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Monday, May 29, 2006

My stepfather used me as his wife

The harrowing tale of a nine-year-old

“Up in the air and over the wall till I can see so bright. Rivers and trees and castles and all over the countryside”

“Till I look down on the garden green, down on the roof so brown, up in the air I go flying again up in the air and down”.

Nine-year-old Sean had retreated to his safe place; a place where no one could hurt him, where pain did not exist, only lush green grass, on which stood tall swings and trees bearing hosts of ripe red and yellow fruits, where children who were loved came to play.

As Sean pushed the swings to the maximum he felt the swish of the cool breeze against his face. As wave after wave of pain soared through his body, he pretended that he was one with the birds free, happy and carefree.

The sound of his stepfather's voice tore through the silence like sharp knife.

‘Go and bathe yuh skin and then get in yuh bed,” he said pulling up his pants as he left the room

Wincing in pain, Sean slowly adjusted his own pants and, as he watched his stepfather leave the room, he felt a sense of small triumph. No longer could his stepfather force him to concentrate on the ordeal he was putting him through, Sean had crafted a solution that took some of his power from him.

The child dragged himself from the bed and walked slowly to the mirror that hung on the wall of his bedroom.

“Only a little time more, Sean. It would soon end,” he consoled the tear-streaked face that stared back at him.

Yes, he had a plan. For the longest while he had been saving any extra money that he was given. It was never much but unbeknownst to his mother, he had been walking to school quite a lot lately to save the bus fare. At the last count, he had enough for him to make the getaway trip he had been dreaming about for months, but he knew that he needed to take his younger brother with him.

He knew it was just a matter of time, before his stepfather would begin to do the same thing to little Brian and he could not even bear the thought of that. He was confident that his aunt in Essequibo would rescue them. After all, she was his father's sister and once she learnt what had been happening, she would be sympathetic.

Once before, he had asked his mother to go and live there and she had replied that his aunt, Shirley, would not want to be bothered with him, but he did not believe her. His aunt would take them in. She had to, she was their only hope.

So he had to wait a little longer and save a little more money. “Just a few days more,” Sean repeated staring into the mirror.

As he was crossing the passage way to the bathroom, he heard his mother's voice from the kitchen raised in shrill laughter. Without even peering downstairs, he knew what was happening. This was his stepfather's normal routine. After he'd had his way with him, he would go down stairs and poke fun with Sean's mother and make her laugh.

Sean had witnessed this a couple of times and it made him sick to his stomach.

He was amazed that Ray felt confident enough to perform these acts while his mother was right downstairs.

But his mother, Debra, seemed happy with life. And there wasn't a day that she failed to remind Sean of how happy and comfortable her new partner was making her.

It was as if he could hear her now. “Sean, have you cleaned the yard like Ray asked you to? Don't let him have to come home from work and find it not cleaned. He's done so much for us and we need to be grateful to him. Do you remember what it was like before he came into our lives?”

Sean would never answer her, and he sometimes felt like that made her angry .After repeating the question a few more times without any response, she would continue, “Well anyhow, go and clean the yard,” and that would be that until the next day when the same routine would be repeated about a different chore.

Sean knew he could not answer his mother since the answer would not be what she was looking for. He knew that she wanted to hear that Ray had delivered them from their uncomfortable past, but the truth was that not a day passed that he did not wish that his mother had never met Ray or that they had remained where they lived before.

Sean remembered the first time he saw his stepfather. At the time, they were living on the East Coast of Demerara. The place was small and cramped and housed a large number of his extended family but he was happy and, unlike his mother, was not looking for a means of escape.

Things had been financially rough for his mother since he and his brother's father had walked out on her and on numerous occasions she explained that the boys would have to forego something or the other because ‘money simply wasn't there.'

The crochet that she did mostly only paid off at Christmas time when people wanted chair covers made and so most of the time his grandmother would sponsor the meals in the home for his family.

Ray was first introduced to Sean by his mother almost two years ago as a ‘godsend.' At the time, he did not know the meaning of the word, but because of the context in which it was used he interrupted it to mean that he had been sent by God.

“He was an important official in the joint forces and made a lot of money,” Sean was told. “He had enough to rescue them out of their impoverished situation.” And sure enough, he did. Within a few months, they had moved to live with him in the city.

It was a nice house, and for the first time in his life Sean had a bedroom all to himself. Food, other necessities and even a few luxuries were no longer a problem. And most importantly, his mother seemed like she was finally happy. Ray made her laugh and he seemed genuinely nice at first.

Ray was an easygoing man with a sunny personality and didn't impose too many rules on the boys, much to Sean's delight. His mother was not really strict and one of Sean's greatest fears was that his stepfather would be staunch disciplinarian. But this was not the case.

They played games together as a family and went for drives and Sean was actually beginning to like his new life. Sometimes he even showed Sean his gun and let him touch it .Sean was bit awed by it but pretended otherwise.

Occasionally, Sean got a glimpse of another side of his stepfather's personality when he drank. It wasn't often, but whenever he did, it was like he turned into a completely different person. He would say mean things to the boy's mother and shout and swear a lot, and Sean would hastily retreat to his bed at such times.

It was on one such occasion that the first incident occurred. It was a Friday night, just a few months after they had moved into their new home. Ray had come home late in a drunken state. His swearing was especially loud that night, as he accused his mother of not cooking what he wanted, the house not being clean enough and other trifling matters.
From his bed, Sean tried to keep his ears attuned to what was going on downstairs, because he was always fearful that Ray would hit his mother during one of his outbursts.

However, he must have fallen asleep. At first, it was part of a nightmare; the hands that tore at his clothing, turning him over. But when the unbearable pain began to surge through his body, he woke up screaming. However, the sound was stifled by the large hand that was clamped over his mouth.

As he tried to comprehend what was happening, he made an effort to turn his face around to see who could be unleashing such an atrocity on his body. The unbearable stench of alcohol greeted his nostrils and in the darkness of his room, he made out the silhouette of his stepfather.

So terribly painful was the ordeal, that Sean remembers praying to die.

“Every time he pushed himself into me, the pain was so much I thought I would die, and when I realized that I wasn't, I prayed to be,” Sean related.

When it was over, his stepfather reminded him that he owned a gun and threatened that if he told anyone, he would kill them all. He also let Sean know that no one would believe him, if he tried to complain on him because of his status at his job.

“I believed that he would kill us because I had seen him in a rage, and I know he could do it'

So Sean kept what he had endured to himself and went so far as to even clean the blood off the sheets, so that his mother would be none the wiser.

Unable to walk properly for the next few days, Sean stayed in bed with the excuse that he had the flu. Checking in on him, Sean's mother believed his story since he was running a high fever; however it was not from the flu.

He also became constipated since he could not have regular bowel movements because of the pain.

“My tummy hurt so much I think I blacked out a few times during those days I was in bed. I just cried, slept, woke up and cried again”.

He eventually got better and went back to school, but he lived in constant fear that the ordeal would be repeated. Sure enough it was a few weeks later, and then a few weeks after that.

Soon the awful nightly visits became the routine whenever Ray drank and even sometimes when he didn't.

In order to better endure the crippling pain of each encounter, Sean soon established a make believe place in his mind to where he would retreat.

The discovery

Sean's mother found out about her son's ordeal one night after she bounded into his room, following many unanswered calls to him.

She explained that she was awestruck, angry and really disappointed about her partner's cruel actions towards her son.

This was communicated to him in a fit of rage and according to the boy's mother, the man was genuinely apologetic about his actions, and promised not to do it again.

She told Kaieteur News that she has decided to send Sean to live with his aunt, since she refused to continue to place him at risk of more abuse.

The woman insisted that that she is not an uncaring mother. She also requested anonymity as a prerequisite for the interview. “People just wouldn't understand.”

She explained that the main reason for her decision was the fact that she felt incapable of financially maintaining herself and children without Ray.

“It's easy for people to judge me, but if I am to leave Ray where would I go? I cannot go back to where I came from and, besides, I have moved my son out the house. It's not as if I have him continuing to live in the same house. This way everybody is happy. Sean can no longer be hurt and my family is still together.”

When it was put to her about the possibility that her younger son may now be at risk, the woman responded, “Everyone makes mistakes and she is giving Ray the benefit of the doubt that he will not repeat the offence.”

Asked why she was not intent on seeing Ray pay for such a serious criminal offence committed on her son, which has the capacity to permanently scar him emotionally and physically, she responded that she does not think that she would be able to face the publicity that would stem from such case.

“It's better this way,” she added, “better for everyone.”

Commenting on his mother's decision, Sean, with tears streaming down his face, related to this newspaper that while he would have liked to remain with his family. He is just happy to be getting away from the ordeal.

According to a senior official of the Welfare section of the Human Services Ministry, the position that Sean's mother has taken is not unique. She related that many women opt to stay with the abusers of their children for economic reasons.

A recent study commissioned by the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security and UNICEF estimates that between eight and ten per cent of girls and two and five per cent boys in Guyana have been sexually abused. However since sexual abuse is highly under-reported, the survey noted that these figures do not present an accurate picture of the magnitude of the problem.

The surveys found that the most common perpetrators of sexual violence are fathers and stepfathers. In some areas, teenaged girls are being trafficked to work under exploitative conditions, often as prostitutes.

Girls are sometimes pushed by social or economic pressures into sexually exploitative relationships or prostitution.

The most common perpetrators of physical violence against children in the home are mothers. Of the children who reported being physically hurt, 16 per cent had been hurt by their mothers, seven per cent by their fathers, two per cent by both parents, five per cent by related caregivers ( aunts, uncles, grandparents) and three per cent by step parents.

The study also found that as a result of domestic violence, children are exposed to emotional, sexual and physical violence in the home. The primary causes of domestic violence were reported to be alcohol abuse, financial pressures and infidelity.

Last year, a special Child Protection Monitoring Database (CPMD) Unit was established in the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security with the aim of monitoring all cases of child abuse.

This unit arose from an agreement, which was signed in September, 2004, between the government and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) for the establishment of the database.

Officials from the unit explained that since its establishment, it has been progressing smoothly in monitoring all cases of abuse and other problems which affect vulnerable children.

The CPMD is aimed at protecting children and adolescents from violence through monitoring and surveillance, and since its establishment has benefited from technical support from the Bureau of Statistics.

The CPMD is the first to be set-up in Guyana and the Caribbean , and will serve as a model for other countries.

It will serve as a basis for monitoring children's issues, and help to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

Noting that most cases of child abuse are not reported, the official called on members of the public to report all incidents of child molestation, so these may be followed up in a child-friendly and timely manner.

The government and other child protection agencies have also recognized the need to review and strengthen the child protection services in Guyana .

Each year Child Protection Awareness Week is observed in September and serves to bring awareness to the many problems affecting children, as well as educate on issues related to the protection of children.

“The Ministry has been working assiduously on implementing additional programmes to protect the welfare of children,” the official noted. “We are very concerned about the apparent child abuse and we seriously want to tackle it.”

The Human Services Ministry has also embarked on a massive public awareness campaign, to sensitize the Guyanese people on child abuse.

“We want to get the public at large to make them aware that they have a responsibility to protect children,” the official said.

With support from UNICEF, the Ministry has also established a five-year implementation plan with a two-year start-up and pilot phase. The project costs more than $9m, and will run between two to five years.

The project will address government's concern about the increasing reports of children being victims; and the perpetrators of the violence.


Kaieteur News

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1 Comments:
Anonymous Anonymous said...
That story is so sad and at the same time sickening. I sincerely hope that "Ray" gets sent to jail and suffer the same ordeals in that environment the same way he terrorised that little boy. I have o say, I'm also dissappointed in the mother.

Hopefully, that little boy is doing well.