12 December 2012

Uganda: Years Later, the Psychological Wounds Have Failed to Heal

To mark 16 days of the campaign against gender-based violence on November 25 to December 10, Agnes Kyotalengerire tells the story of a young woman who was raped by a man she called her grandfather.

She also analyses the psychological pain of rape and how rape victims can be helped

A girl in her early 20s sits on the veranda of a single-room makeshift house in Kaggo, Kinawataka slum in Mbuya, a Kampala suburb. She is sobbing uncontrollably.

As I try to inquire what her problem is in a bid to counsel her, she breaks down. When she later composes herself, she narrates her ordeal.

It all began in 2010 after her step-father's sister, who had just given birth, asked Harriet Nampima's mother to allow her daughter go to their home in Naguru to help her with domestic chores.

Nampima was living with her mother, Mariam Nandudu, who was married to another man with whom she had three other children. When Nampima's mother agreed to send her daughter to help her step-aunt, little did they know this was the beginning of a trauma the family would endure for years.

One afternoon in Naguru, as Nampima took a nap, her 60-year-old step-grandfather pounced on her and raped her. Nampima screamed and the neighbours rushed in to help. The old man fled and has been in hiding since then.

To conceal the crime, Nampima's step-aunt took her to the village in Lugazi where her mother found her a month later.

"My sister-in-law had requested to have Nampima for only one week. When a month elapsed and Nampima had not returned, I was concerned and set out to look for my daughter. I found out where my daughter was," Nandudu narrates.

The day Nandudu brought her daughter back home, her neighbours broke the news of how Nampima had been raped by her step-grandfather.

Surprisingly, when Nandudu told her husband, he swore by his ancestors that his father would never commit such a heinous act and accused Nandudu and her daughter of attempting to tarnish the old man's image. He then packed his bags and left and has never returned.

As Nampima narrates her ordeal, her voice shakes and her lips twitch, revealing the inner pain and shame and a feeling of betrayal, regret and self-blame.

"My daughter breaks down every time we talk about it. When we have no food or money to pay rent, she cries and begs me to forgive her because she believes she is the cause of the family's troubles," Nandudu explains.

As Nampima tells her story amidst tears, one thing is clear: two years later, the emotional wounds have not healed.


Help for gender-based violence victims

According to Yzette Alal, a senior programmes officer at Centre for Domestic Violence Prevention, a non-governmental organisation, Nampima's is a typical example of the emotional trauma common among victims of gender-based violence.

Sexual abuse and domestic violence, he says, have serious consequences such as depression, with victims blaming and hating themselves as well as men. Others contemplate suicide.

Joyce Niwamanya, a mother of three in Kisoro district, was consistently battered by her husband, a policeman, for four years. This abuse caused Niwamanya to suffer a mental break-down. One night, her husband kicked her on the head during a fight. Niwamanya packed her bags and left. She has never remarried and considers every man a monster.

Many people believe that treatment for bruises and medical examination is enough to heal the victims of domestic violence, which is not the case. According to Fred Kifubangabo, the programmes manager of Hope After Rape, a non-governmental organisation, it is important that all victims of gender-based violence get psychosocial support to overcome the emotional trauma.

Kifubangabo says sometimes the effects of trauma do not manifest immediately. "Everyday we counsel victims who get trauma after several years when everyone thinks they had moved on," he explains.

Kifubangabo says every month, about 15 victims seek counselling services at Hope after Rape, with most being youth, who are sexually abused by the people they trust.

More victims, he says, would seek counselling services, but because of stigma attached to rape and domestic violence, they do not open up.

Sharon Namwaka, a counselling psychologist at Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence, non-governmental organisation, says post-violence trauma is a grave problem that requires urgent attention.

She advises friends and relatives of the victims to listen to them and stop judging or blaming them.

"It is important to let the victims know that they are not responsible for what happened to them. They should be assured that they can live a violence-free life," Namwaka says.

She says in the past three years, the centre has given psychosocial support to about 140 victims of domestic violence.

Namwaka adds that most of their clients are women and children, with the youngest aged two years. Most of the victims are defiled by close relatives and acquaintances.

To enable children below 14 years to benefit, Namwaka says psychosocial education is given to caretakers, who, in turn, support the traumatised children.


Ways parents can protect their children against sexual abuse

By Vision reporter

Eight years later, the memories of defilement are still fresh in 16-year-old Precious Mutima's mind. The incident occurred during the holidays when Mutima had gone to help her paternal uncle with household chores. His family had travelled up-country. On the fateful Sunday morning while Mutima lay in bed, her uncle entered her bedroom and defiled her.

"He bought me gifts and warned me against telling anyone. Because he and my father were good friends, I kept quiet. Little did I know that his shameful act would give me endless nightmares," Mutima narrates.

Mary Babirye, a mother of two, cried her heart out as she narrated how her four-year-old son had shunned their newly-hired house help.

"Mummy, I do not want the new nanny. Let aunt Sarah come back," demanded the little boy.

When Babirye asked why he wanted Sarah back, the boy explained how the maid was good to him because she played with his penis and fixed it in her vagina when they remained alone at home.

Mutima and Babirye's cases are just a drop in the ocean. Reports from different rehabilitation centres indicate that a big number of sexual abuse perpetuators were trusted individuals such as relatives or caretakers.

The good news is that with vigilance, parents can prevent their children from becoming statistics of sexual abuse. Below, experts explore how to achieve this.

Grace Oilor, a counsellor, advises parents to talk to their children about sex at an early age. By the age of three, a child should have basic knowledge regarding their private parts.

"Teach the children about the right and wrong touch. Tell them that if anyone tries to touch your kooko, shout, run away or tell an adult."

It is also good to teach children never to keep secrets. Parents need to keep reminding the children that parts of body that are covered by clothes are private and that nobody should touch them apart from when it is bath time.

According to Annet Kisembo, a counsellor, keen monitoring is key. "It is important to always monitor children's play dates and sleep overs because most sexual molestation happens during such times

If a family where your children play does not meet your behaviour standards, do not allow your children to interact with them," Kisembo warns.

She urges parents to investigate, for example, whom their children are going with before allowing them to go on trips or outings.

Sandra Basemera, a counsellor at a rehabilitation centre in Kampala, advises parents to be good listeners to get helpful and important information.

"If a child complains about an adult touching her wrongly, take time to ask where he touched or if the child says he does not like a certain house helper or a relative, find out why they do not like them," she advises.

Pamela Okello, a mother of three, says unlike a child who has been educated about his body, an ignorant child can easily fall victim to defilement or sexual molestation. "When a child speaks out about the intended abuse and threatens to report to an adult, the offender usually abandons the move."

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