She comes from a one horse town in the middle of nowhere. It is a place that has stood still in time. The land is arid and harsh. Dust sweeps along the roads of the village and billows through the broken windows of the magistrate’s court. The people are narrow, closed and hard. Her family owns the town. Her grandfather is the commandant.
She is ten years old and has been sexually abused by her uncle. No one listens to her cries. No one hears her words. Her pain and agony are invisible to them. They must be. They do not want to know. It is something they cannot admit to. Their ears are closed to all that may amount to a scandal. They protect their own. Yet they sacrifice their own too. They tell her she is wrong. They say her uncle is a wonderful man. They tell her she must listen to Grandfather for he knows best. Nothing happened to her, they say. She imagined it all, like a bad dream. Her grandma bakes her rusks – hard, dry, tasteless things – but she believes they are delicious. She agrees all must be well, for they say so.
She buries her pain, turns it inward, lets it fester in a place where she can never digest it. She endures life. Her step-father molests her continually. She says, he loved me, he gave me far more than fatherly love. He was kind to me…
#She is twenty, her name is Lee-Ann and she comes to the city to study. She is a silent, withdrawn girl, painfully thin. She asks if she may stay with an aunt and uncle. They take her in and immediately sense something is amiss. She is anorexic, she is wasting away. The ache within her is desperate to be released. Safe, for the first time in her life, it bubbles out of her. Her aunt and uncle book her into a clinic. She is counseled, she is given love and safety. Her story pours from her in a torrent of agony, finally able to find release.
She returns to the home of her aunt and uncle. She receives weekly counseling. She gains a little weight. She is given special meals, she is nurtured. She begins to enjoy life. She laughs, she dances, she smiles. Her aunt helps her with her homework. She learns. She is beautiful and she is safe within this loving and protected environment. She starts the long journey of healing.
It is good, says her psychiatrist, if she doesn’t make this shift now she will be dead in two years. Keep supporting her.
Her aunt and uncle, only too willing to reach out and help this shattered waif, give her everything they are able to. They give her a wonderful 21st birthday party, they buy her tickets to a WWE event, they buy her new clothes and continue to support her in every way they can. They want her to be whole.
Her mother comes to visit. There is no interaction between mother and child – she does not enquire after her daughter’s well being – it is as though her daughter does not exist, as though the world begins and ends with the mother and her fitness regime. She talks about how sore her hips are – from an excess of training. She exercises everyday, sometimes all day. She trains hard, as though she is chasing away demons. She is. She tells her sister-in-law how she too was abused. But she is worried, the family secret is out… She returns home.
Lee-Ann’s aunt is called away to the UK on family business. Will she be okay staying with her uncle? Would she prefer to stay with her uncle’s sister, they ask her? No, she says, she is safe here. She will look after her uncle and they will have a fine time together.
In the dusty arid town in the middle of nowhere there is a family crisis. Those people, far away in the city, they know about Lee-Ann’s abuse. What is worse, they believe her. They will talk. Others will know. This could rock the family - destroy their hold on their one horse town. The family with its connections in police and army swing into action. Small minds think small, no further than the end of their own nose.
The police arrive at the home of Lee-Ann’s aunt and uncle. They’ve had reports, they say, that he is holding the girl hostage. Her uncle is appalled. He denies the accusation, points to her bedroom, invites them to speak to her. They tell her they’ve come to take her away, because they know she is in danger here. They ask her if there’s anything she wants to say. She turns to her uncle and tells him she appreciates how much he and her aunt have done for her. How much it means to her and she turns away. Her uncle is told not to touch her clothes or any of her things – it is all evidence. He is devastated.
She is returned to her family in the middle of nowhere, thrown back to the lions in their den. Only lions would have more honour, show more protection of their young.
Her uncle tries to make sense of what has happened but he’s not given a chance. He receives word that a court interdict has been sought to prevent him from seeing his niece ever again. It is claimed that he has been abusing her. He is gutted.
His wife returns. They speak to their lawyers and drive hundreds of miles through barren nothingness to the place that is nowhere.
The villagers stare at them, these city folk in their smart clothes. They are a threat. The police eyeball them, bellow instructions at them. They are strangers in a surreal show. They are made to wait, to sit quietly and watch the dust gather as it drifts through the paneless windows of the magistrate’s court.
Lee-Ann’s uncle is called before the prosecutor. He is grilled, given the third-degree. He states the facts of the matter. Explains the history, provides affidavits. The prosecutor, doing her job, doesn’t believe him. He persists, answers the same questions over and over again. Lee-Ann enters the court room. She has lost weight. She is pale, her beauty fading.
“Has this man ever harmed you?” the prosecutor asks.
“No,” she whispers staring at her feet.
“Has he threatened you ever?”
“No,” she murmurs.
“Did you ever feel unsafe with him?”
“Was he unkind to you?”
“Then why are you seeking an interdict against him?”
“Because I must,” she whispers, a wild look flickering in her eyes. “I have to.”
The family has drawn together. Their reputation will be upheld. Lee Ann will do as she is instructed. She may not think for herself. It has been forbidden. The dreadful secret will not be revealed. The rot will stop – it will be erased from existence as though it never existed. Lee Ann will be the sacrificial lamb, offered up to protect the reputation of a family that is twisted and corrupt. Her life has no value. Her pain counts for nothing. Her silence is everything. It is likely she will be dead in less than two years.
This is a true story – Lee-Ann’s aunt told me about it yesterday. I don’t know Lee-Ann, I barely know her aunt, but she needed to tell her story. And I, my heart aching and overwhelmed by human injustice and cruelty have to tell it to you so that we know and remember who and what we are and what we do to our children. Lee Ann and her uncle have jointly signed a document saying that neither will ever contact the other again. Her one lifeline has been cut off from her. The people who could have helped her to heal have been forcibly removed from her life. Her psychiatrist has said it is very likely she will not survive. This is child abuse. This is human sacrifice. This is the insanity of the world in which we live – for events like these happen everyday and everywhere. This is in the nature of our humanity. This is Lee-Ann’s story and the story of thousands of other children like her. And their stories must be told, for the rot must stop.
It is Phoktober and I've chosen the two images above as symbolic of Lee-Ann's story - the first with the light and the shadow on either side of a newly opened white daisy, the second showing the bugs destroying the heart of a white daisy.