Cyberbullied, Verbally Shamed: Double Trouble for Sexual Abuse Victims
Often times in this country, victims of sexual abuse, usually girls and women, are cyberbullied and verbally shamed by the public which tends to protect perpetrators of sexual abuse.
In this analysis, Chikondi finds that there is a heavy price for one to pay for speaking out after being sexually abused, a tendency where a victim is shamed, blamed and doubted.
Chikondi highlights the story of Chisomo, a 16-year-old girl from Dedza, who was forced to abort three pregnancies after being defiled several times and being impregnated by her guardian.
Chisomo’s mother, the chief of her village and most of her relatives, instead of siding with her, they all accuse her of lying, while shielding the guardian in the matter.
"The pain was unbearable after the third abortion; the doctor said my insides were turning green,” recalls Chisomo.
She was 14 when a purported “Good Samaritan” forced himself on her. The man, we shall call Banda, came into Chisomo’s life as a well-wisher. He is a civil servant in Dedza while Chisomo was a helpless girl from a poverty-stricken home that could not afford the basics of life.
Banda had offered to take the girl into his home and support her so she could get an education. But the Good Samaritan actually turned out to be a monster, a sex maniac. Banda preyed on Chisomo - not once, not twice but times without number.
In fact, between 2019 and 2022, Chisomo says she had been forced to abort on three occasions. Chisomo says she was always brutalized when Banda’s wife was away.
“The first time, his wife had gone to a funeral. He came to my room at night in an underwear only. He grabbed me, shut my mouth and did his thing. It was painful. When his wife returned, I told her about the incident. She told me not to tell anyone because he could lose his job. She said it was dangerous,” said Chisomo.
A few weeks after the incident, Chisomo was pregnant.
Banda and his wife took Chisomo to a private clinic for a clinical abortion.
"They made me take oral pills. Some pills were inserted in my private parts. I bled a lot. For two weeks, I was sick with stomachache. It felt so itchy and I was dizzy for a long time," said Chisomo.
The defilement never stopped, she says, such that, again, she fell pregnant. Chisomo says this time, the guardian couple induced abortion right in their home.
This time, Chisomo went to her home village and disclosed her ordeal to her biological mother but to no avail.
While she expected sympathy and support from her mother, she got scorned. Accused of lying, she was ordered back to the den of torment and sexual brutalization.
"My mother invited her brother, my uncle. Both shouted at me, accusing me of lying. It was so painful because I expected my mother to believe me. To side with me. But she was on the side of my abuser," said Chisomo.
This was the point Chisomo completely broke down physically, mentally and psychologically. She was depressed. Her performance in school dropped. Meanwhile, she says, the abuse continued.
And yet again, Chisomo says she conceived. And yet again, she was taken to a clinic for an abortion.
For weeks, she bled profusely. At this point, she contemplated taking her own life. This is when the District Social Welfare Office got wind of the predicament of Chisomo. The office intervened. Banda and his wife got arrested and Chisomo was taken into a safe home.
In the midst of all these, her mother still doubts Chisomo.
"She never told me she was sexually abused. That is why l don't believe her. She is a liar. l believe this man is innocent. We even visit the man and his wife in prison where they are on remand. We bring them food. We will be happy if they are released.
"I am not afraid of the chief and his advisors. l has been to police several times. This is a family matter. No one should interfere. It's not their child. I am not happy as a member of the family of the victim," Chisomo’s mother declared.
Aaron Mpalare is a social worker in Dedza.
"It is unfortunate that the person who was supposed to protect the girl, abused her and the most painful part, her mother and her relatives denied her. We have taken the girl to a safer home now," said Mpalare.
When the Malawi Human Rights Commission released a report on sexual abuse that some women suffered at Msundwe in Lilongwe at the hands of the Malawi Police Service on 18 December 2019, some sections of society doubted it, labelling the victims liars.
Gender officer at the commission Grace Ntawali said this tendency of blaming sexually abused women and girls is stopping others from speaking out, leading to many victims to suffer in silence.
A famous comedian, Felistus Nyauyu Ngwira, says she too faced a backlash when she shared her experience with a man who allegedly offered to support her cause with K10 million in exchange for sex.
"After sharing my experiencing, the whole country spent three days discussing it. l was shamed, blamed and doubted. If l were a weak person, l could have died of depression, it is sad that women were in the forefront attacking me. This is why most victims of sexual abuse do not come out to disclose their issues. They suffer in silence," said Felistus.
It also happened in 2021 when some women at the state broadcaster Malawi Broadcasting Corporation came in the open to report sexual abuse. The social media was awash with accusations of conspiracy theories against the complainants. The matter is still in court.
McBain Mkandawire, Executive Director for Youthnet and Counselling (YONECO) says shaming and blaming victims of sexual abuse only perpetuates the practice. Mkandawire says last year alone, YONECO received over 2000 defilement cases.
Between January and August this year, the police recorded a total of 398 defilement cases in the country.
Deputy police spokesperson Harry Namwaza said they are equally concerned and they are sensitising people about evils of defilement.
Government is also providing counseling to sexual abuse victims. Further, former gender and social welfare minister Patricia Kaliati told Zodiak, government is pushing for a policy where family members who side with sexual abusers would have to be arrested as well.
Clinical psychologist Chiwoza Bandawe says doubting sexual abuse victims is actually abusing them twice and he stresses the need for family members and the community to support them during such a painful period.