I have been honored to volunteer with Lawyers Against Abuse, LvA, for the last 6 months, and I want to share one of our successes from the last few weeks.
This case involves a 12 year old girl who was kidnapped and raped at knife point by her teacher. He threatened to kill her if she told anyone. When she bravely spoke up, the school tried to silence her with bribes and threats. Her loving family turned to the police. The police refused to investigate. Desperate to protect their traumatized daughter, her parents reached out to LvA through our partner organizations for help.
We succeeded in getting her placed in a different school, the teacher on suspension, and the case reopened. When I came onto the case, the police had changed the investigating officer for the 3rd time, and there was evidence that false statements had been created, in which the girl recants and begs forgiveness from the teacher. How convenient would that be for an overworked and unscrupulous police officer- less forms to be filled out, another case off their desk?
But the routine systemic injustices involved in cases of child sexual abuse in South Africa are not what I want to focus on here. Instead I want to share with you, our supporters, the resilience and strength of this young girl. I met with her and her loving family in their one room home in a township outside of Johannesburg, with a reasercher and translator from a partner organization. The father works day and night shifts at the recycling center, and yet they still scrape by to meet basic needs. We had to tell them that their daughter would need to make a new statement to the police. She immediately started to cry and shake- tensing every muscle- reliving the horror and pain of the assault. You see, this is one of the most terrible effects of sexual violence. Haunting survivors when they try seek justice and help.
But here is where LvA’s model empowers and innovates. We worked with her and her family, playing games while teaching her coping skills to manage her trauma symptoms so that she could speak her truth. It was quite fun actually, practicing grounding and deep breathing while she defeats us in round after round of Go Fish!
By the time we left, she was smiling with relief. She gave a clear statement the next day- advocating for herself that she never recanted, that she wants justice. And you know the best part? At the end of the ordeal she said, “Daddy, I was fine. I was STRONG!”
- Jessica Searle is currently volunteering with Lawyers Against Abuse as a Project Manager. She will be returning to the US to continue her studies in international policy and clinical social work at Columbia University in January.