At the age of thirteen, Vivian K (not real names) was left at home alone as her aunt, who was her guardian ran some errands. Taking advantage of her aunt’s absence, Vivian’s uncle appeared unannounced and went straight to her bedroom.
“He sat next to me and my instincts told me that something bad was about to happen. I pretended to want something from the living room but as I stood up, he grabbed me and pushed me to the floor and then forced himself on me and raped me. The pain was so severe that even up to this day the mere thought of it makes me tremble,” she says
Superintendent Belina Mukamana, the Director of Anti Gender Based Violence and Child Protection at the Rwanda National Police says that among the cases of defilement or rape received by her unit, the ones involving relatives are approximately ten percent.
“Last month, we received four cases of uncles raping their nieces, a case of a father who raped his daughter and also one involving a grandfather who raped his granddaughter. These things happen in real life. Such things are not only crimes but a violation of our cultural norms,” Mukamana says.
She explains that a person charged with defilement is sentenced to life in jail and the one charged with rape is sentenced between five years or life imprisonment depending on the circumstances surrounding the case.
Jackline Iribagiza, a counselor based at Martyrs secondary school Remera says that such behavior is an act of cowardice and immoral.
“How can an adult with a wife and kids have the guts to sleep with a child. Some men are just so evil, a young child should be under their protection and not to be used for sexual satisfaction,” Iribagiza says.
She says that rape or defilement victims usually have to live with physical and emotional scars for the rest of their lives.
“The child can be traumatized for the rest of her life and could end up being disconnected from the world. Some even grow up viewing themselves as having caused shame to their families.”
Iribagiza however, points out that in every situation however dark it might seem, there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
She advises victims of sexual abuse to talk to someone like a pastor or counselor as they are qualified to help them recover. To emphasise that the victims should not lose hope of life after abuse, Iribagiza cites the example of renowned American Evangelist; Joyce Meyer who was raped by both her father and uncle as a younger woman.
Joyce Meyer is a successful charismatic christian author and speaker.
Sheikh Yusuf Mugisha of Masjid Al Quidsi mosque, Kacyiru explains that in Islam, primarily, parents or guardians are required to protect young children especially girls by for example keeping a distance between them and men .
He says that his religion recommends a death penalty for any sane man who rapes because he not only defies the law but also severely affects the life of the victim.
“The child is robbed of her dignity as a woman, her womanhood is supposed to be saved for her future husband but that is all stolen from her by a shameless man,” he says.
Sheikh Yusuf says that the issue of sexual abuse does not affect the victim only.
“It is something that affects many people. For instance, the victim gets to live a life full of shame, the guardian, who we know in most cases is married, brings shame on his children and wife because of his immorality. It is a complex issue,” he says
Sheikh Mugisha advises that if such a thing happens, the family should give support to the victim so as to counsel and help them heal from the wounds of the tragic incident.
According to Emmanuel Hakomeza; a Psychologist at central teaching hospital (CHUK); effects of rape or defilement can be categorized in two forms; one being physical and the other being emotional.
“Anyone under the age of eighteen is still young and when she is forced to have sex, her private parts can be damaged . Besides, there is a risk of her being infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases,” he says.
He points out the mental and emotional effects as the worst adding that the issue becomes more complicated if the perpetrator is someone that the child originally loved and respected.
Hakomeza says that a family is normally a unit that is looked up to as a haven to provide a foundation for a child to grow into a responsible adult.
He adds that the victim also ends up with long term effects such as low self-esteem, depression, and trauma and potential adjustment issues in their future sexual relationships.
Studies show that most victims start using drugs as a means of coping with the trauma, some even resort to prostitution because when a person is raped they end up viewing their bodies as worthless.
Hakomeza advises the guardians of the victims to immediately seek medical help to prevent any dangerous health consequences, and of course go to seek mental health services.
“I know it’s something that requires exposing the family and most people usually prefer to keep silent about it because it’s viewed as very shameful but it would be wise if matters are taken to the police,” he adds.
Chantal Uwamariya a mother of three and a resident of Kacyiru wonders how a sane human being can have the audacity to even think of having a sexual relation with their own child.
“I always try to understand men but I admit they are confusing creatures, what I can say is that some do have evil spirits that mislead them into such shameful acts, others just lack morals and one needs to dig deep into their upbringing,” Uwamariya says.
Lillian Ingabire attributes this behaviour to mental illness.
“When a person is not well mentally, I can totally understand that they have no control over their actions but if that person is mentally stable, then one thing I can relate them to are animals because any human being should have self control no matter how weak,” she says.
I say: What can be done to address the problem?
In my opinion, any girl facing this kind of abuse should not hesitate to report the case to the authorities. Your guardian or someone who is supposed to be your parent can threaten to stop supporting you; however, always remember that you can survive with or without their support but your self-worth may not survive it.
Nadia Farida Agahozo
Sexual abuse should not be given room into anyone’s life. To the victims of such challenges, I urge them to value their lives more than the support they are promised to. Such requests that involve sexual practices are immoral and it should be avoided at all costs. Mothers should also endeavor to keep a keen eye on their children.
In my opinion, the victim or any one facing such uncouth requests from people who are supposed to protect them should consider sharing the issue with a trusted family member who can help to solve the problem before it is too late.
It’s so sad how some girls endure such despicable acts largely from their guardians or step parents who in actual sense are supposed to protect them. This is mostly due to ignorance of one’s human rights and options available for one to escape from such wicked activities. I urge girls to know their rights and fight any sexual abuse that comes their way.
The government should take the initiative to specifically address these challenges of sexual abuse of some girls by their parents, step-parents or relatives.
Vanessa Raisa Uwase
Campaigns should be introduced and promoted to help the affected girls find ways of speaking their minds and also help find safety. Mass sensitization and education is greatly needed regarding addressing this issue.
Compiled by Dennis Agaba