Trigger Warning: This article contains sensitive narration that may trigger one with similar experiences.
The #16DaysNotEnoughCampaign shares the personal experiences of women who have gone through subtle abuses like gaslighting, crazy-making, pathological lying, excuses, and hypocrisy which has been normalised in our societies. ACTIVATE! Supports the fight against gender-based violence. This is the raw experience of a woman in her own words.
(Writer wishes to remain anonymous)
I was 10 years old when my grandmother hit me with a dishcloth for telling her that my cousin, who was 13 years older than me, had tried to remove my panties and put his finger in my vagina. I’m still not sure why I was the one who was being punished, I was telling her that my cousin had done bad things to me. He didn’t even get a talking to. He would obviously do it again, but this time I wasn’t going to tell anyone because that would only get me a hiding again. You see, my grandmother was protecting the family’s reputation. Imagine what would happen if the whole village knew what that boy had done to his own sister! Gran would not allow us to be the talk of the village, so she swept it under the rug, never to be mentioned again. She also gave me clear instructions not to tell anyone what I just told her, it was shameful and I was a disgrace. So, the responsibility of protecting myself from my cousin was mine and mine alone. I kept a clear distance from him, and he knew why. He’d sometimes tease me and tell me to sit on his lap. I learned, at the age of 10, never to sit on any man’s lap, no matter how friendly he was. In fact, I learned to distrust any man who was too friendly. I was 30 years old when my cousin passed away, I was not sad. I did not even attend his funeral. I guess I was still protecting 10 year old me from the pedophile who was known as my brother.
My cousin was charming, you see. All the children in the family loved him. He’d give rides on the wheelbarrow, carry us on his back and give us sweets while we sat in his lap. We always had fun playing with him. Fun, for me, stopped when he started thinking that he could have sex with me. I was going to protect myself from him, so I kept my distance. When the other kids noticed that I had lost interest in playing with our big brother, they were shocked. They begged me to come and play, when I wouldn’t budge I was labelled the boring sister. There was a point where our big brother would tell us that the rides on the wheelbarrow were dependent on my coming with. If I didn’t join the other kids, the rides would stop. I didn’t care. I wasn’t going anywhere near him.
I’m not sure if he ever touched any of my younger cousins the way he used to touch me, but they were so carefree around him. It looked as if I was the target of his sexual desires. This observation only pushed me further into myself. Maybe I was doing something wrong. Maybe I was the one who was making him act that way. So, I pulled away. I pulled away from my sisters, I pulled away from my own brothers and I distanced myself from my peers.
My own grandmother had failed to protect me. In fact, she had contributed to my oppression. I wasn’t afraid to tell on my cousin, you see, not until she punished me for doing just that. If I could not get protection from the leader of the family, I was not safe at home.
It always baffles me when a parent doesn’t respond to a child’s cry for help. Where would an 8 year old have gotten the brains to falsely accuse an adult of sexual assault? Do we honestly think children can be as spiteful as adults? To even think that a child can come up with such a cruel scheme, is disgraceful. My grandmother silenced me. I don’t think that it was out of spite or that she had any ill intentions, it’s just the way she was raised. She was raised by her parents, but she was also raised by her community, as was I. I was just lucky that I was exposed to more, so I was able to break free from the chains that threatened to take my voice away from me.
Until I was old enough to stand up for myself, though, I lived a life of silence and isolation.
ACTIVATE! is a network of young leaders equipped to drive change for the public good across South Africa. Connecting youth who have the skills, sense of self and spark to address tough challenges and initiate innovative and creative solutions that can reshape our society.
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