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Incest a psychological crime

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Two years ago a weekly newspaper carried a story about a father who sired at least five children with his own daughter at a village in Masvingo.

Although neighbours were aware of the goings on, no one dared to ask or make a report because the man involved was feared in the village so much that he went about his affairs as though all was normal.

We are told that he had instilled so much fear in people around him and that he always carried dangerous weapons that included a machete and an axe, perhaps to fight anyone who would ask him about the state of affairs.

However, when the whole saga became public, there was so much public outcry from all corners of Zimbabwe resulting in his arrest.

But this development did not solve the problem at all. The daughter and her children immediately became outcasts as villagers taunted them.

They were described as a bad omen to their generation.

No one wanted the woman near them and their children were barred from all activities that involved her children.

The man had apparently chased away his wife and turned his daughter, who was hardly a teenager then, into his wife.

This family had become so destitute that a cotton company donated foodstuff and clothing to them. But no one knows to date what has happened to them and it would not be surprising to hear that they are living on the streets.

The daughter had initially resisted the sexual abuse but eventually gave in as it became apparent that no one would believe her.

The community and immediate family failed this woman so much.

She could have been saved a long time ago but the world turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to her plea for help.

Most readers should also be familiar with the story of Josef Fritzl, the man who imprisoned and sexually abused his daughter Elisabeth in a cramped, rat-infested dungeon he built beneath the family’s home in Amstetten, dungeon for 24 years.

Fritzl, who was given a life sentence, fathered seven of his daughter’s children including one whom he personally killed and burned.

The 73-year-old Fritzl told a court- appointed psychiatrist that he was “born to rape” and that he loved his victims “in his own way” and that he was “no sex monster”.

Elisabeth, now 44, and her six surviving children, who range in age from six to 20, spent months recovering in a psychiatric clinic at a secret location. Prosecutors described her as a “broken” woman after enduring constant rape episodes — some in front of her children.

Neighbours said they had heard noises from the dungeon but never suspected anything sinister happening around that property.

These people too failed Elisabeth.

Incest has been cited as the most common form of child abuse and yet it is an extremely under-reported crime.

This type of abuse and betrayal of trust has the serious consequences of psychological and emotional harm to children.

Incest has been described as a violation of the child where he or she lives by a person who has trust and authority over them. A child molested by a stranger can run home for help and comfort. A victim of incest cannot.

It is generally considered incest if the child has been used in a sexual manner by fathers, or step-fathers, mothers, or step-mothers, brothers, sisters or cousins as well as members of their extended family such as grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Because perpetrators are people that are very close to the victim, people who wield power and authority over them, it becomes very difficult for them to speak out.

Some cases come to light during lessons on child sexual abuse in schools, with teachers becoming some of the people that initiate prosecution.

A Harare teacher said he discovered a high school student, who lived with her father from about the time she was seven years old when her mother died, became intimate with her father when she reached puberty.

“It was during a lesson on child abuse that she came over to the staff room and broke down as she narrated her ordeal. I was so helpless about the whole matter because I did not know what steps to take because the girl was too scared to report the matter.

“Her father unfortunately died before he had faced the wrath of the law,” said a teacher from Dzivaresekwa in Harare.

A Harare minister of religion Erasmus Marikamayi said: “The bottom line is the breakdown of the family unit as there is no cohesion between husband and wife. That drives husband to seek comfort from the daughter.”

Marikamayi said there could be so many unreported cases because families would rather not expose this social problem.

“I don’t know whether this conspiracy of silence is all about protecting the dignity of a family or just a matter of being cautious. These people will however require intensive counselling and deliverance because when the two, who were one like a married couple, are eventually separated, they suffer deep wounds that require spiritual healing.”

Another story which made headlines around the world was that of a Mwenezi woman and her son who did the unthinkable slightly over a year ago.

They fell in love and decided to get married. The woman, Betty Mbereko is now expecting her son’s child.

Mbereko (40), who was widowed 12 years ago, had been cohabiting with her first child, Farai Mbereko (23). Betty shocked a village court when she said the affair with her son had begun three years earlier.

“Look, I strove alone to send my son to school and no one helped me. Now you see that my son is working and you accuse me of doing something wrong.

“Let me enjoy the products of my sweat,” she told the village court. Farai said he was more than prepared to marry his mother and would pay off the lobola (bride price) balance his father had left unpaid to his grandparents.

The Dance of Wounded Souls, a book by Robert Burney, carries quotations from survivors of incestuous relationships and this is what some of them said:

“When trusted people violated our bodies they betrayed us heinously. They did further mutilate our relationships with our hearts and souls, with our bodies and sexuality – because we thought it was our fault.

“We thought it was our fault because we were kids relating to older people who were higher powers to us – and because too often the perpetrators told us it was our fault and threatened us if we told.

“A child who is abused by one parent and doesn’t tell the other parent, or by a grandparent or uncle or family friend and doesn’t tell parents – is a child who already knows that he/she will not be believed, a child who has already gotten the message that her/his needs and emotions are not important to the parent(s.)

“Any child who felt loved and protected by his/her parents would immediately tell them if someone was hurting her/him.

“The incredible pain and shame generated by sexual abuse often causes a person to identify their body, and their sexuality, as the enemy.

Incest and sexual abuse cause self-hatred.”
There is no particular organisation that targets survivors of incest in Zimbabwe as these are batched together with child sexual abuse case.

If you know of someone that has survived incest or a person who is living in an incestuous relationship, please let us share their story. We will protect the identity of people involved.

Feedback:ropafadzom@newsday.co.zw

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