Raped by a cousin at 13, then by her father at 18

SHE remembers clearly the first time she was raped by a cousin.

The young woman, who asked to be referred to as Spring, said she was just 13 years old.

“I only found out we were related after the incident. However, he was not charged because his mom sent him away,” Spring told the Jamaica Observer.

Recalling the harrowing ordeal, Spring, who is now 28 years old, said she had taken a taxi to visit her grandparents. However, the driver of the cab didn’t let her off at her destination.

“Being scared, as I was a little girl, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have a phone to call or anything so I just had to stay put. In the process of the night I was alone in the taxi when he came. Even though I tried to fight back, I was raped,” Spring said.

Paralysed by the assault, and not aware of where the taxi was parked, she eventually fell asleep inside the vehicle.

“When morning came, I realised I was near to my grandparents home. When I escaped I went to my uncle and told him what happened. My grandmother didn’t believe me at first. Everyone was saying that I was bad and all of these things,” Spring said.

“The person that did it didn’t get arrested because he ran away. The taxi driver got arrested, and when I went to court and the judge asked me if I recognised the man, I said no. They had to dismiss the case because it wasn’t him. The taxi driver did not touch me, but they were friends. Then people came to my home asking my mother and stepfather to compromise the case, and they did,” she told the Sunday Observer.

Her years in high school, she said, were difficult because she was subjected to a lot of discrimination due to the rape.

Spring said she was still battling with the trauma when, at age 18, she was again raped by a “very, very close” relative.

“After having my son at the age of 18, I went to live with my biological father and at that point it happened all over again,” she said. “I know that my mom is not a type of person I could sit down say X and Y happened to me; she is not going to believe. She wouldn’t even listen because I couldn’t talk to her about anything. I kept it to myself for years. I didn’t tell anyone or report it. The first person I told was my spouse. When I met him I told him, and then after I told him I met Eve For Life and got counselling through Eve For Life, and they helped me through it. That’s why I can talk about it.”

Spring’s story is not uncommon to Eve For Life (EFL) Executive Director Joy Crawford. According to the social worker, cases of incest are steadily becoming prevalent as EFL has been receiving at least two calls per month over the last three years to deal with the problem.

Crawford, whose work includes formulating strategies to end sexual abuse and supporting women and children living with or affected by HIV/AIDS, told the Sunday Observer that through fieldwork and interfacing with girls, EFL began to look closer at the causation of the high prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS among the girls with whom they worked.

“As an organisation that has been dealing with sexual violence, especially childhood sexual violence, for the past eight years or so, when it comes to sexual violence or rape in children it was primarily in relation to making the link between the high HIV prevalence amongst adolescent girls and some of the causative factors,” she explained.

“We found that a number of young women that we were interfacing with who were living with HIV were not born with HIV, but got infected as a result of rape and sexual violence. At first when we started doing the work we heard of rape with strangers women traversing the streets or living in communities that are very volatile, or they may be living in communities where there is very little protection for girls. We were also looking at the issue of intergenerational sexual relationship that was accepted in a number of these rural communities and in Jamaica on a whole,” Crawford said.

“You will find that it would be the girl who would be 14, 15, 16 years old who communities and family members knew was being raped by an older man in the community or neighbour, but they didn’t call it rape. We saw that trend of somebody they may know or somebody the community knows and, of course, you heard the stories of the stepfathers and of course that’s where a lot of the blame was laid,” she added.

According to Crawford, approximately three years ago EFL began looking closer at who the perpetrators of sexual violence were in the population they worked with. This, she said, revealed that a recurring decimal regarding the issue of sexual violence is incest.

“We did a survey amongst our clients and we were able to speak to some of their mothers or who they lived with. We saw now where we were looking at biological fathers, we were looking at cousins, we were looking at brothers. We were looking at a lot of uncles blood relatives. They were the ones who had access, they were the ones who were sharing rooms with them, they were the ones who had daily access to groom them and act as a loving relative. They were the ones who were trusted by other household members to leave the young children or girls in their care,” Crawford said.

In these cases, the girls found it hard to report, and in instances when reports were made, people were less likely to believe the story.

To further illustrate the magnitude of the problem, Crawford shared experiences she has had with girls who are victims of incest.

“A couple of years ago we had one of our girls who eventually wrote her book, and for over three years it was her uncle. She was living in the house with the grandmother and the uncle was having sex with her probably between age 12 and 15 almost everyday. He had access. It wasn’t a visiting relationship,” Crawford shared.

“The relatives who have access to our girls create a nightmare for them. These are some of the cross-cutting issues around incest that we have to address…as the impact on the person who experiences it is extremely difficult,” Crawford said.

“There have been cases where the mother reported her husband. That was extremely difficult, and the problem with that is the child couldn’t understand why mommy would lock up my loving daddy, and resented the mother. The child was young and felt that daddy’s attention and affection and touching her was loving. The child couldn’t understand why mommy let them take away daddy. How does a woman live with that?” Crawford questioned.

“There was a situation once where I interfaced with a young woman. Her mother was a sex worker and the mother was grooming the child by demonstrating and teaching her how to experience sex. That one really just hit me in my tummy,” Crawford said.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that governments should protect children from sexual exploitation (being taken advantage of) and sexual abuse, including by people forcing children to have sex for money, or making sexual pictures or films of them.

But a challenge in relation to incest, according to Crawford, is that the data is not always captured.

“A lot of times when the police receive reports around rape or sexual abuse, the relationship is not really a key factor. The data is not disaggregated to determine if it’s the father, the uncle, the mother, when they take reports,” she said.

Crawford, now, is adamant that it is time to put an end to the silence around incest.

“A lot of stuff is going on and we have to encourage family members to not keep silent anymore. Just break it out of the closet. People are a lot more comfortable to report what is outside of the house, but the issue of what’s inside the closet, the monster under the bed as one young lady wrote in her book is really very real in our society. We have to respond to it as a crime. It has to be reported and the law needs to protect the survivors, the girls; it needs to protect the family. The issue is men, and in some cases, women are hurting their children,” Crawford said.

For Spring, nothing short of perpetrators being made to face the full force of the law will suffice.

“I think they should get a life sentence for hurting young, young girls physically, emotionally. It really does hurt and it lowers our self-esteem. Sometimes some of us are not really strong enough to get back on our feet, and even when we do get help sometimes it’s like the help is not working because we have a low self-esteem and we tend to shut the world out; we don’t trust anyone,” she told the Sunday Observer.

“They shouldn’t be able to come back outside,” Spring said of the perpetrators found guilty and imprisoned.

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