Your child is likely to be molested by those closest to you: her own father, uncle, cousin, nephew, neighbour or friend. Not a stranger.
The 2016 Child Protection Report by Childline Kenya reveals that children are three times likely to be victims of sexual abuse than adults, with strangers as minority perpetrators. The report further reveals that child neglect and abandonment are the chief grounds upon which abuse thrives.
For internationally renowned televangelist Joyce Meyer, the perpetrator was her biological father who “raped me a minimum of 200 times. I was ashamed most of the time and very lonely because of what was continually being done to me. He took me to the bar when I was a teenager and would force me to have sex with him in the back seat of a car with his drunk self. None of my relatives believed me when I shared my ordeal with them, because they didn’t want to get involved. So I gave up trying to seek help and decided to live through it. I was trapped,” she recalled in one of her sermons.
“I was mentally, sexually and emotionally abused by my father as far back as I can remember until I finally left home at age 18,” adds Meyer, an American.
Closer home in Kenya, there is Esther Nzioka, who was assaulted by her cousin in Nairobi in the 1990s. She was 10. He was 24.
“Many women are sexually abused at some point in their lives. I was one who lived to tell the story,” she says, recalling the day when some relatives came to their home in preparation for a wedding. “There were people in the kitchen, relatives catching up.”
Esther was in bed when “in my drowsy stupor, I felt something fill my mouth… I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Then it moved downwards… I then became aware that something was wrong. I wrestled within my mind trying as hard as I can to wake up. When I did finally get up, I changed my clothes and ran to the kitchen. I sat there, traumatised. I wanted to scream but I couldn’t. I wanted to say something. I was numb. The women in the kitchen were too caught up in their stories to realise that something was wrong.”
Her cousin’s parents, the perpetrator, lived upcountry. He needed a place as he attended college in Nairobi.
“That marked the beginning of my hell. At some point in my teen, I tried reaching out to the youth pastor at the church we attended, but he threatened to excommunicate me from the fellowship. My cousin was in the church choir and the youth pastor couldn’t afford to lose such a fine young man from the youth group,” shares Esther, adding that the few people she reached out to claimed she was making up stories.
“I remember this one time while in Form One, taking a knife and threatening to stab him if he got any closer, as we were wrestling (he wanted to pry the knife from my hand). I slipped and fell. My dad came running wondering what was going on, then my cousin said I just accidentally slipped and fell. Why didn’t I tell my father then? I don’t know. I was afraid. Caged. I didn’t know how my parents would handle such a confession,” she narrates.
She stopped trying to tell anyone.
“It takes a lot for a victim to open up about sexual assault, to be turned away or be told that it was the victim’s fault for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and other sick allegations that people make shatters one’s heart into smithereens so tiny, only a miracle can help piece them back together,” says Esther, adding that defilement continued until she was 15 when her parents shipped her to a boarding secondary school.
Finally, she would be free.
“Guess who I found working as an accountant at the school? This to me was a testimony that the devil is alive and well. How could he have been working at the same school that was meant to be my place of solace? Although he couldn’t get his hands on me while I was at school, every time I saw him, cold chills would go through my body. I would cringe. Every time,” says Esther, explaining that she had to write her cousin a letter, threatening to tell everyone at home. “I told him I would even tell the school principal. All I wanted was for him to move out of home, completely. My dad was a very stern man. Maybe he moved out because he feared he would lose his job. Or maybe he thought my dad would take some cause of action. I’m not sure exactly what convinced him, but he moved out eventually.”
In her early 20s, Esther began dating but hardly connected.
“I couldn’t let anyone lay their hands on me. Even a hug was too disgusting. Drinking became the order of the day. I became a workaholic and enjoyed the distraction.”
Esther finally got married, but before then, “Sex was an event, not something to look forward to. No, not even in adulthood, not even in the initial years of my marriage. It was more of a twisted way of avenging myself. Avenging my innocence. Once there, now gone. I was only a child then. And no one cared. They were afraid to talk. Those I trusted with the secret of my broken soul turned a blind eye. They insinuated that it was my fault. Buried their heads in the sand.”
The mother of three confesses that her parents only later realised her struggles when she was already married.
“My mum was so sad and my dad said nothing. No emotion. No words. Silence.”
According to Esther, sexual abuse robs one socially, spiritually, mentally and emotionally. It drains everything out of the victim, she says, adding that a “woman who gets married without having been healed of these deep wounds will cringe at sex in the context of marriage. And if she does not share with her husband what the source of her struggles are, then it is bound to put a strain on their marriage.”
She adds: “For wholesome healing to occur, a victim needs to deal with all these aspects of their lives. I met a handsome man who was willing to help me confront my past…reject living a robbed existence and seek to claim back what has been lost. My motto is, ‘there’s an expiry date for how long we can blame life, people or circumstances.’”