Another day, another rape case. Amongst the vastness and barbarity of rape cases I have been working with at Bobbi Bear, today was my first encounter with rape involving a special needs child.
The family had bought the child to the Bobbi Bear office after she had confided in a teacher about the abuse earlier that day – South African law now places a legal duty on individuals to report cases of sexual abuse, a real win for Bobbi Bear as once a case has been opened it is unable to be closed and is the only routes to ensure that effective prosecution happens. The impact on the family was colossal and the pain visible across mum, grandma and grandpa alike. Megan, aged 10, was extremely distressed. After establishing a rape had taken place, we took the Megan and her family to a local Police Station where we waited to speak with an Investigating Officer to open a case. Whilst a police station can be daunting and unpleasant for children, Bobbi Bear have played a crucial role in establishing ‘victim friendly’ areas for children to wait after abuse cases have happened, and as such we are directed to a larger room with a TV and drinks in it to the comfort of Megan and her family.
As we sat waiting for an available investigating officer (the police stations are swamped with cases so the waits can often be hours long), we converse with the family to get a better understanding of the particulars of the case – the results are sickening. I am told how the perpetrator, ‘X’, is a close family friend and financially successful business man, who has single handedly been supporting the mother and child for the last 3 years. He has provided the mother (who earns £3 a day), with a car, medical aid, food and clothes. He takes Megan and a friend of hers on lavish holidays and weekend excursions whilst his wife stays at home and works. This man is 66 years old.
It is a case of child grooming like I have never seen; befriending the child and the family and establishing an emotional connection in order to lower the child’s inhibitions regarding sexual abuse. The premeditative nature of this case appears to signify paedophilia – a topic frequently debated and discussed within Bobbi Bear. Controversially many of the men who have committed rapes against children have also done so with adults, often showing no preference for age or gender yet a pattern of offending. Conversely, paedophiles experience either primary or exclusive sexual attraction to solely children. In this case, X has deliberately surrounded himself with children, much like how a paedophile may seek employment in a primary school or swimming pool, boasting that he was a man that ‘loved children very deeply’. Thinking about it makes my skin crawl.
Once the Investigating Officer (IO) arrived, written statements commenced. Megan sat fidgeting with her hands, her teddy bears stuffed under her arms as the IO urged Megan to explain to her what had happened. It was uncomfortable to sit through the following few minutes. Megan explained that “he touched me on my private parts and then he licked me on my private parts. I tried to move but he held me down. Then he put his private parts into mine – the front and the back. He has done this to me and my friend a few times before. He told me not tell anyone and I didn’t because I was too scared and he might stop giving us food”.
The bravery that Megan displayed was honourable and heartbreaking all at once. No matter how many times I listen to a child recall their experiences of rape, they never fail to disgust, shock and hurt. Talking to a room of strangers aged 10 about your “private parts” is embarrassing at the best of times, but combined with the trauma and shame that typically accompanies a rape victim shows sheer courage. Children with special needs often do not understand what is happening to them at the time of sexual abuse, nor the means to communicate the assault. Others, like Megan, may know they are being assaulted, but may not realise they have a right to say no, but Megan displayed an inner strength and bravery which I hope one day she is very proud of.
We will be working with Megan over the next few months to provide her with counselling, assist the family with Court preparations and be that stable guiding hand through her time of suffering. Children may carry the mental scars of rape for the rest of their lives, but with the help of organisations like Bobbi Bear, it does not have to define them.
*Fake names are used to protect the child’s identity.