‘I won’t live in shame’ – former prostitute tells her story

2018-02-11 12:33
PHOTO: Supplied

PHOTO: Supplied

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She’s glowing with health and happiness and looking forward to welcoming her new baby into the world – it’s safe to say she’s living her best life.

But behind the bubbly exterior and big smile lie years of pain, anger and suffering. In fact, Mmathabo Mooa has been through so much in her short life, she once considered ending it all.

She was raped twice as child – once at the age of seven and then again two years later – before turning to a life of prostitution when she was just a teenager. For Mmathabo, living at home had become unbearable and selling her body on the street was preferable to that.

But despite her hardships, she refuses to be called a victim – she’s a survivor, the gutsy 24-year-old says. And it’s this attitude that spurred her into writing her book, What Choice Did I Have?, to share her story and hopefully help others who find themselves in similar situations.

 It tells the story of a young girl from Ga-Mphahlele in Limpopo who one day knocked on her uncle’s door, wanting to play a friendly game with her cousins and friends. He invited her in – then pulled down her panties and raped her. “I can still see his face,” she says. “He told me not to tell anyone – he said it was just a game. But I’d never played a game like that before.”

Two years later, while sleeping at a   relative’s house, the then nine-year-old Mmathabo woke to find one of her uncles on top of her. “I just froze. The next morning I went to bath at my mother’s house and no one noticed anything.

 I didn’t know   how to explain what had happened –   no one had ever taught us anything about sex or rape. “Truthfully, I was a bit ashamed,” Mmathabo says. Mmathabo became a statistic – and those stats have rocketed every year.

In the past year or so they’ve soared   by 117%, according to Statistics South   Africa. A total of 50 883 people reported experiencing a sexual offence, of which 31 817 were women.

And there are many thousands more who never report the crimes. For Mmathabo, her experiences would go on to destroy her childhood.

By the time she was 15, she was labelled a problem child. Consumed by anger, she took her feelings out on those around her and her mother found her impossible to handle. 

Finally, unable to bear seeing her rapists all the time, she ran away to Polokwane in the hope of a fresh start. Being on her own was fun for exactly one day before reality set in. Surviving on the streets was hard and she started selling her body for a place to sleep.

“I would meet guys during the day and sleep at their place at night in exchange for sex. Some didn’t pay me, but at least I had a place to sleep.” Sometimes, when there were no men in sight, she spent long nights walking the streets.

It was during one of these nights that Mmathabo had the uneasy sensation that someone was following her. She tried to run but a man pulled her into the woods and threatened to kill her if she screamed. Again she was raped. “I longed for my mother’s hug,” she says. “I just sat there and cried.” Days later, Mmathabo was picked up by police and taken home to her mother who, wracked with worry, had opened a missing person’s case.

“When I got home, my mother had lost so much weight, she wasn’t the same. It broke my heart to see her like that.” But it wasn’t long before Mmathabo (then 16) took to the streets again, unable to deal with the structure that came with being at home and the thought of seeing the men who had raped her.

This cycle repeated itself for years, with her going from the streets to living with her mother’s older sister in Tembisa, then her father in Limpopo. “He was disgusted by me. He didn’t know the real problem,” she says.

Through it all, she tried to go to school wherever she was but it wasn’t easy. She failed Grade 11 in 2013 then enrolled in an adult basic-education training   programme to finish her schooling.

Mmathabo was staying with her dad at the time.

“Classes would start at 4pm and go on till 8pm. Then I would walk for more than 30 minutes back to my dad’s place. He thought I was prostituting myself again.”

His prophecy came true when, after he threw her out, she went straight back to selling herself. She also posted her services online and “the response was crazy”, she recalls.

“My prices were insanely high, from R400 an hour to R1 000, but men were willing to pay. For once, I was comfortable financially and still had time to go to school.”

But deep down she wasn’t   happy. Her past kept playing in her head and life didn’t seem worth living anymore.

 “I started cutting myself and burning parts of my body to numb the pain inside,” she says, showing us the scars. “And yet another part of me didn’t want to die – I just didn’t know how to speak out.”

Mmathabo’s path to healing started about four years ago, when she went to live with an aunt, her mother’s older sister.

Her aunt encouraged her to go to church, something she had become disillusioned by as she believed “it was a waste of time”.

But this time the message hit home. “I realised there was a reason I went through what I did. I started reading the Bible and understanding it,” she says. But she couldn’t thoroughly heal without telling her family where all her anger had come from.

Last year, she finally opened up to her family. “My mother just cried and didn’t know what to say. A family meeting was called and I was told to let sleeping dogs lie. All I wanted was an apology [from the men who raped me] but I didn’t get that,” an emotional Mmathabo says.

It won’t stop her from living her life though. Writing the book has helped her deal with her past and part of the money she makes from it will go to a home for abused women.

Her life as a prostitute is a distant memory now for the young woman, who’s doing her third year in transport and logistics studies at Ekurhuleni West College in Kempton Park. Love has also come along. Mmathabo now lives with her boyfriend of three years – whom she refers to as her best friend – and she’s six months pregnant with her first child.

She says he knows about her past and is there for   her every step of the way. “He’s   so caring,” she says. “There are times when I don’t want to be touched or just want to be alone and he doesn’t force me. He doesn’t remind me of my past or belittle me. He’s my support in every way.”   And with everything out in the open now, she adds, she is truly on a journey of healing.

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