A storm of outrage has broken over columnist David Bullard for remarks he made during an intemperate Twitter exchange with prominent rape activist and journalist Michelle Solomon in which he questioned the latter's claim to have been raped in 2010.
Solomon has often used her status as a rape survivor to give added moral and emotional weight to her interventions in the public debate. For instance in a 2011 critique of Zapiro's use of rape as a metaphor in his cartoons she noted: "I am a rape survivor, and rape is not a metaphor. It is a reality. And it is a particularly brutal reality that I would not wish on anyone, and that I wish no one had to endure. I have endured it."
The exchange that has caused the recent trouble was triggered by a remark by Bullard - who was a regular columnist for Politicsweb before taking a prolonged sabbatical for health reasons late last year - to the Daily Maverick columnist Ivo Vegter who was engaged in a separate argument with Solomon:
This was a reference to the claim Solomon had made on her blog in early June 2013 that Bullard, who has been married for 28 years, was "bitter" with her because inter alia she had refused "his request for a threesome. Stay classy, David!"
Bullard, wrote a column sometime after pointing out that he had never met Solomon in person. And her "bizarre comments about my request for group sex... would suggest that an awful lot of what Mrs Solomon says or writes may be the result of a rather fevered imagination." He suggested also that instead of outing her alleged rapist on Twitter, as she had recently threatened to do, Solomon should go to the police station and lay a charge against him.
In reply to the column Solomon doubled down on her allegation that Bullard had propositioned her stating:
Bullard can protest as much as he likes, but he made sexually lewd remarks and propositioned me for a threesome in September 2011.— Michelle Solomon (@mishsolomon) August 1, 2013
Although Bullard's claim on February 3 2014 that Solomon was a "fantasist" apparently referred to this allegation of hers, Solomon commented on her general Twitter time line:
And yet again Bullard crawls out of his own arsehole to call me "fantasist", referring to my rape. Charming.— Michelle Solomon (@mishsolomon) February 3, 2014
In his response Bullard proceeded to take the bait and cast doubt on Solomon's claim to be a rape survivor.
@mishsolomon Do you have anything else in your life to cling to other than your alleged rape? If you were raped then lay a charge.— David(Mdavo)Bullard (@lunchout2) February 3, 2014
In response Solomon said she wouldn't be coerced into laying a charge by Bullard:
@lunchout2 You're the only one who clings to my rape. I have a very full life, thanks. And I won't be bullied into action by you.— Michelle Solomon (@mishsolomon) February 3, 2014
After some more toing-and-froing Bullard directly disputed Solomon's claim to have been raped, stating:
@mishsolomon Face facts Mish. You got horribly drunk, had a bonk, regretted it in the morning and called it rape to protect your reputation.— David(Mdavo)Bullard (@lunchout2) February 4, 2014
It is this Tweet in particular which has provoked a firestorm of criticism and abuse.
Haji Mohamed Dawjee, the Mail & Guardian's social media editor, published an article on the site's Thought Leader page in which she republished the offending Tweets, although not those that had led up to them or any of the relevant context. Dawjee then went on Twitter to call for Bullard's banning:
After this the denunciations flowed thick and fast.
The PowerFM DJ Eusebius McKaiser Tweeted:
Dear @lunchout2. You, Mr Bullard, are a racist, sexist fuckwit fighting the goal of a non-racist, non-sexist South Africa.— Eusebius McKaiser (@Eusebius) February 4, 2014
Anton Harber, Professor of Journalism at the University of the Witwatersrand commented:
In a blog posting - re-published on Thought Leader - Solomon sought to widen Bullard's challenge of her specific rape claim into an attack on all rape survivors. She wrote: "Bullard's tweets represent nothing less than the hate and violence meted on rape survivors when they are not only not believed, but punished for daring to speak. I've had enough, and any decent South African has had enough."
Strikingly, none of the commentary on Twitter and elsewhere contained any reference to Solomon's actual account of her rape. To her credit on Twitter Solomon did however link to an article that she had published, anonymously, on December 15 2010, a few months after the incident. At this time Solomon was working as a journalist and had been involved in anti-rape activism for a number of years.
The facts of the incident, as set out by Solomon in this account, are as follows. She had become friendly with her best-friends ex-boyfriend (also her ex-boyfriends best friend) as she had tried to support him during the couple's bad break-up. He had a reputation as a notorious player. He seemed to have come on to her often but she had "told him again and again that it would never happen between us". It "was too complicated", she told him, and too many people (including most obviously her best friend) would get hurt.
When he came to the new town she had moved to "I suggested we meet up for drinks" at a bar "for old time's sake." She had then invited him back to her house "so that I could introduce him to my dogs." By this time she was "black-out drunk. I don't remember much."
"I do remember he kissed me. I do remember he carried me to my bedroom. I do remember he undressed me. And I do remember saying no. I do remember stopping him. I do remember telling him that too many people would get hurt if we did this. I remember telling him I cared too much about my friend - I love her dearly. I don't remember what he said in response, and I don't remember what I said then. But I know he didn't stop."
The next day she took him home. That day, she writes, "my thighs and my vagina hurt - I lied on my couch all day thinking about what happened. I showered twice. I cried and hugged my dogs. I slept on the couch that night, because I didn't want to go near my bed - the scene of the crime - and the thought made me feel nauseated."
In her introduction to the article Solomon writes that although she "knew it was rape, but I wouldn't believe that it was. Not until I started reading all the columns and news stories during the 16 days of activism against women and child abuse. That when I knew it was rape, and I couldn't deny it anymore."
In her conclusion she said that although she had considered laying a charge, she was not sure that the police would believe her given the context in which the alleged rape had occurred. She was also afraid that if she publicly disclosed what had happened her best friend would feel "hurt by me, after I tried so hard to protect her, and I was there for her, and I listened to her cry."
Given that Solomon's alleged rapist has not been named or charged no account exists of his version of events.
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