The next day early in the morning my mom was on my doorstep. We both cried, with my head on her chest and she asked: "Where was I, my baby?" I told her she was not to be blamed, she was a loving mum to all of us, writes Patricia Langbooi*.
I was a little girl of just 11 when I was molested. I grew up in a happy home with both parents and I was the third child from seven siblings. I was the bright one among the family and loved reading. From a young age, we were taught to be respectful towards our elders and was regularly sent to the shops by the neighbours.
On this particular day, the man who molested me was staying in front of our home and had no wife or children at the time. He called me to send me to the shop as usual but on this day my younger sister didn't come along, as she usually would.
I went in and he was lying on the couch. He called me to come closer and asked me to lie on my back. He pulled my skirt up and my panty down. I was afraid, not knowing what was happening. At that age, I had never seen people having sex. I was a virgin.
He laid on top of me and I felt him tightening. I was cold and quiet and could feel him on me, as tiny as I was. Then I felt the sticky watery substance on my thighs. Then he told me to stand up and get dress, he seemed to somehow be angry. I remember he gave me money after I got dressed, and then I left.
I was never the same. I didn't know what to do and for some reason, I didn't tell my parents or even my sister. It was like a part of me had died. I became withdrawn but nobody noticed. I hid behind books because as young as I was I loved reading books or anything that came my way.
When I was in standard six, I met this friend. She was boyish and liked haircuts, riding bikes and dresses like a boy. This fascinated us as it was unusual for a girl to ride a bike let alone dressing up as a boy. We became friends and shared lunch together. Her home was closer to the shop where we bought our lunch. We would go to her home and I don't remember how it started, but it became an everyday thing that we would have sex. Although younger than me she knew a lot because she was sexually active with boys as well.
She was in control, leading me and I was saying nothing. I didn't know if it was right or wrong because I hadn't slept with a boy yet by that stage. I was getting used but it was our little secret.
We later separated. I went to high school and she moved to Cape Town, which was a relief for me. It happened again when I was at my gran's house. I was sleeping with my older sister and friend and she started playing with my vagina with her fingers. I didn't know how to say no, so instead I tried to please her or do whatever I was told to do. I'm sure it was low elf-esteem. I was lonely inside because there was this secret that only I knew about, even though I was laughing and playing like a normal child.
As I got older I became promiscuous in a way: a relationship to me was about sex and pleasing a man. For a long time, I was never interested in committed relationships and always found reasons to break up with someone. I often saw my uncle, the perpetrator. He was married now but was always in the house. I would look at his wife and ask myself: "Does she know what he did to me?"
I would still visit his house but felt nothing towards him. No anger, nothing. I realised later that I had blocked him from my system. I could not allow him to hurt me.
When I had my first child at 21, I remember my mom telling my siblings and I how my uncle had killed his wife, who had cheated. How he was ridiculed by men in the bus without him realising that the men who cheated with his wife were among those men. It was like God was setting me up. He was telling me who this man was. Somehow I sympathised with the man who took my innocence. The man who broke my trust. A man who made me doubt myself and made me think I was at fault. I understood where he was coming from. He was feeling less of a man and had to prove himself to a child who could not hurt him back. He was a broken man and he died a lonely man. God was healing me. He was comforting me by letting me hurt for someone who hurt me.
But by the age of 43, I still hadn’t told a soul about what he did to me. I was working at the SA Police Service when I was sexually harassed by my commander and he won the case. At that moment I went back to that 11-year-old child. I remember I was staying with my boyfriend at the time, but this experience with my colleague cost me my relationship. When we made love, I would shake afterwards and cry like a baby and he could never understand. Shortly after that, I told him what had happened to me as a child.
Sharing this with him brought back all the pain. It came back to me all at once. I went to depression and I remember calling my mom and finally telling her what happened as well. The next day early in the morning my mom was on my doorstep. We both cried, with my head on her chest and she asked: "Where was I, my baby?" I told her she was not to be blamed, she was a loving mom to all of us. My baby sister also joined us, also crying. Soon after that phone calls came from those near and far away.
I decided to forgive my station commander and I thank God because the deep-seated pain and anger that was inside me had finally come out and I was finally dealing with it, with the support of my family. Today, I talk about it when the opportunity presents itself.
- A pseudonym was used to protect the identity of the writer. Patricia, a former police official, lives in the Eastern Cape.