A Story about Breaking the Silence of Sexual Violence in Malawi
Edited by Alisa Gagne
Sexual violence is a reality in the lives of many women and children in Malawi. Rapes and domestic violence continue to go unreported as the victims fear the repercussions from their abusers, as well as the fear of lack of support from family, friends and government.
Meet Maria Khosa (not real name)- a seven year old from Mgona. As a little child, she came to the centre for Likuni Phala (porridge). Now, she is in school in standard 1. Maria's mother comes to the centre as a volunteer.
Only last year, when she was just five years old, she was raped by her neighbour.
Her mother had left to buy maize and her father had left the house to find work. Maria was left with older brothers, who went outside to play... leaving Maria alone.
It was not long before her neighbour, a man of about 40 years old, called her into his house. Once inside, he tore off her clothes and viciously raped her. Maria's mother came back from the garden to find Maria weeping uncontrollably. After some coaxing, Maria confessed her story. Her mother immediately approached the chief and they took him to the police. The man is currently in custody, facing penalty. Feeling not only wounded, but violated and completely torn inside, Maria was taken to the hospital and stayed there for the next three months.
One of the points of advocacy is the penalties that these perpetrators face. In many cases, sentences are light and do not begin to reflect the depth of damage done to a child. In this case, what price is just enough to pay for the loss of innocence? What about the damage to the soul that cannot be accessed until it is seen in dysfunctional behaviour as Maria grows? Who pays for that?
This is where Somebody Cares rape crisis counsellors come in. Somebody Cares has established survivor support systems to enable those traumatized by abuse to access help. In Maria's case, she has been able to spend time talking to an assigned community counsellor. With this support system, rape survivors have a platform to speak and get out what they have held within for so long. It is the beginning of an attack against this vicious onslaught on the lives of women and children.
Update: Maria is progressing very well and has begun attending school again. Her mother has a newborn baby and has made a vow to never leave her children alone- a small but substantial step in providing protection for Maria and her siblings.