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As A 10-Year-Old Girl, No One Believed I Was Being Abused -- That's Why I'm Speaking Up Now

"If just one child can find the courage to speak out... it will be worth it."

01/09/2017 06:33 SAST | Updated 01/09/2017 06:34 SAST
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For almost 30 years, Candy has not opened up about her sexual abuse as a child because her parents refused to accept her story. She tells Ufrieda Ho why staying silent seems easier.

It's one the longest drives of Candy's* life, not because of the kilometres she must drive but because she's travelling to a meeting with Health-e; it's the first time she's chosen to open up to a stranger, about being a childhood victim of sexual abuse and assault.

A thousand times she's thought of turning back and a thousand more tears have already fallen, but finding her voice to speak up, even if it's anonymously, is the path that seems right. She wants to speak as a survivor, not a victim.

"When I told my mother I was going to do this interview, she said 'what are your uncles going to say?' and my father is still in denial about my abuse. Even my husband asked me why I wanted to put myself through this. He knew that I had been abused, but he didn't know the details, I kept so much from him," says 39-year- old Candy, who is a mother to two boys, aged 15 and 12.

A few more tears fall as she struggles through the first few sentences. Her fingers seek out the warmth of the coffee cup they're grasping on the cool winter day.

She only reconciled with her parents three years ago, choosing not to have anything to do with them because they never believed her when she was as a 10-year-old growing up in the Free State and she told them about being abused by their neighbour's son.

Her abuser was a teenager at time, about 15 or 16 years old, she recalls. He was friends with her older brother. She's estranged from her brother, who accused her of just "looking for attention" when she first spoke about what this teen, called Renier, did to her for about two years.

"Every time my mom went to the shops I would hide in the cupboards because I knew he'd watch her leave the house then come looking for me. I would look out for his shadow passing the frosted glass at our front door and I'd go hide.

"He used to hold me down with one hand and he used his other hand to penetrate me," she says, her hand moving to her throat to show the vice-grip of her abuser. She battles to say his name even and she only found out his surname and identity when she reconciled with her parents.

When Candy's family moved up to Joburg she eventually blocked out memories of what had happened to her. That was till, as a teenager herself, she started to suffer from nightmares of being in cupboards and depression and anxiety set in. Eventually she tried to commit suicide.

Psychological help followed but she found no support from her parents or brother. "They were like this doesn't happen to a decent family like ours," says Candy of her "very conservative" family's response. Their retreat into denial was betrayal.

Psychological help through the years has been hit and miss and Candy is on anti-depressants today.

Meeting her husband came as unexpected healing and having her two boys has been a source of profound joy. But there's no magic wand to undo the damage of abuse. She calls it a "black spot on her soul" that no amount of love removes.

"I envy women who enjoy sex while I can't enjoy my own femininity -- that's what he took from me. I even battle to hug people. When my youngest had a sleepover recently he was so stressed out we had to go and fetch in the middle of the night and I knew it was because I projected my fears and anxiety on him."

Candy apologises for more tears falling. She's also perspiring as her body's involuntary reactions defy whatever composure she may have wanted to present. Then again she didn't come to the meeting to apologise or to put things into easy, tidy compartments for others to be spared discomfort. She came because she wants her public record to be testimony to the reality of abuse and its evil twin of enduring trauma.

She wants her speaking out to be a commitment to no secrets from her husband and two boys. She wants them to understand all of her, even the part that she says is fractured in so many places. She wants cycles of violence and child abuse to be crushed with "no more sweeping things under a carpet".

"If just one child can find the courage to speak out, to tell someone and to keep telling till they find that person who believes them. Or just one child reads this and knows they're not alone or not going mad, then I'll know that this process was all worth it," she says.

Candy readies to leave as the interview ends; she will go back to work where no one knows the silent screams of the 10-year- old from nearly 30 years go. She's drained, she says, with a little laugh.

She's not really surprised though at the toil it's taken to speak up for record, the leapt of faith it's taken to allow her story to be reflected in words on a screen for anyone to read. She dries one more tear, she offers up a hug even, because this day she spoke up and she was heard.

*Identity withheld

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