I don’t know what brought this memory to mind at one o’clock in the morning. Maybe it was a combination of uncomfortable heat and daylight saving time messing with my sleep pattern, but I thought about the boy who was the first person to touch me in a sexual manner before I really knew what a “sexual manner” was.
I was 11 and he was 17, serving as the mate on a trotro my mother held the title for until the driver, Mr. Osei, could pay off his debt. The trotro was locked safely in the confines of our house every night, as was the mate whose name I have long forgotten. Let’s call him Kwodjo.
Kwodjo was a kid, albeit a big one. When he was off duty, he would play tag, football and hide and seek with my siblings and I. And then one day when I was hiding upstairs in the bathroom crouched behind a laundry basket, Kwodjo found me. I don’t remember where he first touched me as I have largely blocked the memory…I just remember that day marked a series of clandestine incidences of pubescent indiscretions. He groped by budding breasts. He breathed heavily in my ear. One day he put his finger in my vagina.
At 11 and now having been sexually awakened in this untoward way, I found myself conflicted. I was scared. There were days I wanted it to end. There were times I wanted it to continue. I wanted Kwodjo’s attention, but I didn’t necessarily want him fingering me. One afternoon he told me to meet him in the boy’s quarters. He had something to tell me. He told me to wait for him to go ahead and follow a few minutes later. And I did just that.
When I arrived, he pounced on me and pushed me into a corner. His arms and lips were everywhere. I had an idea of what might come next, although I couldn’t know for sure until it happened. I stood there and let Kwodjo paw me like a wolf playing with a piece of meat. And that’s when one of our two houseboys walked in on us. It seems so odd to call Simon a “houseboy”. He was two times my age, at least, but as a fully grown man he saw exactly what my 11 year old mind did not have the capacity to predict. He yelled for Kwodjo to unhand me and I walked away embarrassed, but not before promising to tell Mr. Osei what had happened. Kwodjo looked shaken.
“No, Malaka, no,” Simon pleaded. “Don’t do that!”
I relented and scuttled out of the room through the window I’d entered from. It was over and I’d never have to live the incident or the terror of being caught in such a shameful moment again.
Imagine my surprise, therefore, when my father called me downstairs the next day with a scowl on his face. His voice was cold as frozen stone.
“Malaka. What happened in the boy’s quarters.”
“What? I don’t know…”
“Did Kwodjo touch you in the boy’s quarters?”
My eyes flew open. My heart began to pound. I used the reaction to feign shock, particularly since both Simon and Kwodjo were standing in the kitchen WITH ME watching the interrogation.
“No, Daddy,” I lied. I was afraid I was going to be blamed for doing something naughty, a situation a I assumed my father thought I should have had control over. “He didn’t. Kwodjo only plays with me and the other kids. Football and things.”
My father stared at me. I stared back. He told me I could go. Upon leaving the kitchen, I heard Simon begging him to believe what he had told him.
“Daddy, it’s true! Daddy, it’s true!”
I didn’t hear my father’s response because I had already fled to my room and locked the door.
Do you know even after all that, Kwodjo didn’t stop hunting me? One day after the interrogation, I’d had enough. When he had placed himself bare-chested between my thighs as I was sitting on the veranda, I dug my nails into his back and scratched. I drew blood. He went to report me to my father who punished me for injuring him. Oh, the irony!
We’ve talked a lot on Adventures about the dangers young girls are susceptible in a society that doesn’t allow them to be kids. And although Kwodjo wasn’t technically yet a “man”, he was still closer to the stage of adulthood than I would be for another 6 years, which is a lifetime for a child.
I don’t know that we talk enough about how to approach girls who have found themselves in abusive situations. Fortunately for me, it did not go any further than it did, but not all 11 year old girls were lucky. Also, I felt like I was marked from that period…like the men and boys in the area who tormented me with their catcalls and comments on my body could smell an easy target.
I don’t have an exhaustive list of ways to NOT talk to your child about her assault/molestation/unwanted physical interaction, but I’d suggest not interviewing her in front of the accused. We know that rape goes underreported not just in Africa, but all over the globe and part of that is shame, a sense of being responsible for the moments leading up to the event and fear of the unknown consequences. What if my father didn’t believe me when I narrated how it’d gotten to that point? What if he asked why I didn’t tell him sooner? The answer on that day would have honestly been “I don’t know, Daddy!”…because I really didn’t. I didn’t know or understand fully what was going on.
Have you ever known someone – woman or child – who has been the receiving end of a poorly executed chat about her assault? What advice would you give concerned persons to carry this out better so that it does not cause the victim fear? Are we doing a better job today of keeping young girls safe?