn’t have the support of Triangle I would have given up on the case.”
Moses says that despite CCTV footage of the incident, at the time of writing this article, the alleged perpetrator has not been arrested. She has also still not received any news about progress in the case.
“It’s horrible for victims and certainly adds to the trauma…”
Sharon Cox from Triangle Project tells MambaOnline that the organisation has done and will continue to do everything it can to support Moses and has provided all the details it had of the suspect to the police.
“Triangle responded immediately, provided psychosocial support and the perpetrator was removed from the space and dealt with. We have no tolerance for this behaviour against LGBTIQ people or from within LGBTIQ spaces; something not often spoken about. We have responded in ways that Aurora needed us to and have ongoing contact with her. She was also accompanied by a staff member to the police station,” says Cox.
Cox says that the process of reporting is extremely difficult for victims of violence. “You initially report a case at the police station, so you are dealing with a police officer who is your first point of contact. This is often not a good experience for a victim.”
She explains that, “Your case then gets allocated to an investigating officer, who is responsible to see your case through to its conclusion. It is a daunting process and one that is not always clearly explained to someone. Victims are still feeling the impact of the trauma and this, along with not having interacted with the criminal justice system before, makes it difficult.”
Cox insists that no victim should be re-traumatised by having to go to the home of a suspect and point them out to a SAPS official.
“What will often happen is that the victim will be given what is called a ‘point out notice’. If an arrest has not been made and the victim spots the perpetrator in their vicinity, the victim can hand this notice to an officer, who can immediately make an arrest. If not explained to victims, they may be forgiven for thinking that they are being asked to go point out the suspect.”
Cox has spoken to the investigating officer and her experience of him is that he has been respectful of Moses’ gender identity (Moses herself also said that he had made a point of not misgendering her).
Cox, however, says that victims have a right to be frustrated. Often people are not kept updated on where their cases are and whether an arrest has been made for example. She believes that the challenges faced by Moses reflect an overburdened and under-resourced justice system, and notes that not every charge that is laid at a police station goes to court.
“It is now with the SAPS, requires investigation and there is a whole process around which cases go to court and which don’t,” explains Cox. “Cases can take years. Not only LGBTIQ cases, all cases take this length of time. We always explain to victims that they must be prepared for the wait. It’s horrible for victims and certainly adds to the trauma but that’s where it stands.”
For Moses, the slow pace of the investigation and apparent lack of enthusiasm from the police has been disheartening. She points out that while cisgender and heterosexual people are also affected by the struggling criminal justice system, LGBTIQ people face the added burden of having to explain and answer uncomfortable questions about their identities as well as the prospect of facing discrimination from officers.
“I know LGBTIQ people who when a crime happens, they don’t want to report it because of the fear of how the police will treat them,” she says.
A 2016 report by OUT LGBT Well-being on LGBT hate crimes in South Africa found that 88% of respondents said they had not reported cases to the police, in large part due to the fear of secondary victimisation.
While Moses was in this case brave enough to come forward, she’s wondering if it will be worth it in the end.
“The system fails people. It has failed me before; I am a survivor of rape and sexual abuse. And I’m likely to be failed again because they don’t see my experience as valid or life-threatening,” says Moses. “I’m trying to make peace with the fact that nothing might come of this. It’s the reality. The system will fail us. It fails us every day in South Africa.”