Cape Town – “I have had years of therapy, counselling and psychologist visits simply to be able to survive. My entire adult life has been punctuated by emotional, psychological and nervous disorders.”
These were the words of 60-year-old Claudine Shiels on the lifetime effects of the sexual abuse she and her sister Lisa van der Merwe, 56, suffered in their childhood.
The sisters are currently involved in the oldest sex abuse case to go to trial in South Africa.
They were sexually abused, allegedly by relatives, from 1974 to 1979. But it was only after the Cabinet approved the introduction of a bill last year, aimed at amending the Criminal Procedure Act to enable sexual offences to be prosecuted retrospectively, that the sisters decided to seek justice.
The case comes before the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court today.
The accused, who have yet to plead to indecent assault charges, are understood to be from a prominent Constantia family.
NPO Women and Men Against Child Abuse (WMACA) yesterday held a media conference with the sisters to discuss the case and the lifelong effects of childhood sexual abuse.
“The sexual abuse affected everything in my life. I don’t remember any of my childhood without abuse on some level and I still don’t fully understand my value as a person,” Van der Merwe said.
She had tried to end her life twice and ran away at the age of 17.
WMACA director Miranda Jordan said: “The psychological trauma is lifelong and the court must take this into account in historical cases.
“Many victims are not able to move on even though society says you should. When the abuse occurs, the perpetrators give no thought to how it would affect the victims’ lives.
"The effects are long-lasting, they steal your childhood and adulthood. For a child, your home is your world and children are aware that if they report it the family might say you have broken and shamed the family.
“We are here to say we will support survivors and it is never too late to come forward.”
On why the sisters have now decided to come forward, Shiels said: “It wasn’t that long ago, I am still living that trauma now.
"I was told I was a worthless nobody with a female body to make use of. My dreams of becoming a journalist have been unfulfilled because my life became about survival.
"I had my first nervous breakdown in my early twenties. I am never going to heal until someone takes responsibility for what they did.”