Awareness is more than wearing a ribbon.
Since the last 16 Days we have read and heard about some of the most horrific acts of violence committed against young girls in our country. Those pretty little white ribbons we all wore did Anene Booysen a whole lot of good. A few weeks before Anene died, the 16 year –old Charmaine Mare was brutally raped, her arms and legs were cut off with a bolt cutter and her body was set alight. About 2 months after the death of Anene, 14 year-old Thandeka Madonsela was raped, disembowelled and murdered.
The level of gender-based violence in our country is a disgrace but only a fraction of the reality makes it into the press... and yet year in and year out we wear our pretty little white ribbons and hope for the best.
As a survivor of rape, when I was just six years old and sexual abuse between the ages of 9 and 16, I have decided it’s time to stand up and speak out. At the beginning of November I began setting my plan into motion. I have approached companies to present a free sexual abuse prevention and awareness programme to staff during the 16 Days of Awareness.
“No thanks, but good luck to you” was the response. “We are already involved in an awareness programme.” “What do you do?” I asked. “We buy our employees white ribbons,” was the reply.
I will not stop wearing my white ribbon and it warms my heart when I see others wearing their ribbon, but I will not be discouraged by the deafening silence that surrounds child sexual abuse in our country. I will continue trying to convince employees that awareness is more than just wearing a white ribbon.
I will not be discouraged, I will continue to speak out and try and break down the barriers of denial, shame and silence, while trying to educate society about child abuse and the effects it ultimately has on individuals, families and society as a whole.
Story telling is an effective tool of persuasion to inform and change attitudes. By taking my story of survival and intertwining it with the facts about child abuse, I hope to impart enough knowledge to parents and caregivers so that they can keep children safe, or, at the very least, identify abuse at the very early stages.
We need adults to know the difference between “groomers” and “grabbers”. Adults also need to know the warning signs of possible sexual abuse, and they need to know the age-appropriate sexual behaviour of their children. Telling our children to be careful of strangers and not to allow anybody to touch their bodies is just not enough.
The statistics of child sexual abuse is scary. 60% of perpetrators are known to victims but are not family members e.g. family friends, neighbours, teachers, baby sitters etc. A further 30% of abusers are family members e.g. fathers/ stepfathers, brothers, uncles, cousins. A mere 10% of abuse perpetrators are strangers to the victim. These statistics, as well as understanding the grooming process, makes it clear why so few victims of abuse actually speak out.
Very few victims get help or learn how to deal with their anger, guilt, shame and hurt and we end up with generations of broken, angry, confused individuals who easily resort to violence and crime or other sorts of abuse, or they seek solace in alcohol or drug abuse.
If we have any hope of living in a country not known as the rape and child abuse capital of the world, then we need to start talking and listening and we need to move beyond the silence.
Wearing a white ribbon is no longer enough.