He’s a lanky guy, already taller than his mom, and wears shoes fit for a grown man. But his shy smile tells a different story. He’s still very much a boy – although he’s learnt hard lessons he’ll carry for the rest of his life.
Justin* was just 13 when a grown woman started a sexual relationship with him.
A baby was conceived during their months together although it has yet to be determined whether Justin (now 15) is the father. His lover told him he was, though – dad to a little baby when he’s still a kid himself.
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Justin was madly in love with Sarita* (24) and fought his mother tooth and nail when she turned to the police to put an end to the affair. She was vindicated when the district court in Worcester in the Western Cape found the woman guilty of statutory rape and handed down a suspended prison sentence of five years.
For Candice* (34), the breaking point came when her son revealed Sarita was pregnant.
Enough was enough, Candice decided, and she laid charges against the woman.
“Justin was furious,” she says. “He asked me how I could do this to him. He was so in love. But I felt it didn’t matter how angry he was at me. I had to protect my son.”
Candice is speaking to YOU from a small town in the Little Karoo where mother and son moved to escape the judgmental attitudes and gossip of people in their former hometown in the Cape Winelands.
Life hasn’t been easy, she says, but she had to fight for her child. “He might feel guilty but there is such a thing as manipulation. Sarita had him in her power and I’m not angry at him for that. He’s just a child.”
Candice was young when Justin was born and she lived with her parents. When he was a little older, she moved to a neighbouring town where she worked in human resources.
Justin stayed with his grandmother in the Winelands, where his biological father also lived and he was involved in his life.
In 2017 Candice got a job in Worcester and she and her new husband moved to a nearby town so Justin could move in with them. Finally, they were a complete and happy family, Candice says.
Then in February 2020 a shocking phone call came from Justin’s dad. He asked if Candice knew their son was in a relationship with an adult woman. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing and confronted Justin.
“I told him not to lie to me. I said I knew what was going on and I just wanted to hear it from him. That’s when he admitted it was Sarita.”
Candice later heard that Sarita, who’s a family member of one of Justin’s friends, had sent Justin messages complimenting him on how grown-up he looked. “She groomed him,” Candice says.
She took Justin to his grandmother’s home and also asked his dad to come for a meeting.
“I asked Justin if anything had happened. He said they were seeing each other and there had been some kissing but he denied they’d had sex.”
But a short while later Justin confessed to Candice’s sister, who he’s close to, that he and Sarita were indeed having sex.
Candice and her sister went to the police but were initially told it would be tough to prove rape. Candice insisted on seeing Sarita at the police station.
“She denied everything at first. But then I had Justin join us because he’d told me everything by then.
“Then I asked her if she considered Justin her boyfriend. She said no and he burst into tears because he was madly in love with her. I wanted him to see she was just abusing him.
“I know it broke him but it was the only way to ensure he truly realised what was happening.”
The police then explained to Sarita that she could spend 15 years in jail if she was found guilty of rape.
“I asked her to leave my son alone, to forget about him and move on with her life,” Candice recalls.
Sarita thanked Candice for giving her a second chance and that, Candice thought, was that.
After the confrontation at the police station people told Candice they’d seen Justin with a woman. She asked him if it was Sarita but he denied it and she lived in hope Sarita was keeping her promise.
Then in May last year Justin made another confession to Candice and she exploded. Sarita had told him she was expecting his child.
“I was furious. I told him, ‘You see what’s happened now?’ ”
This time, there was no doubt in Candice’s mind: she was going to lay charges.
But Justin refused to cooperate and wouldn’t make a statement to the police.
“I told him, ‘You were man enough to do these things behind my back, now you must be enough of an adult to tell the truth’.”
So the teen reluctantly spilled the beans. Sarita was arrested then released on condition she had no further contact with Justin. The warning fell on deaf ears.
She regularly called and texted him and the case went ahead, with the phone communication becoming part of the evidence against Sarita in court.
She eventually made a full confession and struck a plea bargain – a five-year suspended sentence on condition she leave Justin alone.
Candice says she was strongly criticised by some members of the community because she’d resorted to legal action.
“People said, ‘Boys that age have sex.’ But I think if it was your daughter you’d feel differently. Why must I feel differently about my son?” she says. “And if the roles had been reversed, Justin would be in jail.”
Mother and son are now trying to rebuild their relationship. Candice decided it was time for a new start so they moved to a small town more than 100km away. Justin transferred to the local school and Candice believes it’s what’s best for them.
And Sarita’s baby? Candice wants DNA proof before she’ll accept it’s her grandchild. If it is and Justin wants to know get to know the child someday, she’ll support him.
Justin nods when he’s asked if he’s put the affair behind him.
“It’s over. I don’t think about it anymore,” he says.
He finally understands the relationship was wrong, his mom says. “I’ve told him there are so many things I want him to experience as a child. He recently went to his first school dance and he’s going to start doing sport.”
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He’s also in a relationship with a girl his age and Candice is relieved. Yet although things are getting better, she can’t help but blame herself for what happened.
“Sometimes it feels like I’ve failed him,” Candice says. “If I hadn’t given Sarita a second chance, she might never have contacted him again. If I’d been home more, I could’ve kept a watchful eye. These things may not have happened.”
Still, there’s no doubt in her mind she did the right thing in the end. “I’ll never stop fighting for my son. I’m not ashamed and he shouldn’t be either.”
YOU approached Sarita for comment, but she declined.
* Not their real names. Names of the towns have been withheld to protect the identity of the underage boy.