Popular TV show presenter speaks out

Friday, November 27, 2009

For most, a father epitomizes love, protection, care, a safe place. But for some, these are the monsters that they wish they could flee from.

The rot of innocent children being abused by their fathers is becoming more and more common. One remembers vividly the gory details surrounding the story of the Austrian Elisabeth Fritzl, who was held captive, abused and raped for 24 years by her father Josef Fritzl. Elisabeth fathered seven children with Josef who is now serving a life sentence in prison.

And here in our own country, the phenomenon of fathers raping their daughters is all too real too. It makes one's skin crawl to hear of instances where young innocent girls, have lost their virginity to their own fathers or guardians who subject them to sexual violence everyday.

For one brave rape survivor, prominent sexual violence activist and TV show presenter Andile Gaelesiwe, stigma, fear, uncertainty and hopelessness are the primary factors that stop victims from reporting these incidents.

She says in most cases, the environment is often not conducive for victims to name and shame their perpetrators.

"Most of the time rape and abuse victims always blame themselves for what has happened. In my case I don't know how I would have expected to know that my own father would rape me. Yet, I continued to blame myself.

"There was a part of me that said, when you played with him you should have seen that he was going to do something like this. And at other times I said to myself, maybe I shouldn't have visited him on the weekends," she recalls.

The blame game is what victims do best, according to her. And in almost all cases, they blame themselves. Most do not have the tools to realize that doing so would hamper their journey of healing and become a stumbling block for the victim to report the incident to the relevant structures.

The musician and songwriter was raped by her father when she was 11-years-old and as if that was not enough, fate was to deal her a heavy blow the following year. She was raped and beaten by a stranger on her way to school.

Today Gaelesiwe stands tall as the popular presenter of the SABC1 reality show, Khumbul' Ekhaya, which assists individuals to reunite with their long lost families. She also heads the Open Disclosure Foundation which provides long-term assistance to domestic and sexual violence victims.

Looking at this very confident woman, sporting her fashionable designer garb, not a strand of her neat, blonde hair out of place - one cannot imagine all that she has had to endure. But, she is the first to say it was a long and hard road.

Gaelesiwe maintains that although it is difficult, it is essential for victims to heal and move on with their lives.

She says the biggest mission for her Open Disclosure Foundation has been to try and foster a culture of openness and spread the word to the public that by disclosing you are not weak; but strong because you are fighting for your life.

"It was also complicated for me, but these many years later, I thank God for the spirit and wisdom he gave me to go for therapy and forgive myself as well as the situation itself.

"My father is still alive and I have not seen him since then, but I don't feel the anger that I used to have, I've just let it go.

"I don't want to waste my energy thinking about him but I have to deal with the trauma and go on with my life. I told myself that God and the universe will deal with him," she says with an all knowing smile.

According to the South African Police Service National Victimisation Survey, 54 percent of assaults and 68 percent of sexual offences occur in and around the home of the victim.
The survey indicates that victims are most likely to know their attackers and a significant proportion of attackers are closely related to their victims.

Gaelesiwe says the struggle against domestic and sexual violence requires the public to work hand in hand.

"We as activists, government, police and the public at large have to create an appropriate environment for victims to disclose and stop judging them for something that they did not ask for.

"We have to point fingers at ourselves. We were able to overcome apartheid collectively so why are we unable to collectively deal with the abuse of women and children?"

She maintains that campaigns such as the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children must not be used as a "bandage" but as a plan that will steer the nation in the right direction, adding that the public must come up with creative and active machinery that will visibly address these issues.