[OPINION] We need to talk about this
I recall an interview Oprah had where she spoke about being sexually molested by someone she knew. It was their secret, and she said one of the reasons she kept the secret was “because it was pleasurable”. As she matured, she grew ashamed of the fact that she found some of this secret shameful on her.
Too many victims take this personal responsibility for being violated by sexual predators. Most human beings engage in sexual activity for pleasure. It is commonly understood that rape is not motivated by the sexual act but by a dominance and proof of power for the perpetrator.
I have relationships with some young people who have been sexually violated, molested and abused at some stage in their lives. It is as if it is a normalcy. Among them it is seldom you find a child who is innocent and protected at home and at school. Something in their demeanour when we talk makes it clear to me that on some level, they know that being engaged in that way is wrong and should not happen.
One boy was brutally sodomised about 5 years ago at the age of 6. At the time the perpetrator was beaten up, no charges were brought against him and I have often wondered how that must feel for a child. Do you feel responsible, do you feel protected, do you feel unworthy that your parents did not take the time or trouble to report this gruesome act of terror to the authorities?
For some this may not be surprising, for me it is a shock every time I hear that he now has a reputation of offering other young children R2 to engage in sexual acts with him. Of course, he denies it, but there is sufficient evidence from children and adults that this is something he is known for. Being sexually awoken in such vile and violent circumstances must be exceptionally cruel and confusing for a young child.
Many of these children live in environments where sex and intimacy are not for private moments, they see it. Some sleep in one-bedroomed homes with their parents or parent and partner and are exposed to theses couples having sex. Without being properly educated by parents or somebody responsible, most children are surrounded by much unhealthy and inappropriate information.
Sexual arousal at a particular age is a natural process. What are these young children meant to do with those feelings? How do we help them to put the feelings into a perspective of time and place when they have experienced sex and intimacy, often in the most unnatural circumstances? How do we help them see these acts as the crimes they are?
In some of their circumstances, sex or sexual acts give them access to mistaken affection, money, protection, drugs, acceptance and a sense of being. Everything about that is wrong and unworkable. The scourge of sexual abuse involving children is growing, it is pervasive, it can happen in almost any home. We need to talk about it. We need to have open conversations in safe spaces where children can feel free to ask questions, make statements and test their opinions.
Maybe we have to remember that rapists rape and molesters molest and not all adults are predatory. Not all step-parents are fiends. As responsible adults, we do have to remember that young children can never attract or look for sexual molestation. It is NEVER the child and always the predator.
I was privy to and overwhelmed by a conversation recently where a woman defended her ex-husband after he was alleged to have fingered his new wife’s 7-year-old daughter. The alleged perpetrator has been responsible for knocking out the teeth of his ex-wife, regularly beating his ex and current wife when under the influence of alcohol. It felt as if the ex-wife had become so accustomed to physical abuse that she is more disgusted at the possibility that he could have molested this child. She said something to the effect that he can be violent but sexual harassment, no!
The most heart-breaking comment I cannot unhear was that “the child herself is quite promiscuous”. She is a 7-year-old child. How on earth can that little girl, and so many like her, survive in a world where they are treated with contempt when they are little, vulnerable, naïve children. She is generally loving and affectionate, even with her stepdad. I think it is because she actually loves him. Now what? Where will she be safe?
This is the story of too many children in our country. We need to talk more openly to our children about love, sex, intimacy, appropriate sexuality and all the many other ways we can show one another love and kindness.
Your body is your body and nobody has the right to violate you! Particularly the parts of your body that can be covered with a swimming costume. That is your private space which you share with another at a suitable and age appropriate time. An age where the choice is yours, not theirs.
Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn