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Voice from Tbilisi | ‘He would marry me if I withdrew the charges’

15 March 2018
Salome Zandukeli (Nino Baidauri /Wome of Georgia)

‘It happened two years ago, on 20 February 2016. I had just started a new job. I was also teaching school children English and maths, which is why I had to commute from Kavtaradze Street to Sololaki. Late in the evenings and at about midnight I would come back home to Dighomi. That day I decided to walk from the metro home, as I didn’t want to pay for a taxi. I just thought I could walk, as I wasn’t afraid. I was born and grew up here.’

‘No one heard my cries’

Women in Georgia very often lack a voice of their own. Their opinions, feelings, dreams, aspirations, and achievements can be conveyed by others, often the men around them. The Women in Georgia project gives a voice to these women, allowing them to tell their own stories — in their own words. OC Media brings you a selection of these stories, translated into English and Russian. Here, in her own words, is Salome Zandukeli’s.

‘While walking home some man started following me  — he was asking my name. Of course I didn’t respond to him. I had experienced similar things in the past very often. I crossed the bridge and was almost at the municipality building when he yelled some insults at me. I felt angry, and replied the same way. A few minutes later, I realised that he was following me with two other young men. One was a child, and the other one  was about 15–16 years old. They caught me. No one heard my cries in the middle of the night.’

‘They grabbed me, and took me behind the municipality building, among some spruce trees. They raped me. At one point, I reached out for a stone and tried to hit one of the men. As I learned later, I missed. At that point, the man was trying to strangle me. I remember this feeling, when he was holding my neck so tight that I was almost buried in the soil, that I was breathing soil. As they say, you see your whole life before you die. This is exactly what I went through. I never even thought that a miracle would happen, and that I would survive. They forced this child to watch all of this. In the end, they took all the money I had, they robbed me, and they left.’

‘I stood up, and immediately went to the police. The police station is quite close to the municipality building. When I got there, my dress was torn. I was in a terrible state, and I looked terrible. When the police officers saw me, they didn’t believe me. They said I didn’t look like a “good girl”. I was so mad I started yelling. I demanded we go to the site to show them what happened there’.

‘When we got there, they saw that my belongings were on the ground, including my underwear. After seeing this, one of the police officers told me that as a young girl, I probably wouldn’t want this incident to be disclosed, and that it would ruin my life. After I heard this, I just started roaring. I asked them how it was even possible to hide it. I was just yelling at them.’

‘Everyone expected me to cry, to sob, but I didn’t feel like crying. I was filled with rage.’

‘Finally they opened a case. They found the criminals very quickly. Then, I had to deal with the detectives. They treated me better. Also, their attitude was different. One of the detectives gave me his phone, which I still have at my home, because by then, all of my belongings, my credit cards, clothes, phone, everything was taken as evidence. They never arrested that 10-year-old child, but the two others were arrested. The minor was sentenced to 6 years in prison, while the other one to 13 years. The judge was of course a woman.’

‘He would marry me if I withdraw the charges’

Salome Zandukeli (Nino Baidauri /Wome of Georgia)

‘As I learned later, the 15-year-old was a beggar, while the other, older man had a wife and three children.’

‘He never admitted that he raped me, and his female lawyer supported him. She didn’t have any solidarity with me, or sensitivity towards this case. I felt complete helplessness and sorrow about the minor, because he didn’t know how to read and write and didn’t even know his date of birth. He couldn’t identify himself. He would draw a cross instead of his signature. How could I even argue with him? I think there should be other preventive measures along with the punishment. He will spend six years in prison, will leave the prison, and then what? What if he decides to take revenge? And if that happens, where can I hide from him?’

‘The trial was really unpleasant. I was both a witness and the victim. Also, they don’t qualify act as rape if there wasn’t penetration. This is why trials become very comical, when you’re trying to prove all of it in centimetres to complete strangers. I always wanted to attend the hearings, but no one would tell me when they were scheduled, if the times changed, or anything.’

‘I wasn’t allowed to attend the hearings for the minor. His trial was closed. The family of the older man notified me he would marry me if I withdraw the charges.’

‘When the court finally made a verdict, and sentenced him to 13 years in prison, his wife followed me in the building, grabbed my hair, and started to beat me.’

‘Women shouldn’t hide these kind of stories’

‘After about a month, I suddenly had a better appetite, and became more sensitive. It turned out I was pregnant. It was a complete shock. I never even thought about having the child, but even if I did, there was huge pressure from the people surrounding me — that I would fail, I wouldn’t dare to do it. I remember one acquaintance of mine, an old woman, was talking to me and asked — what do you want? do you want to raise a bastard?’

‘I had an abortion. It was even more difficult because all of my cards, where I had money, were still with the police. We went days without any food at home. If one of my relatives hadn’t helped me with money, I don’t know what would have happened. This is why I think the government should help rape victims with money if they decide to have an abortion.’

‘I remember I wrote about this case as a post on Facebook, because I needed to talk about it. I think women shouldn’t hide these kind of stories. They should constantly talk about these stories. A “journalist”, Irakli Mamaladze, saw my post on Facebook. He decided to publish my story in a magazine, even though I refused to let him do it. The article had a picture of a girl sitting in darkness with her head lowered. I sued Mamaladze in the Charter of Journalistic Ethics and won the case in 5 out of 6 points in the appeal.’

‘I was living alone with my mother’

Salome Zandukeli (Nino Baidauri /Wome of Georgia)

‘When the incident happened, I was living alone with my mother. My mother was battling Alzheimer’s disease for five years. Before they diagnosed her, we would always fight because of her bad habits. I couldn’t guess what it was in the beginning.’

‘I was banned from walking in front of the TV because we were constantly “being watched” from there. The pictures would have conversations with her and the icons, which my father painted, would steal her belongings.’

‘She would talk to a reflection of herself in the mirror for many hours. Once, she flooded our neighbour’s flat while I was out, and they took her to a psychiatric facility. This is where I learned that she had Alzheimer’s.’

‘With the passage of time, her actions became more illogical, but it was still possible to leave her home alone, because she wouldn’t harm herself. She completely lost her personality, but she became more naïve and lovely.’

‘The night I was raped, I came home. I went to the bathroom. I was showering. She came in and saw my bruises. She asked me what had happened, so I told her everything. She cried for a long time, but in an hour, she asked me again what had happened, if I had fallen in the street.’

‘A while ago mum went into a coma. She spent two months at the hospital. She died a week ago’.

‘I’m a survivor’

‘I never hide what happened. I told everyone. I was astonished when other woman told me similar stories in secret. Women who chose to remain silent, or who were forced to marry their rapist. I’ve heard such stories from people, from whom I would never have imagined something like that.’

‘There were different reactions in society. Friends always supported me, they would come and they would cry for me, and then I would have to calm them down. I was working, I have incredible colleagues, and having responsibilities saved me from a lot of terrible things. I had a boyfriend back then who told me he would commit suicide if he were me. This was probably the most difficult thing to deal with for me. He even blamed me, telling me he had warned me earlier to buy an airgun and carry it, that I could have protected myself.’

‘Some people would tell me that I shouldn’t have told this story and ruined my future. I would just yell at them, how they could they dare to say anything like that. It's incredible — so you have to blame yourself and be ashamed? So what, am I guilty because of what happened? In our culture and literature here they call the raped woman disgraced, not the rapist. There is no role model of a woman who established herself after such an incident. They just kill themselves, or their life is ruined. But, considering my own example, I know for sure that it’s possible to continue living, to fight and survive. It took a lot of fighting and a long time. I still have to deal with the depression, insomnia, and terrible dreams, but I still think I am not a victim, I’m a survivor.’

This article is a partner post written by Nino Gamisonia. The original version first appeared on Women of Georgia, on 14 March 2018.

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