Alleged Sexual Assault Survivor Tells Her Story
How my Cousin Brothers Forgot I was their Sister ‘It was like a daughter’s word was somehow worthless than a son’s.’
At 16, after the death of her father, Jane (not her real name) moved in with her aunt (dad’s sister) and her family. They lived in a two-bedroom house and since all her aunt’s children were boys, she had no choice but to merge her own sleeping arrangements with that of her cousin brothers – and sometimes their male friends.
This was when the trouble started.
One of her brother’s, coming home drunk after a night-out, she claimed, would allegedly try and force himself onto her; she resisted.
Her cousin’s friend who frequently stayed over at the house would fondle her in the night as she tried to sleep.
In a situation where protective brotherly instincts usually take over, Jane found herself fending off the sexual advances of her own cousins, whose mother, she had considered her own.
Jane refused to report the transgressions because she did not want her cousins to end up in jail at such a young age.
She pretended to be normal on the outside to hide the fact that she was miserable and lonely on the inside. When she finally gathered the courage to tell her elders what had happened, they simply chose not to believe her; this perhaps shattered her the most.
As she now picks up the pieces after her horrendous experience, she says she forgives her family for all that had happened, even if no one had come close to mentioning the word ‘sorry’ to her.
However, it is urgent, she said, that parents start educating their sons from a very young age on topics of a sexual nature – a topic that most parents shy away from especially in relation to respecting women.
This is Jane’s story:
Having the heart to forgive a close family member who has taken away my dignity is not easy.
How can it be when I see the face of those men almost every day since it happened?
I try to move on one day at a time. I do not know if that makes me a strong woman but I just want to live a normal life.
At the age of four I lost my mum; twelve years later, I lost my dad too. I was taken in by my dad’s sister whom I looked up to like my own mum - and my uncle as my dad.
With my cousin brothers there I felt I had found what I lost; I had a family again.
I didn’t know at the time how wrong I was.
This year I tell my story of how the boys in my new home never saw me as their sister. They ogled me as if I was a sexual offering presented to them.
I treated every boy that came home as brother. When they came over, I would sleep next to my cousin thinking it would be safer there.
A time came when my cousin brother, who was younger than me, would come home drunk. He would sleep beside me and force me to kiss him. He would pull me towards him smiling. I would push him off and move to the side of the wall.
He acted as if nothing had happened. A young man who also stayed with us would come and lie beside me in the middle of the night thinking I was asleep and start to forcefully touch my vagina. He would put his hands under the blanket and just grab at me.
I would push his hands off and walk out of the room, scared and confused.
They did it without any fear, as if it was their right. I sometimes wondered if they discussed whose turn it would be every night.
I lost focus in school and stopped attending soon after. I would be happy when other family members would visit but when we were alone I would live in fear.
At night I would sit in a corner and just try to stay awake so nothing would happen. I would silently wish my father was still alive. I finally came out when one of my cousin sisters, who was the daughter of my namesake, came over for a short while and saw the condition I was living in. She questioned where I was sleeping and why I shared a room with four boys.
I can recall the exact day when I burst into tears and explained all that was happening to me.
I was told to go to the Police station and give my statement and have the two boys charged.
But I couldn’t; the two boys were too young to go to jail and my uncle and aunt would never be able to take the shame knowing what they did.
Holding a family meeting to discuss the matter did not help because they did not believe a word I said. It was like a daughter’s word was somehow worthless than a son’s. I managed to move out of the house. Seeing my cousin brother and the other boy’s faces still scares me to this very day.
But I try to live my life without fear with the help of those around me. The part of that wanted to heal was stronger than the part that was broken.
Sometimes I wonder if I do take it to court, what good would it bring me?
I still picture myself in that room having sleepless nights and wondering who was going to force himself on me next.
Would seeing my cousin and his friend in prison make me happy? Would I be able to see a mother crying after her son is locked up?
I pray my children never have to go through this.
*This interview was edited for clarity.