These are the poignant words of young Port Elizabeth rape survivor and motivational speaker Cayly Warner, 24, who is well on her journey to acceptance and healing.
A chapter of Warner’s life was closed on July 9, when Judge Elna Revelas sentenced her rapists, Austen Amadi, 36, and Thabiso Mogorosi, 24, to life imprisonment.
The beginning of that chapter was October 2 2009, when Warner and her boyfriend went on a picnic which turned into a nightmare.
At Noordhoek, a group of four men robbed them, tied them up, shoved them into a car boot and drove them to a secluded area where Warner was raped repeatedly.
Warner has opened up about the incident that took her through the “longest and most challenging four years of my life”.
On the sentencing of her rapists, Warner says: “I’m relieved they are going to prison, but sad two people who made the wrong choices have had their own lives destroyed.”
In a country with a conviction rate of only about 14% for sexual assault, Warner considers her case a miracle.
“The statistics in this country are mind-boggling. A woman in SA has a greater chance of being raped than learning to read,” she says.
“I’m therefore very grateful they were convicted. It is great knowing no woman or child will suffer what I did at their hands again.”
Warner’s journey of healing started immediately after her ordeal when she decided to take back her life and not become a victim.
“What happened was atrocious and extremely painful. It still is. But the first thing I thought about immediately afterwards was ‘I’m so happy to be alive’.”
She is no longer going out with the young man who was with her that fateful October day, although their break-up “had nothing to do with what happened”.
“Although some people think we broke up because of what happened, we actually stayed together for a whole two years after that. We broke up because we just grew up, I guess. Life happened,” she says.
A lot of her healing was through helping others. That is what influenced her decision to reveal her identity and embrace her new title of “rape survivor”.
“I spoke out because what I went through was very painful and difficult, but sharing my story and helping others give purpose to my pain.”
“[It was] also because it wasn’t my
‘ fault. The attack of rape is often blamed on the victim, which isn’t right. It’s not their fault. They will obviously feel a sense of degradation because of the violation of their personal and private self, but it’s not their fault, they shouldn’t feel dirty or powerless.
“I decided to speak out to hopefully provide a beacon of light so others will feel comfortable to share their stories, no matter how severe.”
The part-time teacher runs a small business, called Bloom Studio, which equips young girls and women with tools to “grow and be the best they can be”.
“A flower is at its most beautiful during its blooming stage. Then it needs space to grow, but it can’t if it is in the wrong environment,” she says.
At Bloom, Warner – a budding actress and presenter – uses performing arts to help people find their inner confidence. She stresses it is not only for rape victims, but for everyone. “I want to help those who have gone through the same ordeal to regain confidence and others to step out of their shell,” she says.
“No matter where you come from or what you have been through, you can do better.”
She holds Bloom’s Tea and Talks workshops once a month, the last having been a tea party for girls aged four to 12.
While Warner has completed the bulk of her “intense and intricate” healing journey, she concedes there is still some ground to cover.
Her focus: helping others, which in turns heals her, she says.
Her blog, Cayly’s Dandelion Days, has also been key on her road to recovery.
“Dandelions seems fragile. A gust of wind comes and blows its fluffy seeds away, but these go and plant somewhere else. I am that dandelion,” she says.
“It is [now] not people pleasing time. This is my recovery time.”
Warner will speak at a series of Women with Drive safety workshops presented by The Herald, Goodyear, Hi-Q and Atlas from August 27-29 in Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage. See La Femme on Wednesday for more information.
This is a version of an article that appeared in the print edition of the Weekend Post on Saturday, August 3, 2013.