Moving on and reaching out to others

Date: January 1, 1970
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Now 16 and a peer educator in Zambia, a young woman recounts to Zarina Geloo a life of sexual abuse by those whom she thought would love her after the death of her parents.

Now 16 and a peer educator in Zambia, a young woman recounts to Zarina Geloo a life of sexual abuse by those whom she thought would love her after the death of her parents.

My parents died from AIDS one after the other in September of 2000. I was 12 years old. I went to live with my aunt, my mother’s sister and her family. Things were good for the first couple of months. I do not remember what changed or what triggered it, but in the beginning of 2001, my aunt became harsh with me, beating me for the slightest mistake, calling me all sorts of names. I tried to get a neighbour who was my aunt’s friend, to find out what happened that my aunt should treat me this way. After the neighbour left, my aunt gave me the worst beating of my life for telling ‘people’ she was mistreating me.

Very soon, my uncle and his sons, two teenage boys, began to abuse me too. First it was just pushing me around, and then they began pinching my breasts or my privates whenever there was no one around. I talked to my teacher about it. When she tried to talk to my aunt and uncle, they denied that this happened and called me a liar and prostitute. In fact, one day my uncle told me that my mother had given my father HIV and she was a prostitute and I took after her. The abuse got worse; I was being beaten by everyone in the house.

The violence I was subjected to was so severe that I soon stopped going to school, because I was often sore and had bruises which everyone knew was from beatings, but no body wanted to get involved. My uncle is a well-known man with a powerful position in government. My aunt was happy that I had ‘decided’ to leave school. She told everyone I did not want to go to school, she never told them why.

She retired her maid and gave me the position. I know of no other family – my mother and father, unlike other Zambian families, did not have relatives come to stay or visit. So I did not know anybody. I tried to trace some relatives once, but who wants to know an orphan – that’s another burden another mouth to feed clothe and send to school. I had to stay with my aunt whom I only met when my mother was sick in hospital. She says there are no other relatives. I don’t believe her, but there is nothing much I can do.

One day in April of 2002, I had gone to church and one of my youth group members; a boy was walking me home, because it was quite late in the evening. My uncle saw me walking with this boy and went mad. He called me from the road, pushed me inside the house and took me to his bedroom and began to beat me. I was screaming and kicking and shouting, and then he pulled out his knife and cut me on the wrist and said he would cut my throat if I did not stop ‘making noise’. Then he pulled off all my clothes, cutting some of them off with his knife, others he just tore. He then took off his clothes and raped me. I was crying all the time, but it’s like he didn’t care. He kept saying, ‘so this is what you want, this is what you want from these boys you are hanging around with’.

Afterwards, he told me that if I told anybody, he would throw me out of his house and I could sleep on the streets and be raped by drunken street kids. My cousins were in the house at the time, but they did not stop their father even though I knew they had heard the commotion.

I bathed and went to bed. My uncle told my aunt I was not feeling well and should be left alone. I did not tell anyone, but from that day, I made sure to keep clear of my uncle. A month later, an elderly relative of my uncle came to visit. I could hear whispering each time I came across them and the elderly relative would often be watching me out of the corner of his eye.

One night I was told to sleep in the kitchen, because my bedroom, which I shared with three of my younger cousins was going to be used for visitors. No visitors came, but I slept in the kitchen anyway. At night, the elderly relative came to where I was sleeping, naked, with a knife in his hand. He told me not to make a sound. I still screamed hoping to wake up my aunt, but for some reason no one came to see what I was screaming about. This man cut my hand and held me down. He raped me and then threatened to kill me if I screamed again. I was so broken and disappointed that no one was helping me that I just lay there crying. He raped me repeatedly throughout the night. In the morning he left, leaving me K40, 000 (about 15 USD). I told my aunt what had happened, but she said it was not possible because she did not hear my cries. I was hurt so bad that day I just lay in the kitchen dispirited. I did not cook or clean and when my aunt came back from work and found me lying down, she beat me and all I could do was just lie there because I had no power to do anything else. That was not the end of the story.

I recovered and tried to make sense of what happened. The elderly relative came back a week later in a foul mood. I was so scared I went to a neighbour’s house to hide. When my uncle came back from work, I heard the whole story.

My uncle had told the elderly relative that he had a virgin in the house that the old man could use for ‘muti’ (medicine) for good luck. The old man had given my uncle K1million (about USD240) to sleep with me. Well, it appeared the muti did not work, and now the old man wanted his money back. The old man also said I was not a virgin so my uncle had lied to him. They fought and when my aunt came in she heard the story. Instead of being disgusted with her husband, she was disgusted with me because I was not a virgin. She said she always knew I would be a prostitute like my mother and that she did not want me in her house.

She moved me to the servants’ quarters. That night my uncle came into my room and raped me violently, he told me that was all I was good for since he could no longer sell me as a virgin. He told me he would come to my room every night and I should get used to it. The next morning I felt sick and went to the Police Victim Support Unit (VSU) and narrated my story. I was sent to the hospital for treatment and also for evidence of rape. Initially the VSU was not sympathetic, because my uncle is a big man, but there was one female officer who personally took it upon herself to make sure I was being treated properly. She insisted that I get priority at the hospital; she insisted I was medically examined and even escorted me to my aunty’s house to get my things and moved me to her little cramped one bed-roomed house where I still live with her three children.

Not long after I had moved in with my guardian she came home early from work. She had obviously been crying. She took one look at me and burst into tears. After supper that night, she took my hand and very gently told me I was HIV positive. I thought because of all the abuse I had gone through, the rape, the beatings that nothing worse could happen to me. Just that day I had prayed thankfully to God for having put this woman into my life, who was feeding me, clothing me and had put me back in school. I thought my life was finally coming together. And now this.

I cried without tears, because there were none left. I cried without a sound, because the hurt was so deep it could not come out of my throat. I was so hopeless I wanted to die right away. My guardian then took me to Kara counselling and began counselling with me initially; then I would go alone. I have been in counselling for about a year and am now a peer counsellor. Some days I am upbeat, others I am down, especially when I hear other horror stories from people my age.

Though I am HIV positive, I feel kind of healed. I have not suffered any illness. I had a dilation and curettage (DnC), which was kind of a prophylactic abortion just to make sure I was not pregnant from my ordeals.

My guardian told my aunty and uncle about my HIV status, but they are not interested saying they always knew I would end up with AIDS. My uncle refuses to get an HIV test. There is a part of me that wishes he had the HIV virus. But the Bible tells me that I came out all right in the end. I have someone who cares for me, fights for me and loves me.

My uncle is still a twisted soul and deserves only pity. At this point the only pity I have is for my aunt who has no idea of what a devil she is married to. I am not pursuing the court case. I have seen what the courts do to poor people in my position. Besides, very few people believe us young girls when we tell them of abuse. So I would rather just move on and help others.

Zarina Geloo is a freelance journalist in Zambia. This article is part of a special series of articles produced for the Sixteen Days of Activism

This article is part of the GEM Opinion and Commentary Service that provides views and perspectives on current events. for more information. 

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