For 16 days of activism to end violence against women and children, Independent Media will bring you the harrowing true stories behind the statistics. Please Don’t Look Away.

This is Melanie’s story.

Cape Town - Melanie is an angry young woman, and she has good reason to feel that she got a false start in life. Sometimes she wishes she had never gotten out of the starting blocks.

She came from a wealthy family and lived in a lovely home in Cape Town, but her childhood memories and events in her adult life sometimes overwhelm her.

“Every day I think about it (suicide), but these painkiller tablets I take to take away the pain don’t kill me. I have taken so many of them, but I still wake up the next day. I don’t know why I was put on this earth to suffer... to relive it every day...”

What Melanie, 33, relives each day is the day she turned 16. That afternoon her mother rushed her and her younger brother to pack because they were going to run away from home.

“I had a feeling back then that my dad was abusing her, but we never really saw anything. She was the perfect wife.

My mother said ‘we are going to go now, we must leave!’ but then he pulled the car in the driveway and dragged her by her hair into the house. I ran after her with my brother.

He murdered my mother next to me, he raped her, raped me and shot me twice, stabbed me 30 times and left me for dead, but unfortunately, I don’t know why, I did not die,” she said.

Someone saw, but looked away.

Melanie was in a coma in hospital for a month, and because she grew up isolated from relatives no-one came to visit her at Groote Schuur Hospital, so she discharged herself, and took to the streets of Wynberg.

One day Melanie managed to track down her younger brother, who was also living on the streets, but this was no happy brother and sister reunion. He had become addicted to tik and whoonga, and spent most nights looking for more drugs.

“My brother does not want me near him because I am a constant reminder of what happened that day. He is a bit crazy now,’’ she said.

On the streets she realised how vulnerable homeless people are. She was raped and when she reported it, she was told she was “asking” for it by living on the streets, as though this was her choice.

“Nobody helps you on the street, they walk past you like they are smelling shit. There are a lot of people on the streets who are doing drugs, drinking and stealing, but we are not all like that. When you put on your CV that you stay at a shelter, you never get a chance,” she said.

Melanie was married briefly to a man she met on the streets, hoping he could make her happy. Instead he beat her, and she ran away after losing her cashier job because no one wants their pizza served by a woman covered in bruises.

“If you are in a marriage and you get abused, the first time it happens you are a victim, but the second time you are volunteer. I was sick and tired of being a volunteer,” Melanie said.

She has been at shelter for four months and in that time she has found a job, and a friend who she can open up to.

“He is a nice guy, not like my father and my ex-husband. He listens and hears, and really cares. I can talk to him and tell him my story, it feels like I am getting better, even though when I tell him these things, I smell the blood from that day and it all comes back to me again,” she said.

Melanie has never had trauma counselling, and struggles to remain positive about the future and the situation she is in.

Part of this has to do with her belief that as a society we have so much to do to rid ourselves of abuse of women and children.

“Stop turning your back on it. Stop walking away when you see something abusive happening, or making out as though it is not your problem,” she said.

Melanie still has hope that one day she will have a place she can call home, feel safe and not worry about where her next meal will be coming from.

She wants to feel the warm sun on her skin, and for it to feel good again. Like it was before she turned 16.

HERE TO HELP:

The annual 16 Days of Activism provides us an opportunity to highlight the gains and remaining challenges. Molo Songololo is encouraged by the increased response by government and civil society to promote and protect the rights of children.

We remain particularly concerned about poor children who continue to experience various threats that put them at high risk of being abused.

Our work with children in areas like Atlantis, Beaufort West, and Delft indicate that children are exposed to sexual violence every day in their homes, at schools and in their communities.

Molo Songololo provides counselling, therapeutic, empowerment and social support services to children who have been sexually assaulted, raped and sexually exploitation.

Most of the children we work with are exposed to severe poverty related conditions, absent fathers and dysfunctional parenting, substance abuse, domestic, social and sexual violence, and behavioural problems. Recovery, healing and reintegration are long and slow processes for the children, their parents and siblings.

Knowing your rights and responsibilities and making positive life choices can help you protect your rights and the rights of others.

Molo Songololo’s Child and Youth Empowerment Programme educate children about their rights, develop life-skills and promote their participation in public decision-making.

Our gender specific Young Women’s Forums and Young Men’s Forums engage school children on gender specific issues, relations, equality, sexual health and responsibilities.

Children are the best advocates for their rights and protection. Molo Songololo empowers children to advocate for their rights, protection and interests.

Our Advocacy and Awareness Programme also promote the establishment of a national OMBUD FOR CHILDREN and create awareness of children in difficult circumstances.

Our approach is: with children for children.

For us to continue our work we need financial and other support. If you can help, we would like to hear from you.

Visit www.molosongololo.com