130307 Classmates of the seven year old girl, Sheldean Human, cry during the memorial ceremony in Pretoria. Picture Ilvy Njiokiktjien

Cape Town - She sits upright on the bed in her nappy, her head tucked under the arm of the paediatrician who gently places her hands on the girl’s shoulders.

“Asked to lie down for the check-up, the toddler, 2, spread her legs as she had been taught to do by her tormentor,” the caption tells us.

On another page, but in the same orbit of horror, a young rape survivor’s legs bear the welts of lacerations she received during a satanic initiation ritual from when she was eight years old.

These two stories of sexual abuse are easily met with outrage and compassion by anyone who stares into the universe of the photographs where physical and emotional scars whisper in harmony.

But there are 700 pages in the book. And thousands upon thousands of cases in the country which both amplify one another but also mask the individual story behind each one.

Photojournalist Mariella Furrer, who captured images of child abuse in South Africa over a period of more than 10 years before publishing them herself in a book called My Piece of Sky, says it has been a personal journey.

Thirty years ago, she was a survivor of molestation by a stranger, and this made her all too aware of the impact it has on a child’s being.

“You lose your childhood really, your innocence is snatched away, and what little is left of that once-pure child is now being transformed into a sexual being, a child with knowledge of things way before her time,” she said.

In 2002, an American women’s magazine commissioned her to take photographs for a story focusing on child rape in South Africa. She was so overwhelmed by the number of victims she came across, that she decided to continue with the project, which took her into the hearts and lives of survivors, child protection advocates, the police, and even the perpetrators - six of whom are interviewed in the book which, as a result, sheds light on the cycle of violence.

But, while South Africa provides fertile ground for that cycle to keep playing itself out, Furrer sees the scourge of child sexual abuse as global.

“Child sexual abuse... transcends all boundaries - it permeates every race, religion and socio-economic group.”


Some of the photographs can be viewed at http://www.mypieceofsky.com/

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Cape Times