What to do when your child is raped?

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Jes Foord, a rape survivor, started a 'Rape Survivors Foundation' called "The Jes Foord Foundation". PICTURE: THOMAS HOLDER

A parent’s worst nightmare occurs when they hear their child has been raped. They’re traumatised at what has happened to their precious child and they may distance themselves because it is too difficult to face or believe, says Cindy Aberdein, an intern registered counsellor at the Jes Foord Foundation.

“Not everyone around them cares about the rape and families may feel alone in dealing with some of the things that happen,” she says.

Aberdein was speaking at an event at Glenwood High School in Durban, aimed at informing parents about the scourge of rape that is increasingly being perpetrated on children.

Statistics from the Medical Research Council indicate that of all reported rapes, a staggering 40.8 percent were committed against children (under the age of 18) – and that is a conservative figure since child rapes are even more under-reported to authorities than adult rapes.

Sexual offences against children include incest and sexual abuse, the use of a child for sexual gratification, which includes pornography, touching or fondling, and penetrative sexual acts.

“Every rape survivor takes a different amount of time to heal emotionally after the event,” says Aberdein. “Some do so quickly and some take years. Rape survivors need their supporters to be patient and give them the time and support that they need.”

If your child is raped or suffers sexual abuse, this is what you should tell her or him:

l You believe them.

* They are not to blame for the rape.

* You still love them.

* You want to be there for them, to listen to their problems and support and protect them.

* You want them to love themselves and look after themselves and make themselves feel good.

* Rape is perpetrated by bad men and boys. Being raped does not make you bad.

* Healing takes time.

Parents should make time to listen.

* Show love and admiration with words and touches, when touching is okay for the survivor.

* Keep the normal rules of the house so that the survivor’s feelings that the world has completely changed are not reinforced.

* Encourage survivors to look after themselves by washing, dressing and eating properly.

* Let survivors (unless very young) make decisions about their lives, how to cope and establish a sense of safety. This is essential for regaining control.

* Acknowledge your feelings. Remember it is alright for you, as a parent or partner, to have strong feelings, including wanting to react with violence towards the perpetrator. It is not acceptable, however, to act on these.

* Suggest that survivors use techniques such as writing down feelings and thoughts to help process them.

* Get professional help from a counsellor or psychotherapist if this is available.

Parents should not feel they are to blame for what has happened, says Aberdein.

“They need to take care of themselves and have someone to talk to. They should remind themselves that they cannot guarantee that the world will be safe and they are not bad people because of this.

“It is normal to feel some of the anxiety that survivors feel. It is not necessary to hide these feelings from survivors, but parents should not make them feel guilty for the stress they are experiencing.”

Aberdein stresses the importance of building a relationship with your children.

“Be aware of what is happening in your children’s lives. Let them know they can talk to you about anything, even when it is awkward.”

Children may display the following behaviours after a rape:

* Nightmares, disturbed sleep and bed wetting.

* Changes in behaviour such as inappropriate sexualised activities.

* Frequent outbursts of anger.

* Increasingly poor self-esteem and feelings of guilt and shame.

* Repeated vaginal infections or injury.

* Changes in concentration.

* Fear around certain people.

* Becoming withdrawn or depressed.

* Afraid of relationships or having many sexual partners as teenagers.

* Depressed, suicidal or hurting themselves deliberately.

People think it won’t happen to them, says rape survivor

Are South African parents in denial about the scourge of rape that is estimated to occur every 17 seconds?

It appears so, judging from the dismal turn-out at rape survivor Jes Foord’s talk at Glenwood High School.

Schools across the Berea and Morningside were e-mailed flyers about the talk – aimed at parents and giving advice on what to do if a child is raped. It was punted on two radio stations and publicised in several newspapers, including the Daily News, as well as in social media, but, besides a contingent of Glenwood boys, just nine people showed up to hear Jes, an eloquent, engaging and passionate speaker, talk about something that affects an estimated 50 percent of women and 40 percent of men, according to Crime Statistics South Africa.

Jes, 24, posted her disappointment on Facebook that night. Was it the weather (a sprinkle of rain and a couple of lightning flashes), the cost (R75 which goes to the Jes Foord Foundation) or denial and apathy?

Jes’s publicity manager, Justin De Beer, posted: “It is shocking. The weather won’t put a rapist off raping his next victim. Money won’t put a rapist off raping his next victim. I challenge all parents to answer one question: What do you do when your child is raped? Where do you go? How do you cope?”

Another Facebook friend posted that she had publicised a fashion show, make-over and a talk by Jes at her Highway gated estate of 100 houses. Four people showed up. Others speculated that late-afternoon sports activities clashed with an early evening event. Probably, one of the main reasons was an attitude of “not in my backyard”.

“People think it cannot happen to them,” says Jes.

“They think rape is something that happens elsewhere and a rapist is someone who jumps out from behind a bush and brutally rapes a woman, but 70 percent of assailants are known to the victim.”

Jes was raped by four men at Shongweni Dam in 2008, when she and her father, Tim, took their dogs for a walk. She decided to go public after her ordeal. She said while her body was violated, she made a decision not to let the rapists take her mind, personality and spirit too.

She formed the Jes Foord Foundation (jff), based in Hillcrest, where rape victims can be helped to become rape survivors. She works full time fund-raising for the JFF.

She gives motivational talks to schools and organisations, and improves education about rape among men and boys, as well as women and girls.

She works tirelessly with rape counsellors in rural areas and has plans in place to improve facilities at police stations, district surgeons’ rooms and in courtrooms for those who have been raped.

Her eventual goal is to set up a special care centre for survivors where they can get the medical, psychological and legal attention they need under one roof. It will be a safe, comforting, clean place staffed with knowledgeable, supportive people – not always the case at present, she says.

Jes goes to schools, churches and charities to talk about the issue of rape. At many she receives standing ovations. Glenwood High held a Rugby against Rape Day last year and the Foord Foundation has launched the Rugby against Rape Project, which can be tracked on the new JFF website, www.jff.org.za

The Jes Foord Netcare Centre at St Augustine’s Hospital was opened last year and a care centre was opened in Chesterville with the help of the upliftment organisation, Vukukhanye. The centre provides care and counselling to rape survivors, and victims of domestic violence and child abuse, as well as other social services.

“When you go through a trauma like rape, it sits inside you like a ball of poison that eats away at you. That is why it is vital for people who are raped, girls or boys, men or women, to talk about it and to get counselling. Every time you talk about it, a bit of that poison is released. I am coping because I speak about my experience all the time.” - Daily News

* For more information, contact the Jes Food Foundation, 119 Heritage Market, Hillcrest, 031 765 4559, e-mail [email protected] or see www.jff.org.za

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