What is it that I could have done differently? Should I have worn fuller skirts, should I have not worn the hipsters that were all the rage, should I have gone on a diet so that my ample behind did not show so much, should I have smiled less brightly, should I have avoided conversation with him, should I have been invisible, should my father never have died? Should he have left me a trust fund that would allow me to be self-sufficient and never lack? Should I never have gone to live with them in the first place? So many questions and no answer as to why he sexually molested me.
I remember standing outside of myself and wondering how I should respond to his sexual advances, his clammy hands clawing me, the lewd sexual innuendos directed at me, the leery looks cast above my aunt’s head as we sat at the dinner table…. He was after all my guardian following my father’s death. I wondered if he felt, and whether or not he was actually entitled to the fringe benefits accruing to him by mere fact of his having sent me to school, having provided me with a roof over my head and food in my stomach.
I had options: I could play along just so I could be out of harm’s way and not ruffle feathers unnecessarily. I could report him to my aunt whereupon I would put an end to his predation of me even though it meant destroying their marriage and alienating me from the people who provided a roof over my head. I could report him to the police and risk alienating myself from the bigger family by taking matters into my own hands; the matter’s resolution which, by cultural right belonged to vanababa vemhuri yangu (who by this time knew about this predation but had chosen to let the matter rest- it was more important that I finish my school with a roof over my head and meanwhile I needed to do whatever It took to protect myself from this man in his house).
My aunt was willing to forgive him this one transgression among innumerable indiscretions he committed against her but she was unwilling to disbelieve him when he told her I lied about his molestation of me even though it was not the first time he had sexually molested someone, having molested a maid once before. Doing so would shatter the perfectly embroidered lie of their marriage and depreciate her standing among her church peers. Even though she had suffered sexual abuse at a young age and I felt she should have known better about the trauma which I had gone through, her condemnation of me only made things worse.
I found myself being judged along the lines of the perpetuated purity myth that places the emphasis on women having to remain chaste; conflating abstinence with responsibility and the construction of a good girl paradigm. My case was judged too, along the lines of the myth of male weakness which suggests that all men are cavemen; brutish and hyper-sexual, that their civility is a mist which can evaporate at any time. They suggested that men, driven by the irresistible forces of the Y chromosome and testosterone, are to be applauded for even the most half-hearted efforts at self-restraint. For some reason their ‘inherent’ vulnerability to temptation and their concomitant single-mindedness, suggested that, after all had been said and done, it was my job to protect him from himself.
I remember all too vividly the shame I felt when I shouldn’t have felt shame. The horrible guilt I felt when I should not have felt guilty. Feeling like I owed it to the both of them to keep them together, that I owed it to my family to forget my own pain because it was more important to recognise the collective good that would be the result of my shutting up. I was socialised to think in terms of the collective, never mind the individual harm caused, but it grated with me that the very system ostensibly designed to protect me, patriarchy, was working to stifle the very life out of me.
When sexual abuse happens to women I will them with everything that is in me to fight using the law at their disposal but I am aware that the same law was available to me then as it is now but I have not used it to bring the perpetrator to book. So many factors inform my decision, least of which is that I will let sleeping dogs lie, reliving the trauma is not something I particularly relish doing. I imagine that there are plenty of women like myself who have been faced with the same dilemma and have not done as justice would have them do because there are so many other factors to consider other than merely bringing the perpetrators of their violence to book.
My notions of what women need to be secure are informed by such things as I have first-hand knowledge. I envision a world where women do not have to apologise for being women as I had to and still continue to do. I hope that someday, the family, so highly esteemed in our social structures, will protect women and young girls and stop apologising for men where they have wronged women. I hope that someday women shall rise and cease to live in a state of predestined misery.