THE terrible fate of Anene Booysen was in my mind as I read the latest court decisions this week. So it’s not surprising that John N’s appeal judgment caught my eye – even though it was marked ‘Not Reportable’.
It’s a case from the High Court in Grahamstown where N, found guilty of raping his eight year old grandchild and sentenced to 16 years, appealed against his conviction.
The girl’s mother died in 2006 and she was entrusted to the care of her grandparents, N and his wife. Giving evidence in the trial, the girl said that during 2007 she was at home with her grandparents. They were drinking and began to quarrel; then N assaulted his wife and she left to sleep over with her sister.
According to the child, after the grandmother walked out, he raped her. She then fled to a friend’s home for the night. She didn’t report the rape to her friend and family because, she says, her grandfather threatened to kill her if she told anyone.
When she went home next day her grandfather asked where she had stayed the night and she told him she’d been with her friend. Then she set out to find her grandmother who wasn’t yet back from her sister’s where she had gone after the quarrel and assault of the previous night. On the way the girl found her grandmother’s sister to whom she reported the rape before going back to the house of her friend where she’d stayed the night before.
The grandmother, who by now had heard of the child’s allegations via her sister, soon arrived at the friend’s house where she found the two girls playing inside. What happened next is this: ‘Her grandmother went into the room and started assaulting her with open hands on both cheeks and on her nose and she started bleeding.’
That version of events is borne out by the grandmother who admitted she had assaulted the child, as well as by the friend’s mother. She said the girl asked to stay the night as she was ‘afraid of her grandfather’. Next day she sent the girl home, accompanied by other children. The girl and the other children all came back later, followed by the grandmother who assaulted the child so badly that the friend’s mother had to call in help to stop the beating. She then confronted the grandmother and the girl to find out what was going on and, hearing the rape allegation, she then called the police along with an ambulance and the girl was taken to a doctor.
N lost his appeal and his conviction was confirmed. The point of retelling this story however is not to say that attacks and rapes of women and girl children are an everyday event; that much is already well known.
Rather it’s to say that this is not the first time the courts have heard of negative consequences for someone who reports she has been raped – and we’re not even talking here about reporting to the police. Just telling your own family can have disastrous results. In this case the girl was severely beaten by the very person she should have been able to rely on most for support. In another recent case young friends of a child who had been raped were beaten by family members to establish whether they were telling the truth about the incident.
Imagine the double breach of trust in the case of N’s grandchild: your grandfather rapes you and then your granny beats you up when she finds out.
This child’s story stresses the need for family trust and support so that women and girls will have the confidence to seek help after sexual molestation of any kind. When even your own family can’t be counted on to stand by you, who will have the courage to lay an official charge?
It illustrates another problem: the grandmother who assaulted the girl was herself assaulted by her husband. Where violence and abuse are part of the behaviour of one generation, it’s only too likely that the pattern will repeat itself. Where a man assaults a woman with impunity, rape is only a little further down the line.
What appals me most about this story though is that both grandparents treated the girl as an object, a ‘thing’ to be assaulted or raped at their pleasure. Not much different, is it, from the thinking of those who raped and killed Anene Booysen?