(This is a post I submitted as a journal entry for World Pulse. Unfortunately, it is a true story.)
I had braved the unnecessarily long, tedious bus ride – a journey of two and a half hours turned eight due to bad roads and heavy rains- just to see her. I never stayed away from my daughter this long – four months in the development of a toddler is a long time. When I freed myself of the emotional abuse that was my last full time job, I promised myself that I would finally do all the things I did not have time for when I was working, especially visiting my daughter- who lived with my parents- more frequently. Unfortunately, I did not anticipate that I would encounter so many difficulties getting re-established work-wise, that I would scrimp and save and live in near penury and be too broke and too ashamed to go to my parents’ as often as I wanted. And so one month turned to four, before I decided it was better to hang out with my daughter, albeit empty-handed, than to wallow in depression.
Naturally, I was exhausted when I arrived but it was all worth it when she welcomed me with whoops of delight and obvious ecstacy. It was quite late after I had answered her gazillion questions so the next thing were the rituals of bedtime and bath time to which we both blissfully succumbed.
The following day, after the early morning chores were done, it was time to give her a bath. As I bathed her, I repeated a practice I had learnt from my grandmother aimed at protecting little girls from sexual violation: I would touch her vagina and say ” don’t allow anybody touch that area. It is only for you”. Usually when I said that she would say ‘except Grandma’ who was the only other person who gave her a bath, and I would agree and smile. Today, however, when I said it she froze… And my heart sank.
“Who touched it?” I asked, almost in a whisper. “Pius”, she said, looking at me with a mixture of fear and apprehension in her eyes. “What did he do?”, I said, not sure I wanted to hear the answer. “He put his finger in my ‘bumbum'”, she said, demonstrating.
I lived in dread of this situation, for a long time. I always thought I would be livid if/when it happened but at that moment I was more heartbroken, hurt, than anything else. I felt like I had been stabbed in my heart and the knife had been dragged down,fast, to my stomach. Anger followed quickly along with thoughts of what to do to Pius and how. Apparently, I was angrily stomping around but I did not realise it until my daughter asked ” Why are you walking very fast?”
Pius. He was/is my father’s nursing aide. My father was involved in a car crash about 10 years ago that left him badly injured in one of his legs. Despite his diabetes, a combination of surgery and physiotherapy would have salvaged it but my father’s natural disposition- disagreeable, stubborn and incorrigible- stood in the way of the medical team. Long story short, he sought his own solution, his legs worsened and atrophied and he became restricted to a wheelchair. Pius would be the one who, four months ago,took over from my mother’s years of attending to my father’s needs, and who also drove him anywhere he wanted to go. He was a youngish man, maybe 28-30 years old, slight build and height. Nondescript.
I cannot say I did not expect it from him because I do from every man, but I was upset at the temerity. I went to the living room to look for Pius, my father had sent him on an errand. I had to wait for him to return. As I sat waiting for Pius a lot of things ran through my mind; I cursed the circumstances, the gods, the fate that made me leave my daughter in the same abuse-enabling situation I had been in years before, a part of me wanted it to be a joke, a lie, but I remembered all the helps, aides and uncles that patted me on the bum or (tried to) put their fingers in my vagina, as a child, and the major sexual abuse that messed me up for years. Finally I thought about what to do to Pius, what to hit him with. I imagined hurling sharp objects at him but I could not think of anything in my rage. Then I remembered a cutlass my mother kept somewhere, and I retrieved it and hid it.
He was taken by surprise when as he came into the living room I rushed towards him, held the cutlass to his throat and then began hitting his chest with it asking him what the hell he thought he had done. What had initially manifested as fear became an intense, blind rage. I was livid. He was stunned. Because I had imagined him on his knees- for easier access to his neck- I dropped the cutlass and grabbed him by the scruff of his neck pushing him down. I do not know where I got the strength but that was his saving grace; in that space my mother picked up the cutlass and hid it. As expected he denied it and was begging me, even rolling on the ground to prove his ‘humility’. This enraged me even further and confirmed his guilt because such a grave accusation should have him shocked and angry not pleading for mercy. That was when I went to pick up my cutlass and noticed it was gone.
Child molestation and sexual abuse are suddenly being discussed seriously in Nigeria. There is literally a story a day in the newspapers about paedophilia. But this issue did not just begin to occur, I, and quite a few of my peers, are proof that we have dealt with paedophilia for over 4 decades; technology however, makes it more difficult to hide. More often than not, the perpetrator is usually a close family member or associate, more reason why this topic has been a taboo. Be that as it may, with no definite law against paedophilia, ignorance and little protection for victims we still have a long way to go to curb this evil.
My concerns about dealing with Pius were more about the aftermath of my rage. What happens then? I was certain he wouldn’t be fired but would I receive support from my family? Would measures be taken to ensure it could not happen again even if I wasn’t around? When I had told my mum in anger what my daughter said, her response was shock and ‘I suspected so’. Then she began to blame my daughter for being too friendly and not listening when she tried to stop her. I shut that down immediately; you cannot blame a 4 year old. A lot of parents, unaware of how to deal with this issue, and afraid of the depth of emotion, punish and shame the victim making an already bad situation worse. I did not want that for my child.These concerns were heightened when a day later, after sending Pius to me , I went to my dad and told him I really did not want to see that man around me and my daughter. He asked me if I had actually seen Pius abusing my daughter, as a way of asking why I was condemning him when I had no proof. Rational as it may seem, it is this exact method of reasoning that enables paedophiles get away with sexual abuse.
Because of my personal experience, I believe two things: 1. Act first, ask questions later 2. It is important that the victim sees some action being taken. The first may seem illogical but in such cases, especially with someone so small, over-questioning, as one would encounter at the police station if you decided to report the case, could be counter productive. And how many toddlers can actually make that up? The exposure to the consequences helps the victim appreciate that what occurred is unacceptable, and that the appropriate reaction is anger not shame or fear.The effects of sexual abuse are long-term and far-reaching if not properly handled. There are few things more devastating, psychologically,than realising your parents cannot, or will not, protect you.
I still feel the anger. Now not only because of the act but also because of the feeling of helplessness, and the fear that it can happen again. This, to me, is the real problem.