She was a girl from the neighbourhood and I will call her Ruth. She was about 13 years old and had just entered high school. She and her other siblings lived with their paternal grandmother. Her mother had died when Ruth was a few years old and her father had remarried, living in another part of town with his new wife.
Ruth’s grandmother fell sick and had to go and live with her first daughter, Ruth’s aunt, at her home. So the burden of looking after her younger siblings fell on Ruth’s shoulders in her grandmother’s absence.
At the time that her grandmother was sick and away, we started seeing Ruth’s father more often. No one in the neighbourhood knew much of him before this. The ladies from the local church were pleased that he was finally taking responsibility for his children.
As her grandmother’s condition worsened, Ruth’s father’s visits became more frequent. He made a point of arriving on a Friday evening and return back to his wife and other children on Sunday. Ruth became withdrawn, missed school and we all thought she was not handling being the head of a child-headed home well.
The church ladies, my mother included, went and comforted her often, offering help whenever they could.
Then one day, my mother told me that Ruth had confided in her that her father’s sudden visits were far from innocent. Scared and confused, Ruth said her father had raped her on the numerous occasions during his visits.
First beating her up and accusing her of sleeping around, then went on to rape her on almost each visit. This was a girl who went from hardly knowing her father to being so brutally connected to him.
By then I had just started a career in journalism, budding with ideas and ready to take on the world. But that story cruelly disarmed me. My heart sank for the girl I knew so well, whose life had been so pitilessly altered by a man she called father. It hit me that it was unlike any other story I had covered.
This was a story of a girl, some years my junior, whom I had watched grow. In my heart, I felt that doing a story on this girl and exposing her to the world, would be opportunistic and I wanted to help her personally. I called the leader of the Girl Child Network, Betty Makoni, to ask what kind of help could be offered to Ruth. Betty said she had broken her leg and was recuperating and as such could not help at that moment.
Ruth’s father was arrested and I decided I was going to attend his court sessions. I would travel to the town where he was being held only for his case to be postponed on several occasions. I could not keep up with his next court appearances and eventually stopped going.
When Ruth’s grandmother heard of the rape, she cried bitterly and refused to eat. She passed on within weeks of the news. Ruth, together with her siblings, went to live with a relative. She left school at age 15 without completing high school and had a child soon afterwards.
I think of Ruth often and her story traumatise me. I have read and even covered rape and other equally brutal stories as a journalist. But still my mind refused to accept that there could be people so heartless and cold. I know there are many people like Ruth, whose stories will never be told in full and whose lives are turned upside down so severely by the very people who are supposed to protect them.Post published in: News