When families silence child sexual abuse victims should stop

Wednesday, November 11th, 2020 00:00 |

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Sandra Wekesa @wekesa_sandra

Life has not been the same for Mary Njoki (not her real name), ever since someone she considered a guardian sexually assaulted her.

Even as she speaks of the day that still haunts her 10 years down the line, she is hopeful she will be able to heal and live her life.

She reminisces how her maternal uncle would often stop by their place to check on her.

She was 10 and he was 32 by then. One thing she clearly remembers about him is how generous he was. 

“Every time he stopped by, he would always have a packet of sweets for me and a bag full of shopping for my parents. By then, I was the only child so this was a huge gift,” she starts.

She explains that immediately after giving out the goodies to mum, he would want to play with her as he waited for food.

On days her mother was not around, he would pass time playing with her until her mother came back. 

“But one day, he came visiting quite early. I could tell he knew my parents wouldn’t be at home, but he still showed up.

I didn’t have a problem with him visiting randomly because he was always a nice person.

However, on this day, he was behaving in a way I couldn’t explain,” she explains. 

She couldn’t remember how fast events unfolded after that, but he took her to an abandoned house nearby, and it wasn’t long before he started touching her private parts and molesting her.

This was so hard for her to digest, so she ran home crying. Luckily she found her mum right at the door.

She tried to explain what had happened, but instead,  her mother ignored her. She harshly told her not to mention it to her father. 

“This was in 1999, by then such cases weren’t so many since people weren’t speaking out due to either fear and how the family would perceive them.

But for me, I couldn’t hold it in, I just had to let my mother know how I was feeling, but it all fell on deaf ears,” she says.

Fear and stigma 

Soon after the revelation, she was ignored and neglected by her family and became a loner.

Due to fear of being accused of defaming her family, she battled it out on her own and distanced herself from her uncle and luckily this worked out well.

To date Njoki hasn’t found a way to reconcile with her parents for silencing her.

Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is a major global challenge. World Health Organisation defines CSA as involvement of a child in any form of sexual activity he or she does not comprehend.

In Kenya, National Police Service reports 4,900 cases of defilement/CSA annually. A closer look at cases reveals most acts are done by either the child’s close relative, or a family member.

Which actually begs the question why is there silence when it comes to defilement among family?

Shadrack Kyove, a private professional counsellor, coach and wellness consultant, explains such cases are silenced due to shame and cultural beliefs.

“Abuse within family is complicated basically because family members will always want to hide the truth.

In most cases, the perpetrator has power over the victim, hence the confidence to threaten them,” he says.

He adds, often the victim will be fearful and  face stigma anytime they begin to think of speaking out.

This is common, especially with family members as they will always want to forget about the victim.

“People need to learn it is okay to come out and seek help and speak out. One of the solutions should be talking to a counsellor.

The community need to be sensitised that once someone goes through this; the longer you keep it a secret, the longer it takes for them to heal. Therefore, addressing the matter helps in many ways,” he says.

Extra mile

He further attributes this silencing act to cultural beliefs. In most communities, sexual assault by a family member is considered a taboo, hence facilitating actions to keep the victim from speaking out. 

“Some cultures will always want to protect the perpetrator by blaming the victim.

They will come up with stories such as, ‘the victim wanted it, but decided to put it as defilement when she saw she couldn’t handle it,’ or ‘the victim was dressed in a suggestive way, either it was too revealing, which actually led them to molestation’.

There is always something they come up with,” he explains.

But, one way to deal with this is through enlightening girls on importance of speaking out.

He adds that reaching out to the toll free numbers provided by various organisations can help to the victim.

Additionally, Kyove says parents have a major role to play on being mindful with whom they leave their children.

Also, educating them on importance of reporting is important because it will always help them.

Geoffrey Wango, a sociologist, urges parents to be careful with whom they trust their children, especially now that they are at home.

Acording to him, parents often don’t accept that the perpetrator could be a close relative or friend. 

“A parent will always dismiss allegations of it being a close relative or friend yet a child is saying the truth.

This in turn could create emotional baggage to the child both emotionally and physically,” he says.

Also, it could subject the child to depression, especially if they is not able to handle the situation by themselves.

“It is good for family to always believe their child. There is no way that she could be lying about anything; therefore, going an extra mile to ignore her could destroy her self-esteem or break her.

Always ensure that justice is served and also go an extra mile to be there for her,” says Wango.

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