'Our children were molested at daycare': two moms share their horrific ordeal

By Pieter van Zyl
27 June 2016

The moms, who have been supporting each other through their ordeal, say the signs were all there – if only they'd noticed them sooner.

The two women have a lot in common. They're both from the same area, working mothers to young children -- and they both believe their little ones were raped by someone they trusted to take care of them.

The moms – both from Gordon’s Bay in the Helderberg area near Cape Town – are united in their grief for their children who were allegedly raped at daycare.

“Fortunately the case against me was dropped,” says Meegan Arendse*, whose little daughter has just turned three. The owner of the daycare centre got an interdict against her because she felt “unsafe” as Meegan had been talking to the media about the alleged assault on her daughter.

Three weeks before the incident on 18 April this year, her daughter started complaining that her genitals were sore. “The boys at school hurt me,” she cried.

Meegan immediately took her child to hospital but at that stage there were no clear signs of sexual violence.

“I thought it was just her Kimby [nappy] that had caused an infection,” Meegan recalls. But when she fetched her from school her daughter wet herself as they arrived home then ran to her room and hid in the cupboard.

Read more: ‘He provided for us – so my mother let him abuse me’

“Her pot stood ready. There was no reason for her to wet herself like that.” The little girl also refused to wash herself as she was too sore.

That same Monday night, Meegan took her daughter to a police station. They were referred to an organisation in the Helderberg area that provides therapy to victims of sexual mistreatment and also supports them during trials. But the two-year-old was not yet able to relate exactly what had happened to her.

A doctor’s examination revealed an old wound in the front and a fresh one in the rear which suggested penetration. At this stage there’s no evidence that anyone at the daycare centre was responsible.

“I trusted the place; my brother’s daughter was also there. It’s affordable and near where my dad, my daughter’s granddad, works in case something should happen. Then something did happen but no one let us know . . .” says Meegan, a single mom who has to work day and night shifts.

Looking back she can see there were possible danger signs.

“Before then my daughter had no trouble talking. She knew all the kids at the school by name and could even tell me what the teacher had for lunch,” Meegan says.

But then the little girl suddenly became shy. She’s her only child and sleeps with her. “She doesn’t wake up; she just kicks against me when she has nightmares.

“She started chewing my clothes and her sleeves. She even started to slap me, something she’d never done before,” Meegan says.

Read more: How to chose a daycare facility

“Did your son also become aggressive?” she asks Riana Erwee* who’s sitting opposite her in a coffee shop in nearby Strand.

“Yes, my boy did,” Riana says. She’d read about Meegan’s heartache in the newspapers and contacted her a few months ago. Since then they’ve been supporting one another.

“Because our kids are so young they don’t yet have the words to explain what had happened to them. The violators abuse this,” Riana believes.

Both of them could identify their alleged molesters.

Both moms have since placed their kids in another school which is more expensive but has cameras that monitor everything that goes on there. “And it’s registered,” Riana adds.

Her son is now four. He was assaulted when he was just two. His cousins and nieces went to the same school. “I considered the people there friends. The kids called them Ouma and Oupa.”

The boy seemed happy and she and her husband thought he was safe there.

But at the beginning of last year their son’s behaviour began to change. He suddenly started talking in baby language. “He’d never done that before,” Riana says.

“His lunchbox came from home school untouched, he started sleeping fitfully, threw temper tantrums and displayed separation anxiety.

“Previously he’d play by himself without a problem but now he just wanted to be with me all the time.”

She didn’t suspect sexual abuse until the middle of February last year. “I was lying on the couch. I picked him up, held him above me, put my arms around him and said, ‘Oh, mommy loves you.’

“He suddenly started making suggestive movements. When I asked him what he was doing he said, ‘I’m making babies.’ ”

All the adults present were quietly shocked. Riana took the boy to his room and put him on a closet, where he began to dance. “Oupa puts on Ouma’s dress and then he dances for us,” said the boy who’d just turned three.

Riana had heard on the radio about a support group for kids who might have been molested – which turned out to be the same organisation that was supporting Meegan and her family.

An examination revealed Riana’s son had a tear in his behind that indicated possible penetration. Riana took him out of the school and a found a new daycare centre.

Read more: Is your child’s daycare centre legal?

“It haunts me that I dropped my son there and that’s what happened to him. Now I can’t even look in the direction where that school is,” Riana says.

The boy is her laatlammetjie; his brother is 19 years older. Like Meegan’s daughter, the four-year-old can’t yet relate exactly what had happened to him so they haven’t been able to lay a charge with the police. Riana believes with therapy he’ll be able to talk about it one day and work through the trauma.

One of the signs that a child might have been molested is a sudden fear for a specific person. Riana shows us a picture on her smartphone in which her son is sitting on the lap of the suspected molester. “How I could I not see the fear in his eyes?” she says.

“I too wasn’t there to protect my daughter and I blame myself,” Meegan says. “Small kids aren’t supposed to go through things like this . . . Unfortunately it can happen to anyone.”

Get help: What to do if your child has been molested

They want to warn other parents to:

  • Choose a daycare centre that’s registered with the department of social development. Insist on seeing the registration certificate. The department of health should also visit the premises and issue a certificate before the daycare starts to take in kids. “These schools are often started by retired people. From now on I’ll be careful of any such place where the man is alone with the kids all day,” Riana says.
  • Rather pay more to make sure your kid is safe.
  • Watch out for sudden signs of moodiness, aggression or anxiety, or your kid clinging to you all the time.

According to experts other warning signs include:

  • Regression: the child loses skills they’d already acquired.
  • Changes in eating patterns.
  • The child is jumpy and overall more fearful.
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches or tummy aches without any medical explanation.
  • Withdrawal, loss of energy, more quiet than usual.
  • Aggressive behaviour to family members, toys or pets.
  • Obsession with genitals.
  • Knowledge of sexual behaviour that’s not age-appropriate.
  • Sexual behaviour towards other kids.
  • Anxiety when nappies are changed.
  • Discomfort when walking or sitting.
  • Recurring urinal tract infections.

*Not their real names

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