I was invited to one secondary school to give a health talk and after I finished, a form four girl followed me and asked for an appointment. The next day we met in a clinic.
She was tense and appeared to have difficulty in talking out what was in her mind.
“Ok, let me just breath in first,” she said, tears rolling down her young face.
“You see, my father loves me in an unusual way,” she went on, “no, he has not had sex with me but I just fear it will happen soon,” she concluded. The father had been buying her strange gifts, the ones you expect from a boyfriend. He had been visiting her bedroom at strange hours and touching her in strange places.
For once I did not know what to do. Was I to tell her to walk out of the family? If so, walk to where? As she put it, her mother would spank her thoroughly if she told her such ‘nonsense’.
Her father was supposedly too caring to be accused of such things. Nobody would ever believe her, in fact they would accuse her of being spoilt and imagining abominable things.
Involve an older person
We agreed that she would involve a close family member, even if not the mother and that they would come to my office for a discussion on how to handle the situation the next day. If a close relative who could help was not available, she was to talk to a respectable family friend or pastor of their church.
The father needed to know that her daughter was uncomfortable and that such advances are not socially and legally allowed. We needed someone to introduce the topic to him. Another alternative was to have the father come with her to the clinic, although she vigorously shook her head to this.
A few weeks passed, and the whole thing went out of my mind. For some reason I imagined it had been sorted and that the girl was safe wherever she was, given that she did not come back as promised.
Then one fateful Saturday morning I got a call, “Doctor it is me,” came the familiar voice, “and I must see you today.” And so we met at the clinic. The worst had happened. The girl’s mother had travelled upcountry and she remained with her brother and the dad.
They ate supper as usual and went to bed. When it was all quiet in the middle of the night, she heard a knock on her door; it was her father. She was confused and not sure of what to do but went ahead and opened the door.
To her dismay her dad went straight for her, kissing and doing whatever else men do. She was too embarrassed and scared to protest. He raped her repeatedly before going back to his bedroom. He pleaded with her not to tell anybody.
She spent the rest of the night crying. The first thing she did in the morning was to call me. She needed immediate help.
Possible causes of this behaviour
Possibilities include drugs and alcohol intoxication thereby impairing judgment; strained relationships in the family causing the party that feels aggrieved to want to punish others; and personal experience with sexual abuse at an early age which subconsciously makes the victim behave in a similar way later in life.
Whatever the causes may be, their impact is the same: incest leads to emotional turmoil in the victim. It leads to diminished self-esteem and impairs interpersonal relationships in the family.
When it is the parent abusing the child like in this case, the child is left helpless not knowing where to turn. The family is supposed to be the source of protection and love and is supposed to give guidance to the children, not abuse them. Incest is therefore unnatural and inhuman.
What perpetrators of incest need to know is that there are now very stringent laws against this act. The Sexual Offences Act describes the crimes associated with incest.
According to the act, anybody who attempts to commit incest risks being imprisoned for ten years. If the aggressor succeeds and the victim is an adult, the risk is still a 10-year jail term. If the victim is a minor then the punishment can be enhanced to life imprisonment.
My aggrieved patient got emergency treatment but then the more difficult part came. The matter was to be reported to the police and her dad arrested and arraigned in court.
As always happens, the rest of the family protested the arrest of the man because he was their breadwinner. In the male dominated communities we live in, it is always the woman to blame even when she has been molested.
Signs to look out for
If you are a girl and seeing unusual advances from a relative it is important to inform other family members who can warn the man against it. If only my patient had involved a relative or a close family friend, or even brought the father to the clinic as agreed, we would have stopped the beastly man.
It is also important to mention that sometimes the aggressor may be a woman. They should also be reported before they do their thing.
Knowing the symptoms and changes in behaviour of an abused child or adolescent is important for you because you may be their rescuer. The victim may have injuries to the private parts or may have an infection making them walk with difficulty.
They may have nightmares, appear fearful, hate dark places and suddenly regress to immature behaviour such us thumb sucking and bed wetting. They may become aggressive and anti-social with their peers and may do to other children what is being done to them
They may appear to know too much about sex for their age and may masturbate.
Others may complain of non-specific stomach pains, may lose appetite and may suddenly lose weight. Performance in school may get affected. They may talk of keeping secrets that they have been warned not share with anybody.
In some instances, the abuser may be the one behaving strangely. They may restrict the child’s movements; stopping them from playing with others. They may want to be with the child all the time, especially when others are present, to ensure that their secrets are not revealed.
When you see such symptoms, take the child to hospital for examination and counselling so that the truth is established. If the abuse is proved, report the incident to the police. So back to my patient: unfortunately the once happy and united family is no more; it just disintegrated and fell apart, all because of the acts of one man.
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