Teresa* was just about to give her son a bath one morning when she noticed his underwear was soiled with stool.
Nathan* was a six-year-old toilet-trained boy and he was not sick, yet he couldn’t explain why he had soiled his underwear.
His mother hadn’t given him a bath in a while, so she couldn’t tell if this was a new occurrence.
The nanny said the boy had been soiling himself on and off for some months, and her warnings to the boy not to do it again seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.
Teresa sat with a frightened Nathan, trying to get to the root of the matter. After an hour of pleading, she turned to threats and the boy opened up.
He said his anus was big because Uncle Stephen put his ‘thing’ in there and sometimes he had accidents because he wasn’t always able to hold back the stool.
Uncle Stephen had threatened to kill him and his mum if he breathed a word to anyone. Teresa went berserk and neighbours had to restrain her from hacking Stephen with a panga.
Stephen was arrested and taken into police custody and a distraught Teresa brought her son to the hospital. It was heartbreaking to listen to Nathan narrate how he was repeatedly sodomised by his 19-year-old uncle over 13 months.
Stephen was the step brother of Nathan’s dad and had come to live with his brother’s family after completing high school. He was studying accounting part-time at a nearby college while waiting to join university.
Nathan’s parents were busy running their businesses, so they were hardly ever at home, while the nanny, an elderly lady, rarely went to the detached servant’s quarters where Stephen spent most of his time.
That was where the teenager sexually assaulted his little nephew unnoticed. Stephen would give his cousin little gifts and candy, as well as threats to instill fear and keep him from spilling the beans.
Defilement is one of the most difficult societal ills to deal with and the number of reported cases has been on the rise, tripling to over 3,000 between 2005 and 2010.
The reported cases are estimated to be much lower than the actual number of heinous acts that go unreported. The situation is far worse when the minor involved is a boy.
We have heard of stories where Form One boys are defiled by older colleagues as part of initiation rituals into secondary school.
The secrecy around such beastly acts only serves to protect the perpetrator, leaving the victim exposed, vulnerable and unable to seek justice.
In some communities, it is taboo to talk about sodomy to the extent that justice is denied to appease the society.
We are quick to condemn these acts when they happen to girls and everyone will be rightfully baying for blood. But for the boy, we are more subdued, talking in hushed tones and contributing to the loud silence that breeds impunity.
A child who has been a victim of defilement is already stigmatised irrespective of gender.
Being unable to deal with sodomy as a country leaves us even more ill-equipped to handle it when it happens to our children. Our attitudes need an urgent makeover. We need to face this demon head on and protect our vulnerable boys.
The perpetrators don’t come wearing a badge on their foreheads. They are the men of all ages who live among us, interacting with us on a daily basis. They get away with the crime because we have not created safe spaces for our boys to speak up.
As parents and guardians, we must start early. Teach your children, both male and female, to understand the sanctity of their bodies, the concept of personal space and how to loudly communicate when they feel violated, irrespective of the person doing it.
Let children understand the importance of reporting threats made to them or the people they love and take them seriously whenever they do so. This builds the critical trust needed if they become victims, so that they can speak up.
Our police service and legal systems need to be strengthened and supported to effectively deal with assault cases. It is abominable for the legal system to take five years to bring a perpetrator to book while continuing to live in the same environment as his young victim.
Our investigative mechanisms must also step up. Collection and processing of forensic evidence should not be the preserve of television crime dramas, but an integral part of our investigations as a sure way of proving cases and getting perpetrators punished.
The child victims need professional care to deal with the trauma and the family needs support to deal with the issues. Therefore, the community must do better than gawk at the victim and gossip about him in hushed tones. It is humiliating and demeaning and a complete detractor to the healing process.
If you cannot be helpful, get out of the way and let those who are doing something get on with it!