The concerns expressed by this teenaged victim of sexual harassment have led us to exclude her name from this story and to otherwise disguise our approach to the interview to protect her identity. We believe that there are several homes across the country where young girls are regularly molested or else, live in constant fear of molestation. Many of them have little if any confidence in the authorities and are seeking other ways through which to deal with their problems.
After I had spoken to the frail teenager about the years she had spent worrying about the likelihood that her uncle might one day force himself upon her “in a sexual way” it seemed to me that she had commenced an exercise in the unburdening of her soul. She had spoken with me in strictest of condifence and while she wanted her story to be made public in one form or another she remained mortally afraid of the retribution that she might encounter, were it to become known that she had suffered years of overt ‘passes’ and sexually suggestive gestures including numerous invitations to fondle her uncle’s genitals.
All of this had taken place between the two of them only because she had never been able to summon the courage to tell her mother what was going on. Her mother had found out “by accident.” She had caught him fondling her breasts one evening. Afterwards, her mother always seemed to be angry with her and she came to realise later that the anger was really a kind of frustration. Her mother could not muster the courage to accuse her only brother of wanting to prey on her daughter sexually.
Once she had almost confided in a teacher at school but pulled back at the last moment when it occurred to her that any such disclosure would mean that the police would have to become involved.
Victims of sexual molestation can become emotionally fragile to the point of becoming paranoid. You have to coax everything that you get out of them gently, taking care not to touch any raw, sensitive chords. That was how it was between us. Answers to sensitive questions would be preceded by long, pregnant pauses and sometimes I really could not tell whether her responses were not elaborately contrived offerings designed to do not more than conceal the truth. Sometimes she answered with her eyes only, sending signals that told me that I should probe a particular issue no further.
She explained to me that she had felt as though she used to wear her shame on her face… so that she had come to feel that her ordeal was known to others had driven her to contemplate suicide.
After a while she had come to deeply appreciate the attentions of her eight year-old sister whose attentions for the reason of wanting to emulate her ‘big sister’ might have, on more than one occasion, thwarted their uncle’s attempts to go much further than he actually did.
Sometimes she blamed her mother… for allowing her uncle unfettered access to the home and for leaving herself and her sister alone with him. She appeared to trust him implicitly until the breast-fondling incident, though even after then she was not prepared to bring the matter out into the open.
In more homes in Guyana than we think sex is a taboo subject or at least it is not discussed openly enough to cause it to become an issue that everyone is comfortable with. The Child Care experts don’t do nearly enough. Sometimes they seem to throw the laws around, indiscriminately, like directionless darts, but particularly caring what targets they strike. What often passes for education on child-molestation is, more often than not, dissonant noises and political pronouncements that are irrelevant to the real issues. The professionals, it seems, always want to muster the kind of language that attest to their technical correctness. The politicians, of course, take refuge in the kinds of clichés that ensure their own political safety.
The teenager told me a story about a conversation she had overheard some months earlier between two schoolboys who might have been a few years younger than her uncle about what they wished to do sexually She told me that what she had overheard had depressed her since she was in fact discovering that colleagues in her own school possessed dangerously predatory sexual instincts.
It occurred to me during my talk with the teenager that there had to be other teenaged girls who lived in similarly threatening environments which meant that there was a considerable likelihood that over a protracted period they lived in fear of being sexually molested. What I found deeply distressing was the fact that there were probably instances in which such fears cannot be allayed because there are no easy means of doing so. I am aware of cases of sexual molestation in which the perpetrator was a step father or ‘mommy’s friend’ or some other trusted male so that while the threat persists it is not ‘appropriate’ or ‘convenient’ to complain. There is simply too much at stake.
My teenaged friend told me that the distraction that had been created by the threat of being sexually molested had distracted her to the point where her schoolwork had suffered. That did not seem to matter to her mother who, after the breast-fondling incident had appeared even more determined to prove to her that her uncle was worth having around if only because of the financial contribution he made to the home.
Whenever her mother had made that point the teenager had responded by blaming her father for her tribulations. It had been a year prior since he had left the home for the ‘gold bush.’ Nothing had been heard of or from, him since and once she had overheard her mother telling her uncle that she believed that he might have been murdered and his remains disposed of.
The day after her sixteenth birthday her uncle had offered her a watch as a present. She had declined the offer and he had lost his temper. He had brought the matter to her mother’s attention who had responded indifferently. Later on, when the two of them were alone the matter had come up. Even then she gave no reason for her decision though the expression on her mother’s face, somehow, led her to believe that the problem was becoming clearer to her. After that, she started to believe that her uncle had made his first serious error by taking the incident with the watch to her mother. It was not the end of her ordeal but at least it was a first step in the right direction.