05/12/2016 07:29 SAST | Updated 05/12/2016 12:31 SAST

'It's Complicated' Confronts Sexual Abuse And The Silence That Follows

We need to talk about the silence in our families when it comes to sexual abuse and rape.

Photo of a woman with short black hair who is sitting huddled on the wooden floor sad and crying while the shadows in the shape of a hands are trying to grab her. Theme of the photo is fight against the violence against women.


When you finally pluck up the courage to tell your parents one of your family members raped you, your hope is that they will do something about it. You hope and pray they will take drastic action so you will get the justice you have so desperately prayed for all your life. But then they don't and just remain silent. They do everything in their power to cover it up and ensure that the family name is protected. You feel rejected, you're in pain and you wonder why they would choose him over you. Why would they choose to protect the family name and not your honour?

This is exactly what the character Mandisa is going through right now on "It's Complicated". For years she harboured anger and resentment against her uncle who raped her over and over again all while they lived under the same roof.

In the most recent episode, Mandisa and her mother argued about what should happen next when her mother cried: "But what will people say?". Mandisa was already angry with her mother for doing nothing all those years. She refused to believe her mother had no clue what was happening around her. "You were a nurse mama. Where did you think I got all those infections?" Mandisa's mother had her head buried in the sand all those years but now here she was, continuing to ignore the issue. Here her mother was continuing to cover up lies so no one would have to know that her brother was a shameless man who violated a young girl and carried on with his life as if nothing happened. Before the first confrontation two weeks ago, her mother could claim ignorance. But what was her excuse now?

This is not uncommon. A few years ago I participated in the Silent Protest at Wits University. It was the first time the institution had the protest that was started at Rhodes University. As a Rhodes alumni, I knew this was one time in the year where women who had survived forms of sexual abuse could come together, talk and heal. In a debriefing session after the march on campus, one young woman spoke about how she and her sisters were raped by the same family member at different points in their lives. Each of them had no idea the other had been through the same pain but they all knew their grandmother was well aware of what this man was doing. She covered it up. It was important to protect her son. It was important to protect the family image. "What would people say?"

We are hurting young women and children for the sake of avoiding embarrassment without sparing a thought for how this is affecting the person who is actually the victim in all this. At what cost are we protecting our family image? At what cost are we avoiding shame? At whose expense?

Mandisa is hurt. She is angry and believed speaking up would help her overcome all the suppressed resentment. But even now, even after she spoke up, they chose him. Yet again, they chose silence.