April is the sexual abuse/assault awareness month. It’s an annual campaign to raise awareness about sexual abuse, issues and prevalence, educate communities and individuals on detection and prevention. This year’s theme is ‘embrace your voice’. In this post, I write a fictionalised tale of one woman’s struggles with the aftermath of years of sexual abuse at the hands of a trusted adult.
Last night I had a nightmare – I was a vulnerable ten years old child all over again. Last night, I made the mistake of going to bed sober, because I need to/must join the sober wagon. ’Arghh!’ How I crave my night terrors soother, my companion for over 30 years – but my therapist insisted, “this is the only way to start the healing process.” She said for the umpteenth time. In the morning the nightmare was still so vivid, like I had just watched a movie in which I was the unwilling star. I could still smell the acrid fumes of the shadowy figure’s armpits – I wanted to throw up but all I did was retch and let the tears flow freely.
When I was 9 years old, my mother got the job of a lifetime – to work as a live-in maid for a wealthy family. The family had several children and wanted a reliable older woman to look after them, clean after them, cook for them, and when required cook for the whole family. The successful applicant would have a self-contained flat – rent free because it was important that the person live in the homestead and was available 24/7. This job was advertised through the grapevine and it was rumoured that single mothers, preferably with one child would be favoured. My mother, tired of trying to make ends meet with her meagre wage from selling fermented porridge to day labourers at the Karen roundabout, applied and got the job.
Our home was a few bus stops from Karen shopping centre, but we might as well have lived on Jupiter: the Kenyan crème de la crème who lived in the leafy areas of Karen were as different as night and day with the Kenyan non-elites who lived a few bus stops from the leafy suburb. Years later I learnt the only difference was the bank balance – the trials and tribulations were the same. My mother was excited about the new job and a fatter salary, my only excitement was the fact that we would move in with the family, and I would change schools.
The walk from the bus stop to the family’s house was a trek – we walked for what felt like hours with our earthly possessions on our heads. As we walked past gated mansions I envisioned myself living there one day. The air was different and fresher than what I was used to. It was also very quiet, every few minutes the silence would be broken by oncoming or outgoing traffic on the pothole-less road. Absolutely no buses or matatus on that stretch of road. Although isolated and the only humans on foot, it felt safe and the tranquillity silenced any uncertainties
Life in the suburbs was very good. The family treated us like an extension of their own. My new school was within walking distance and several light years ahead of any schools near our old place. I was a happy girl. After school, I would skip from the main road all the way home and the distance got shorter with every blissful month: until it happened.
A few weeks after my tenth birthday, I was raped by my mother’s employer’s brother – a man I had met, liked, trusted, obeyed but feared. Once I overheard my mother’s employer’s wife complain to my mother that this man was a leech who sucked blood out of her husband, and will not stop until he dried out. At the time I did not understand that or why I feared him – probably the way he looked at me. My ten-year-old self could not understand or interpret that look, all I knew was that it made me uncomfortable and fearful. I never told anyone of these fears. After he violated me, on a bed my mother and I shared, he told not to tell anyone, or we would be in a world of hell. He also gave me a bag of sweets – I never ate them but dished them out to the streets children who congregated around the Karen roundabout. I kept quiet about the rape, but a seismic shift swept over me and the once happy-go-lucky girl who skipped everywhere disappeared. I walked with my shoulders hunched and head so low I might as well have crawled. I was terrified, confused, resentful, depressed and suicidal – my mother blamed it all on the onset on puberty, as if puberty was a disease and not a natural biological process.
The rapes continued for several years until I had my first period: the day I knew for sure I would die, saved me from the monster. He accosted me as usual as soon as I walked through the main gate, past the main house and a few yards into our servants’ quarters. By now I knew the drill – remove my underwear and climb on the bed and stay still. But on this day when I removed my underwear and passed it to him, (I suspect he sniffed it – the perversion in the man was beyond comprehension), he saw blood and freaked.
“What is this? When did it begin? Have you told anyone?” The questions came thick and fast. He threw the stained to my face with such force it felt like a slap across my face. He kissed his brown-stained teeth loudly as he left and grumbled about not wanting to make stupid girls pregnant. That had been my worry too since I learnt all about biological functions of males and females. I was thankful to God that it had stopped before it got much worse – not sure for who.
I never told anyone or my mother, not because he told me not to, but because I was ashamed and thought it was my fault. I thought there was something I had done or said to make him treat me that way. I walked around with a weight of the world on my shoulders, and when I wasn’t suicidal I was homicidal: once, I chased my mother out of the house with a knife because she was pestering me about homework and how good we had it and that I should show more appreciation. I carried the burden and the demon into my adult life. Needlessly to say I did not end up on the leafy suburbs because school became a bore, and when I was old enough to drink alcohol I dived into that wagon like life depended on it, and at that time it did. I had no respect for men and only thought of them as only wanting one thing from me which I gave freely because I had no respect for me.
Three failed marriages, several dead end jobs, countless unfulfilling relationships, seven miscarriages, one attempted murder and two suicide attempts later, I decided to seek professional help. The professional help was actually court ordered after I almost killed a guy who tried to rape me. I had to tell my lawyer and the court of about my sordid [my therapist said I should not use this term because it was not my fault] past, not as an excuse for attempted murder but because it was the proverbial ‘last straw’ – I could take no more. I had vowed to myself that no one would ever rape me again and when the half dead moron tried, I only had two choices – six feet under or six feet inside – any to avoid rape.
The counselling is ongoing but occasionally, like last night, the nightmare comes and the shadowy figure walks into my bedroom, sometimes instead of the shadowy figure it is a bodyless shirt floating over my bed flapping the sleeves in a threatening manner.
Now after meeting numerous victims of child sexual abuse I am saddened that my silence may have facilitated yet another child to go through the hell I went through. One I day I will face up to this monster – dead or alive.
April is National Child Abuse prevention month let’s change the culture.
If you have been affected by the issue raised on this post, please seek profession help and or counselling.