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Abuse stole my childhood

Solomoni Biumaiono
Sunday, February 24, 2013

Last week, I sat in a church next to Anne (not her real name) and listened to her relay an ordeal she was forced to live through, growing up in her village. Anne is now 29-years-old and married. She was sexually and physically abused by her step-father as a child.

"It started when I was just eight-years-old. My mum got married again and my stepdad was the one who did it. It started when my mum was away in Suva for almost two weeks, a few months after marrying my stepfather.

"He locked me inside the house and showed me his private parts and told me if I told someone he would hurt me. The very next day he did it again and wanted me to touch him. I refused so he beat me up and even punched me," Anne said.

"That was how it started and he would always tell me what he would do to me every night. He would molest me and threaten that if I told mum, he would kill both of us. He was always beating her up too."

Anne said the three of them stayed in her stepfather's village where the sexual abuse and beatings continued and became part of her life for the next six years.

"I never told a thing to anyone because we were living in his village and I also believed that he would kill me and my mum because the beating occurred nearly every day as he would always look for an excuse to beat me up. Even to the extent where I would pee in my pants," she said.

"When I resisted his advances at night, the very next day he would find a way for me not to attend school and look for an opportunity to talk to me, like if my mum was in the bathroom. He would tell me that I would not go to school or beat me up and he'll make sure that when he beats me up I would end up not going to school."

For Anne, the nightmare was not only at home but it took place nearly every day, especially in the weekends.

"Every Saturday, I had to accompany him to the farm. In this village, every plantation had its own little huts so that is where most of the sexual abuse took place," Anne said.

"On Sundays, he always attended prayer meetings and always insisted I go with him. He made sure mum did not come. We had to walk through a pine forest to reach the village and there among those trees, he would undress me, touch me and molest me before we would continue to the prayer meetings. Once there, he would do his sharing before we leave again and return later for the mid-morning church service."

Anne said she couldn't report the abuse because she was just a little girl and scared of her stepfather. She was helpless.

"I couldn't overcome him and not only that, everybody in the village loved him, his family and even my family loved him because he had a quiet, gentle nature. You just don't expect someone like him to be doing these kinds of things," she said.

When Anne was 11, her family moved to Suva where the abuse continued while her family was oblivious to the hell she was living.

In Suva, her stepdad made sure their sleeping arrangements was the same where he slept in the middle with Anne and her mum on either side.

"Most nights I am still scared to sleep without a blanket. I can't sleep without a blanket. Because when I was small, when I covered myself with the blanket to stop him, he would cut holes in my blanket and panties."

Anne was thankful though that her stepdad never did have sex with her but the bloodied trauma she suffers in her body has scarred her forever.

"The last time he sexually abused me was when I was in Form Four because by then I had to attend a boarding school but he told me that when I turn 18, he would leave my mum for me."

At her age, Anne has finally gathered the courage to put a stop to it and told her stepdad that she would tell her family about what he was doing to her.

"I threatened to tell my relatives and I finally told one of my aunts but they called a family meeting and asked me not to report it because it would shame the family."

As a teenager Anne started to express the hurt she was feeling and would stay away from home, sometimes for days on end.

"I started to rebel not because I enjoyed playing truant but I just wanted to get away from it all, I just wanted to stay away from home because of him," she said.

The beatings continued even though the sexual abuse had stopped and after suffering more demeaning emotional abuse from her stepdad, Anne finally reported him to the Police.

"I finally reported him to the Police but my mum asked me to drop the charge because she still loved him. I asked her to choose her child over her husband but she was also scared. She has gone through a lot of beatings. From the age of 18, I told her that I might as well find my own life.

"I took off from home at 18 with just a travelling bag and I came straight here and I have been here ever since. I came over and flatted with other friends since I don't have any relatives here but I have managed so far," Anne said.

It has been 10 years since she ran away from home and since then she has gotten married and has also reconciled with her mother.

"Yes, I still talk to my family, I've just visited my mum during the holidays. He (stepdad) left mum as soon as I left home and he went to be with a woman with two young daughters. I have no idea where he is now.

"Three years ago I finally had the strength to go back to my mum and talk to her about it. She said she never knew it happened but deep within me I think she did."

Anne has never confronted her family members whom she still feels have conveniently swept everything under the carpet.

"It's a subject we (family) will never talk about. To me, it was sort of a betrayal on their part because every time they watch or read similar cases in the paper, they were always feeling sorry for the victims of sexual abuse and would say that the perpetrator belongs in jail and I always tell myself, 'hello, I am right here. It happened to someone in your family!"

Anne is still traumatised by what happened and even though she said she has forgiven her stepdad, deep within her she will never forget how her childhood was stolen from her.

"Three or four years ago I saw him again in Suva, I just dropped everything I had with me and turned and walked away.

"My husband understood that. Yes, I have forgiven him but part of me still hates him, I have mixed emotions because I want to move on with my life but the memories still come flooding back so easily," Anne said.

The memories that haunt her have escalated her emotions to an extent where Anne cannot watch or listen to any person talk loudly or harshly to a woman or a child.

She says the only reason she has gone public with her story is to try and lend her support to other young men and women who might be suffering from the same emotional and sexual abuse.

"I always follow the stories. Many times the people who talk about it, most of them just talk about making laws but never have they done anything to try and come down to the victim's level to understand what they go through," she said.

Anne recalls how she used to fake smile her way through life and she wished the same support would be available to young children and teenagers to give a safe space to come forward.

"I always wished somebody had come, tapped me and asked if everything was all right at home. There was never anyone especially when I was a child.

"Later, in high school I became stronger, but when I was small I always wished someone would come and ask me about my life.

"If the community can rally, the community is not doing anything to really protect the children but we really don't talk about it at home. I don't see parents talk to their children about this and also parents need to be taught how to approach their children with this topic.

"Having stories like mine, I believe I am not the only person who has gone through this in Fiji. Some are even more horrifying.

"I am now telling my story. I want people to tell their children that no one is allowed to touch them that way."

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