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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Witness of violence

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With Aicha

Thinking back on my childhood, what I remember most are episodes of violence.
Either it happened in my own family or neighbouring, I have vivid memories of the violence. A child is always a victim in cases of domestic violence, no matter if the child has been abused or been exposed to abuse. In that matter nothing has changed since I was a little girl. It is hard to know if the numbers of abuse have increased. This wasn’t documented in the same way as nowadays, because what is seen as child abuse today was seen as normal before. It doesn’t matter if someone considers child abuse as normal, it is still painful and humiliating for the child. Witnessing domestic abuse damages the soul of the child. The sense of being helpless and defenceless goes in to the mind of the child and makes the self esteem low.

If the child tries to interfere, which it often does, it will be exposed for verbal or physical violence. The adult, the abuser, who in most cases is a man, doesn’t approve with interference and gets furious. Being intoxicated with anger it is very easy to hit too hard and say harsh words. The words can many times hurt the child harder, the pain in the body will pass but the words will never be forgotten.

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Even nowadays a lot of officers in the police forces around the world don’t consider the experiences of children who have witnessed domestic violence. In some cultures domestic violence is still considered as normal, a way of controlling the spouse (e.g. the wife) and the children. It is a matter of control, a matter of an abuser who lacks arguments and empathy.

Put yourself in the situation of the child, ask someone to hit you hard with a stick and tell me afterwards if it hurt. So why treat someone you claim to love in a way like that? How can expressions of violence and deep anger at the same time express love? It’s a contradiction!

Speaking about love; that is the most amazing feeling in the world. The love between two spouses that is expressed in making love is a gift from God. Intimacy shared with the one you love and respect is an act that makes the couple bond even closer. Making love is a matter of enjoying your spouse and also enjoying giving satisfaction to him or her. There is no violence involved in this, only a moment of heart and joy. This narrative is beautiful, don’t you think? What about the opposite; what about taking without giving? What about slaps instead of caress? What about forcing someone to satisfy your sick libido? What if your victim is a small girl who is completely defenceless?

Is there anyone who can defend that? Is there anyone who can say that it is okay to either touch the private parts of a small girl, or even rape her? This is outrageous! The number of rape cases of young girls has increased in the Gambia! Some would say that these men who committ these heinous crimes are acting like animals. That is an insult against animals because nowhere in the animal kingdom they mate until the young one is ready for it.
How is it possible not to control one’s libido? How is someone’s mind that these kinds of thoughts appear and seem to be acceptable for that person? What is wrong with that person? What has happened to that person so he (in most cases) has got his mind completely twisted?

How many of us women haven’t been a victim for”dirty old men” who touched us inappropriately? The worst thing in this awful matter is that it is often a family member or a close friend to the family who committed these crimes. We can’t call it anything else but crimes, because it is a criminal act to force a child in any kind of sexual act.

This is cut from the Standard Newspaper last Friday:
”Justice Ebrima Jaiteh of the Banjul High Court has expressed concern over the increasing number of rape cases, especially those involving minors.
The judge made the remarks yesterday, while presiding over more than a dozen rape cases in which the accused did not have the means to afford the services of a legal counsel.
Consequently, he ordered the registrar of the High Court to transmit the bill of indictment to the National Agency for Legal Aid to secure legal representation for them.”

This was a matter of ten cases; rape and carnal knowledge and the youngest victim was seven years old. Seven years! Such a young girl who is at the beginning of her life and now it is destroyed because some awful man couldn’t control himself!
It is good that the names of these criminals is published in the newspaper – name and shame! These men don’t deserve to be hidden behind anonymity, their photos should be postered around the country to warn parent’s and their girls. Not only has the child been exposed to utter evil, but she is shamed for the rest of her life. Words spread fast and you all know how people love to interfere in other people’s lives. People will soon begin gossiping and avoiding the girl and her family. The victim finds herself being the one who is blamed. The society should instead gather in solidarity around the family and the girl and give them their support. Empathy is a very beautiful word and it means that you have the ability to understand someone elses pain and sorrow. Are we so eager to speak ill about others instead of trying to understand them and what has happened to them? We can’t call ourselves human if we act like that.

Think for a while of the little girl; she will never be able to trust men again. Even her father will become ”one of these men” just because of his gender. When the girl grows up she will not trust any of the boys, she will always see them as potential perpetrators. If she, against all odds is getting married one day, the wedding night and all the other coming nights will become a nightmare for her. All this because of some man who had switched off his brain so he could activate some other part of his body instead. Our poor girls, who grow up filled with anxiety and shame are made to believe that there is something wrong with them. That they might have ”deserved” the way they had been treated because they had been acting in a way the man could have interpreted as an invitation.

All human beings are created with a sex drive, it is natural for a young person to explore this. Sensible adult’s know this and speak with their children about it. If it feels embarrassing to speak about these things, you could at least say that some things we do with our bodies are something we only do in private. When the children are mature enough to think about sex, they are also mature enough to understand what you mean. A small child can move or dance in a way that might be interpreted as invitational, but remember that the child is only copying what it has seen. It doesn’t understand that someone could have bad thoughts about it.

We must expect a lot of ourselves as well as of our fellow human being. Instead of gossiping we need to speak about things that matter. We need to lift our eyes from what we have in front of us and look at the bigger picture. Where will our actions lead us, and almost importantly – where will our inactions lead us? Follow your gut feeling if some adult is acting in an awkward way. Don’t allow your child to follow a stranger anywhere. Speak with your child and tell her (boys can also be sexual victims) not to trust a strange man who offers candy and asks her to follow him somewhere. Tell your child that no one is allowed to touch her body in a way that is not appropriate. Children have a very strong sense of what is right and wrong, tell them to trust that feeling.

Tell your kid to scream and shout. Tell her to try to run away but not hide somewhere. It is always better to run home, where it’s safe. Tell your child that no matter what has happened, you are always willing to listen and understand. This is so important because the children are afraid, ashamed and fear of to being punished at home. Maybe the child comes home later than expected, maybe the clothes are torn in parts and has blood stains. Don’t allow yourself to punish the child until you know if she deserves it. When you ask the child what has happened it can take days before she opens up and will tell you. The shock and the shame is making it hard to speak.

If you can’t make your child to speak, let her calm down and tell her that things will be okay. Tell her that she can always speak with you and that when she is ready to speak, you are willing to listen. Never, ever blame your child for what an adult has done to it, that is to betray her trust in you. The parents should always be someone the child can have full confidence in. Every child is a gift to us from God, and such a treasure should be cherished.
We need to mobilize all mental forces against all kinds of violence and abuse. We must speak about these things, not be afraid to interfere if we see someone violent.
Violence is not acceptable in any case, but mostly we need to stand up for those who can’t defend themselves.

The other day I was contacted by a Gambian man who had founded an organization. This is called NAAP (Network of African Advocates for Peace).
Salifu Jawo, a young man with a drive to do something to make the world a better place to live in.

Salifu has many suggestions of how we can work for peace, one of them is to start clubs in schools – Advocates for Peace (A4P)
Following social media, Facebook mostly, and listening to Salifu when he spoke about his organization gave me new hope for the future. It seems to be a habit in the Gambia not to have high thoughts about the youth, but they are the future. In all times youth have made mistakes, and in all times the adults have been complaining about ”the youth of today”. Be fair – not all adults are an asset to the society, so why should you expect more from the youth than of your own generation?

Salifu Jawo has a vision, to end violence and abuse in Africa. Can there be anything more important than that? If we can’t end violence and abuse there will be no future for any of us. Let’s begin where we stand, peace building begins with a smile.

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