Johannesburg - Lerato Tau is using her experience as a victim of sexual abuse to empower and motivate other women to take ownership of their lives.
Unlike thousands of women who marched on August 9, 1956 to protest against the pass laws, hers is a different struggle but one worth noting as South Africa marks Women’s Month.
Tau has become a champion for women and girls who have experienced abuse.
The 22-year-old was raped by a trusted family friend at the age of 8 while her mother was away from home.
“I told him he was hurting me, but he did not care. It was sore. I cried a lot. When I said I was going to tell my mother, he said he was going to kill me,” Tau said. She never did tell her late mother what had happened.
“I did not have the guts to tell my stepfather. I thought he was going to say I deserved it or blame me for what had happened,” Tau said.
Tau now works as a facilitator at Khulisa Social Solutions, a non-profit organisation that has helped more than 1.5 million vulnerable people to reinvent their lives.
The organisation’s vision is to inspire, empower and enable South African youth and marginalised groups to unlock their potential and develop skills towards building a positive future.
Tau first heard about Khulisa when a facilitator came to her school in Daveyton. But a turning point in her life was when she finished matric and joined Khulisa as a facilitator herself.
After attending the training, Tau learnt how to deal with being a survivor of abuse and was also equipped with the skills to empower other victims.
After listening to the horrendous experiences of others at Khulisa, for the first time Tau was able to relate her rape ordeal.
“That’s when I realised I was a rape victim and had the courage to talk about it. I was already 21 years old. I did not understand when it happened because I was young.
“When we share our stories about abuse with other victims at Khulisa, it is different. We feel connected,” Tau said.
“We feel the same pain, we are like sisters. We don’t judge each other. I cried a lot as I spoke about the day I was raped. It was as if it had just happened,” said Tau.
Tau co-ordinates a women’s empowerment programme called Shine and has 30 facilitators working under her in Tembisa. In six months, they have reached 650 women.
The diligent facilitator targets women of all ages who have been victims of sexual violence and emotional abuse.
She runs workshops every Tuesday that raise awareness about abuse.
“I want them to put their past behind them. I share my ordeal with them to make them feel comfortable and open up about the incidents of abuse they have experienced.
“After attending the programme they are able stand up to their abusive partners and also empower other women in the community.”
As part of the celebration of Women’s Month, Tau will continue helping to empower other women.
“I have dedicated my life to helping victims of abuse.”