Komal* looks suspiciously at me. I have come to meet her at a shelter home where she has recently been placed in. She sits next to me but doesn’t look up. I say hello to her and introduce myself. I ask her if she has had any trouble since she arrived here. I tell her that I am here to help her, to make sure she is safe and to ensure that she stays safe.
She looks up at me. She tells me she is well, she is receiving good care but wants to go home.
I ask her whether she knows how her brother and sister are doing, and if they need shelter. She tells me that her uncle has come to look after them, but she must go home.
I then decide to ask her if she knew why she had been placed here? She replies yes, “I told my teacher about my father.” She goes on to tell me her journey of the last few months. About how after her mother had passed, her father would come home some nights and lie down next to her and proceed to force himself on her. After a session in school on safe and unsafe touch, she decided to tell her teacher about these nights.
She immediately proceeds to tell me she should not have done that. I ask her what she thinks she should have done. She says she should have told her elder siblings. They would have made sure it stopped and that her father didn’t go to jail. She would have still been at home and they would have been a happy family. Her father was the best father in the world. He treated all of them so well, he gave them what ever they wished for. It was only after her mother died did he start doing this. And it was only a few times and he would have stopped if they told him to. She had endless instances of love and respect that involved her father, not only at home but also in the community.
I drew her back to the nights when he touched her. I asked her how she felt and if she wanted that to stop. “Yes!” She did want that to stop! Yes she was hurt. Both physically and emotionally. But her father was a good man; he did not deserve prison. When would he be sent home? She ended by saying she would go live in the village away from him if that’s what the court asked her to do. But she wanted him out and back home.
Komal ‘s story is only one of the many stories of the guilt and shame that children face, not just about the abuse itself, but also about the fact that they are responsible for tearing their families apart and sending someone from their family to prison.
Do I have a way for the abuse to stop and still have them at home? Is a very common question that I get asked.
If justice is going to destroy their life they no longer want it. Unfortunately for them, justice is not quite what they imagined it to be.
Our system, as hard as it tries, is limited to one form of justice: Lady Justice, with eyes blindfolded, scales balanced and a sword. However, true justice needs to see, to understand the various unforeseen dynamics peculiar to a victim’s case. It needs to sometimes bend it’s scales for the disadvantaged. It needs to lay down it’s sword and provide healing. It needs to stop being ironical.
By Debbie Patel
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the child.