08 March 2010

The secret crime of sex abuse

Sexual abuse can cause life-long trauma for the victims. But it is a crime that often goes unreported.


 A victim of Cézanne Visser, 32, better known as Advocate Barbie, committed suicide in Botswana at the weekend.

The body of Jeannine du Plessis, 21, was found on Sunday morning in the Kgalagadi area, where she had hanged herself from a tree branch.

Her mother , in speaking to Beeld on Sunday night, directly attributed her daughter's death to the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of Cezanne Visser and Dirk Prinsloo.

Visser was recently sentenced to seven years in prison and Prinsloo has been jailed in Belarus for robbing a bank. He broke his bail conditions and fled South Africa several years ago.

Here's why sexual abuse causes such trauma for the survivors.

An unreported crime

South Africa is one of the countries with the highest incidence of sexual abuse in the world. However, the exact number of cases is hard to pinpoint as sexual abuse goes largely unreported.

According to a counsellor at Rape Crisis, it can take several years before survivors of sexual abuse decide to report the crime.

Young children may not understand what is happening, especially when the perpetrator is an adult and someone they trust. They may sense that it is wrong but because of the power imbalance and age difference, they feel helpless to do anything to stop it.

A secret crime
Sexual abuse is a secretive crime, often involving bribery and threats. If there is a big age discrepancy between the perpetrator and victim, the chances are great that the victim will believe the threats and therefore keep quiet about what is happening. Many also fear that they will not be believed.

It is common for survivors to blame themselves for what had happened. “If only I did this or that, it wouldn’t have happened or I could’ve stopped it” are common thoughts and it may take years before people start to accept that they are not to blame.

In order to survive, people often deny that the abuse had taken place and try to block out memories of the events. Without help, some survivors struggle to come to terms with what had happened and may develop problems such as eating disorders, depression or substance abuse.

Sexual abuse has a huge effect on people’s ability to trust others and some survivors may find it difficult to form relationships later in life.

For more information on sexual abuse and for telephone numbers of organisations in your area, contact Rape Crisis at (021) 447 1467. – (Ilse Pauw, Health24)

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