feels trapped. She is like a tiny creature which will bolt at the
slightest threat. The door has to be left open. She is 12 years old, with
two fat plaits on either side of her smooth oval face. She likes to play
cricket, Scrabble, Monopoly and read Nancy Drew mysteries.
is not here to play.
afternoon light transforms the cramped room to warm gold then fades to
gray. The air-conditioner is loud as she lets her secrets out. Ana is not
her real name.
Worker: Do you know why you are here?
To talk about what happened to me.
Worker: What happened to you?
I was sexually abused by my father.
Worker: How old were you when it started.
Worker: What did he do?
He raped me. When I screamed he held me down and continued.
Worker: And what did you do afterwards?
I went into the bathroom and cried and then I took a shower.
Worker: Does he still do this to you?
Mostly when my mother goes to the market, like on Wednesdays and Sundays.
I tell him to get off me, to leave me alone but he does not listen.
Sometimes he does it over and over again.
Worker: Why didn’t you tell your Mummy about this earlier?
I was afraid to tell her because he told me if I did I would get licks
Worker: How do you feel towards your father.
I hate him.
another very slight waif-like girl was ushered in. The social worker had
to walk in front of her because she feels threatened if you walk behind
her. Her eyes dart around the room, at me, at the tape-recorder, at the
social worker. I reach across to shake her hand. She is almost shouting.
“Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me.” Then hunches into herself.
is 16, but there was no adolescent confidence, or aura of arrogance which
would drive parents crazy, no flirtatious affected gestures which rejoiced
in her slender beauty. She alternates between looking like a wary,
infinitely sad, fully grown woman and a very small child. She is Sita (not
her real name).
Worker: Why are you here?
Because of my problems with my father.
Worker: What did he do to you?
He raped me.
Worker: How old were you then?
Maybe when I was a baby, but ever since I can remember he raped me. It’s
still going on.
Worker: When were you old enough to realise that what he was doing was
I always knew it was wrong - I would feel sick and vomit afterwards.
Worker: Did you tell your mother?
Worker: Why not?
Daddy warned me if I said anything to anybody he would kill me, my mother,
my brothers - all of us. I was scared and thought she would not believe
me. She is scared too. Daddy beats Mummy. Sometimes he beats me and my
brothers too. I did not want to put pressure on her.
Worker: Why does your mother stay with him?
I don’t know - because she is scared maybe.
Worker: When he is doing these things to you what do you think about?
Terrible things - like killing him.
looks at Sita and fleetingly on their faces I see relief. Their secrets
are out. They can be children again.
Ana and Sita leave I ask the social worker if she counsels perpetrators of
incest. “I talk to them, but sometimes I feel it is hopeless because
they always try to justify whatever they do.
father of a two-year-old child and a 10-month-old baby said to me he was
only ‘experimenting’, that he ‘did not mean to hurt his daughter’.
I said, ‘but she is bruised up’ and he said he did not see anything so
wrong. Didn’t I know that men experiment, that they are hunters and
women nurturers by nature?
pastor said, ‘Why are you saying to me it is a sin to use my own flesh?
From the time of Joshua fathers used their daughters so why are you now
saying to me I have wronged my daughter?’”
knock on the door. It was Sita. She had come back, was breathless,
harassed. Was I sure I wouldn’t let anyone else hear the tape? That I
would not reveal her name? Yes, yes I assured her. Child abuse thrives on
secrecy and it is this secrecy that transfers shame onto the victim, I
thought. After she leaves the social worker talks.
five-year-old child lifted her dress to show me what Daddy did and Daddy
cried and Mummy wiped his tears saying he will not do it again. But the
children are damaged for life. A six-year-old draws Mummy and Daddy and
then herself without hands and legs. Just a head and torso.
are as old as 22, and all of them are destroyed psychologically for life.
Like this university student. Her father had been ‘using’ (after a
while the euphemism came out, blocking reality) her for years and when he
heard she had a boyfriend he beat her senseless and marked up her legs
with a bamboo whip. One former victim of incest was accused of murdering
her baby. She suffocated the newborn by holding her very tightly at night
because she ‘did not want her husband to do the baby what her father did
to her.’ She told the magistrate., ‘This is a hurt I cannot get rid
of. The only way to get rid of the hurt is to die’.”
makes children want to kill, says the social worker.
14-year-old told me she was going to kill her father. Stab him while he
was sleeping with broken glass. Another little girl (six) said to me,
‘You all are not helping. Nobody is helping’. Something told me to
look in her school bag and she had an enormous sharp knife in it and some
these parents face economic problems? The social worker maintains, “A
lot of people think that the low-income group inflicts hurt, but sexual
abuse goes across the board. Many children going to prestige schools can
tell you that. Men sit and cry after they are reported to the police
saying, ‘We did not think it’s wrong - we just slapped her. My father
used to do it to me and it was not wrong.’ But struggling single mothers
do beat their children - take their frustrations out on them.”
1996 Annual Report of the Rape Crisis Centre states that social workers
counselled a total of 188 cases, among them 10 males. Of these 45 were
victims of incest and 14 were child sexual abuse cases. The others were
victims of domestic violence, attempted rape, family problems, buggery and
personal problems. The report concludes that the numbers are doubling and
existing services cannot cope. The Rape Crisis Centre is one sanctuary -
there are about a dozen such centres throughout the country and they are
all heaving with urgent cases of children who need counselling. The social
worker says hundreds of children in this country are sexually, verbally
and physically abused behind closed doors.
way out of this quiet hell is long term and the mantra does not change.
It’s a cycle that can only be broken if both parents take responsibility
for their children, if they find ways other than taking advantage of a
helpless child to empower themselves.
once said a truly civilised society is judged by the way it treats its
most vulnerable citizens. Here’s what the girls said before the doors
closed on them again.
thinks, “Fathers should not molest, nor beat, just be there for their
girl children when they have problems and love them as a daughter.”
Ana with the two fat pigtails and baby face takes courage, joins in, “If
fathers really loved their daughters they would not do things to hurt
words dwindle. Even as they speak, their soft scared voices and sad eyes
render them powerless and their plea rings ineffectual.
history will reveal we are not so civilised after all.