“The story of how I managed to escape death” – GBV in Ethiopia

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ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — After hearing about Hanna Lalango’s story, I immediately joined the #JusticeForHanna campaign and began raising awareness against gender-based violence. I was committed to making Addis Ababa a safer place for everyone. My only problem was that I campaigned heavily for other people’s safety, but I somehow completely forget about my own.

The Speaker Article Photo (1)More than 70 percent of Ethiopian women face physical and sexual violence. A majority of this group are females between the ages of 15 and25. Rape stories in Addis Ababa usually take place in the local minibuses. From there, things usually escalate to the rapist’s house or a dark ditch somewhere.

On weekdays, I usually stay late hours at school to study or utilize the school’s resources (e.g. Wi-Fi). My daily routine is that I leave school around 7 p.m. and reach home around 7:30 .pm. – 8:00 p.m. at the latest. Generally speaking, in Addis Ababa female seniors don’t stay out past 5 pm. on a school day. After 6 p.m., every female is a potential victim of rape or molestation.

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My parents and siblings have given me multiple lectures about coming home earlier. I’ve always said I would improve my behaviour, but I never did. In other words, I’m a teenage rebel who never listens to anyone but herself. I knew all about rape crimes and sexual assaults happening in Addis Ababa on a daily basis but coming home late from school, that was the last thing on my mind. It might have been pure naivety, but I believed my neighbourhood was completely safe and sound and that nothing dangerous would ever occur. I was completely wrong.

On the 13th of November, I experienced a near-death experience.

It was a normal evening; I was outside a supermarket near my school at 7:14 p.m., standing and waiting for a minibus to take me home. When a minibus came, I got in and frantically tried to switch my phone on so I could check to see if I had any previous missed calls.

Behind me were two young adults (most probably in their early 20s), slim, light-skinned and tall. They dressed like they were unemployed, high school jocks. I’ve never seen them before in my life; they don’t me and I don’t know them. At first, they began whispering in my ear, “Hey! Do we know each other?” I pretended not to notice. Then they began pulling my hair and tugging at my school bag which was carrying all sorts of heavy and expensive electronics. I turned around and without saying a word, gave them look that told them to back off.

That didn’t stop them. To humiliate me, they began preaching loudly in the minibus saying things like, “Yeah I know this one, I remember because I dated her sister once. Her name on Facebook is Veronica. She tried to kiss me once and I quickly backed away, she has the worst smelling breath ever!?

Immediately after, a handsome young man who was sitting next to me saw that I was frustrated and decided to stand up for me. He turned back at the two young gentlemen behind us and said, “Hey guys, why don’t you grow up? Huh? She’s not interested and you’re clearly embarrassing yourselves.” After that, they didn’t say a word the whole ride.

They paid for my taxi fare…they told the driver not to let me pay. I didn’t care if they were trying to be nice, I didn’t want their money. I tried to pay for myself but the taxi driver refused. He said, “Please stop, they already paid for you.” Angrily, I plonked the money back into my pocket and glared at them. When the taxi reached my neighbourhood, I asked to get off.

Immediately after I exited the bus, the two young gentlemen jumped out after me. They didn’t do anything because I was walking along the prime minister’s house. That area is extremely protected and secured with police officers 24-7. I took a turn and started moving quickly towards my house. Here there were no police officers, just a dark, dim area with strangers shuffling quickly up and down the streets.

I heard them getting closer by the minute. One of the guys jumped in front of me and said, “Hey listen, my friend who paid for you is now broke and needs money to go back home.” I looked at him in disgust and continued walking. He started walking alongside me. He said, “Ok you don’t have to give us the money back, but can you at least say Hi to my friend? He really likes you and he’s really nervous.” I began shaking inside. I didn’t know how to get rid of him. I knew he wouldn’t leave on his own.

I didn’t want him to find out where I lived, so instead of going home, I headed towards a shop across the street. It was a bit far so I began walking quickly. He saw that I was terrified and took advantage of the situation. He kept talking to me about his friend but I didn’t respond. He followed me, poked me, got desperately close to me until he could finally touch me then he grabbed my arm violently. “Stop ignoring me!” He exclaimed.

I wanted to scream at that point but I didn’t have the energy or the courage, I was trembling and it was cold. I pulled his hands away from mine and said, “Stop it! Just stop it, OK?” I said “Leave me alone. I have to go home.” “But my friend…” he implored, “Look, he’s coming, just wait here with me and say goodbye to him, please.”

When his friend caught up to us, he leaned his hand forward so I could shake it. When I saw his face, I felt like I knew him from somewhere. He seemed like a decent guy. I had no idea why his friend was pestering me to say goodbye to him. I looked to his friend and said as eloquently as I could: “No! Leave me alone.” He grabbed me by the arm again, and this time more aggressively, “What’s wrong with you? Do you have Ebola or something?” I shrugged away and managed to escape them.

As I walked away, I remember the friend muttering “It’s okay bro, she doesn’t want to talk to me. Let’s go.” They stood in silence for about three seconds when the stalker (the one who was badgering me this entire time) yelled, “No! Why is she acting so ridiculous? She can’t even shake your hand! I’m not going to leave her alone until I get her number.” He jumped with fury and continued to follow me asking his friend to hurry up. I could tell his friend was uncomfortable but he followed regardless. I realized that it wasn’t the nice-looking friend who was into me, but his ferocious, jumpy friend.

I went to the closest shop I could find. The people at the shop were basically my 2nd family…I’ve known them since I was a little girl. As supportive and helpful as they were, I didn’t want to trouble them at such a late hour. They could see that I was distressed but they kept quiet for some reason.

I asked to phone my mom. Immediately she began yelling at me, “Do you know what time it is? Where have you been? Why is your phone switched off? Where are you calling from?” The guys were standing outside the shop waiting for me. I wanted to play it cool. “Umm… I’m at the shop near our house. Can you please come and pick me up?”

She wasn’t as understanding as I wanted her to be. She kept hanging up on me (and not by accident) – she wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say. I tried her phone a few times. I could hear the stalker whispering to his friend, “She’s calling someone but I don’t know who.”

A few minutes later, my sister called to say that my mom was outside waiting for me. I couldn’t believe the relief. The minute I stepped out of the shop, I saw no one and thought for a moment that they had disappeared. I took a few steps forward, confidently and audaciously, and that’s when they crept out of the darkness like twin gangstas. I was beyond frightened. They began pacing closely behind me. They said nothing and that scared me even more. I continued walking and thankfully…it wasn’t long before I spotted my mom walking towards me.

She was furious but I didn’t care. I was hopeful and so calmed. She saved me! And yes, she might have yelled on and off during her big triumph… but she saved me. That’s all I could think about the rest of the night.

The two young gentlemen disappeared behind us and I haven’t seen them since. Their tenacity wasn’t the only thing that shocked me. In the midst of it all, I remember seeing my neighbour standing in the dark watching the whole thing unfold. He said and did nothing.

The next day I found him, I asked him, “Why didn’t you save me? You knew I was being harassed by that young man.” He was very apologetic and said with a soft tone, “I’m so sorry my dear, but I thought he was your boyfriend when I saw you walking alongside him, yelling at him and him yelling at you. I just thought you were having a heated argument and I didn’t want to intervene.”

For me, that’s not good enough. Even if I knew that young man, he was clearly bothering me and my neighbour stood and watched the entire time.

I realized there was no point in getting upset over it. It’s a societal issue, not an individual one. Even before Hanna was raped, people saw the kidnappers dragging her into their house. They saw her screaming for help but they did nothing to help her. Lying on her deathbed, Hanna asked her father the same thing I asked my mother: “Why didn’t they help me? They knew something was wrong but they kept quiet.” People are selfish; they only thing they care about is helping themselves. I guess it is a dangerous society after all.

If my mother didn’t find me in due time, who knows what could have happened to me. From the look of his face, I would say he was either going to beat me, rape me or stab me. The young man’s temperamental vibe gave me the feeling that I was going to be his next victim. But I wasn’t. I escaped death and agony – and I didn’t do it on my own.

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I don’t understand how the society functions. Why bother standing there like a statue when you can call for immediate help? Why pretend not to notice when you can be someone’s hero? Everyone wants to be a hero but nobody has the guts to step up and show the world that they have what it takes. It’s regressive.

Let my story be a lesson for everyone out there.

By Eden Tadesse