This story has been sitting in my inbox for months. I have wondered whether I should tell it in her voice or mine. Then I read Chris where a brave lady shares her own story of childhood sexual abuse and the grooming that came before her violation and I applaud her for her courage.
I choose to tell this story in my own voice because it’s deeply personal. Names and places have been hidden to ensure anonymity, maintain confidentiality and protect identity.
I think more people should tell their stories because child sexual abuse is not a white people’s problem. Many in the BAME communities have a long history of child sexual abuse. However, our problem is that we’ve been gagged by systemic and cultural conditioning, where such issues are swept under the carpet, and never talked about. Saying sexual abuse happened is like admitting some sort of defeat or weakness within the family unit.
Majority of the perpetrators are often trusted family members and relatives; the elderly great uncle, who puts a child on his knee and rocks her in a way that makes her feel uncomfortable, or the young uncle, who puts a friendly arm around his teen niece, letting his hand dangle dangerously near her breast making her feel uncomfortable, or the older cousin who massages your budding breasts because “this will make them grow”, ignoring your discomfort and desperate pleas to stop, and a million other things I’ve heard over the years.
When I was a little girl, around 9, my neighbour’s daughter who was barely a teenager and a mother called me and a few friends of mine to the side and warned, “If my dad ever calls you to send you to the shops or whatever, do not go alone. If you go to the shops for him, make sure you are accompanied by someone when bringing him whatever you went to buy.” She wouldn’t leave it alone until we all promised her that we would heed her advice.
A few months later, her father, let’s call him Mr Jooma, called me to his house and I went in alone. It wasn’t because I’d forgotten his daughter’s advice or didn’t care, I just wanted to know why not. He gave me some money and asked me to get him soap, the kind we called Rexona or Lux. He gave me a large amount of money. I went to the shops and bought the soap. The change was too much for my little fist to handle. On my way back, I asked a friend to accompany me to the house. She refused, years later I found out why.
I brought back the soap and the money but as I handed it to him, he gave me a weird look, one that left me feeling uncomfortable and afraid. My 9-year-old mind could not comprehend what was happening but it felt wrong.
“Keep the change.” He winked at me. I felt embarrassed and refused the money because I knew, should my mother find that much money on me, I would not live to see another day. The man insisted and so I decided to keep enough for sweets and put the rest on a coffee table next to where we stood. As I made my way to the door, he said softly.
“Where are you going sweetie?
“I’m going to play with my friends.” I said but for some, remained rooted to the spot.
“I can show you a better game right here.” He said and took a step towards me. I was scared but couldn’t move. He ran a thick finger along my shoulder blades, looking me up and down. I was so scared my stomach churned.
On that day I wore a little sleeveless green-yellow and white pastel coloured dress. The dress had a visible tear on the waistline. He peeped through the hole and said, “those are pretty panties! Can it touch them?” It sent shivers down my spine. I knew then, that this was the reason why his daughter had tried to warn us. She must have known what her father was capable of. I wondered if she had been a victim or a witness to her father’s dirty deeds.
“Do you want to see mine?” He asked like it was the most natural thing in the world to do. I said “No”, but he showed me anyway. He then warned me sternly not to tell anyone about our little game because, other children would be jealous of me and the adults would never believe me. I promised to keep my mouth shut and he shoved a ten shillings note into my hand. This was a lot of money in the early eighties.
A few weeks later a group of us were playing outside a neighbour’s front yard, when suddenly, Mr Jooma’s car pulled up.
“Who wants sweets and cookies?” He asked cheerfully. Everyone cheered and ran up to him. I stayed rooted to the ground. He distributed the cookies to the kids, and then brought me some. I didn’t want any, but I feared that if I refused everyone would wonder why, so I accepted the gifts. He stood there watching us gobble down the goodies. His presence was unsettling but no else seemed to care. Later that day, he asked me to get something else from the shops. Reluctantly I went. I knew I couldn’t ask anyone else to come with me in case Mr Jooma got angry with me. I couldn’t help but wonder why he singled me out of all the kids in my playgroup. I was the weakest link.
This continued for several years. I would get him something from the shops. He would touch me in places I knew he shouldn’t touch. It felt wrong but I felt helpless to stop it, and then one day he asked me to touch his penis. I refused and started to cry. He laughed at me and called me a cry-baby. He waited 2 weeks and this time showed it to me – it was bigger than my arm, I’d never seen anything like that. I was so scared I wet my pants.
“I won’t hurt you, my dear. I love you. Just touch it!” I did and gagged at the unsightly warm slimy stuff that poured on my palm. After this experience, I avoided him as much as possible but sometimes it was impossible to get away from him because he was a family friend. I would catch him looking at me funny but no one else seemed to notice.
On my 12th birthday, he promised to show me a better game. I was still petrified and living with this secret that tore a piece of me by the day. I was home alone after church one Sunday when he came asking for my father. I lied that my father was asleep, even though he was not home. Without shame, he walked into our house and into my parents’ bedroom to verify. I don’t know what he’d have done if my father was actually asleep in there.
“You deserve to be punished for lying. But I forgive you.”
He asked me to sit on the threadbare sofa. I couldn’t believe the game was about to take place in my own house. I prayed for anyone to walk in. No one did. He proceeded to play the game. I sat there motionless. I let him touch my barely-there breasts. I let him fiddle between my legs. I watched him touch himself aghast. He shoved my hand on his penis which felt like a bone. He breathed funny and faster than normal. His breath smelled like the dumpsters of the local slaughterhouse. I cried softly but he didn’t stop. I had come to accept my crying meant nothing to him.
When he was done, he asked me to clean up and walked calmly out the door. I was paralysed with fear, I was in pain because his thick fingers had gone deeper in my little hole. The throbbing pain lasted for days. After cleaning I curled up on the sofa and cried myself to sleep, hoping to never wake up.
The arrival of my periods was my saving grace from this man. When we met again, he wanted to know if I’d started menstruating. This I felt was very personal but years later I understood why he needed to know. He couldn’t risk getting another child pregnant.
My abuser is now dead. Rumour has it that he fathered several children with underage girls, one of them being his daughter! A few of his nieces and grand kids had fallen pregnant by him. He was a paedophile, who died without ever being punished for his sins.
As an adult, I suffer severe relationship issues. I have low self esteem. I also experience recurring nightmares, where I am running along a never-ending road. He catches up with me and rapes me every time.
I share this story not to change the past but as a way of showing support to every child who has suffered closeted sexual abuse. I hope this story encourages survivors to shatter the silence. What happened does not define me or my choices, but it’s an arduous journey of recovery and hope.
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