Cape Town - Sometimes during a private moment with her softly spoken son, he has told his mother of his fears that he may not be able to buy her a house one day.
The 12-year-old has been left, not only emotionally traumatised but with a physical reminder of the rape he endured at the age of seven, when a man grabbed him after leaving a communal toilet in the Monwabisi Park section of Khayelitsha where he stays.
He will never be able to produce children.
The mother said the alleged suspect had been charged but was released on bail and it appears no further action had been taken against him.
The boy worries that the seizures he now suffers from, and his waist still painful after an operation to repair his lower body which had been severely injured during the attack, will see him struggle to find a job and realise his dream of moving his mother from a shack into a proper house.
Disclosing the ordeal her son had suffered at the hands of the alleged perpetrator who lives three rows away from their home, the boy’s mother said since the incident, the family “have never been the same”.
She said it was around 7pm, on an evening in September of 2009; when her son had gone to a nearby spaza shop to buy a packet of chips but on his return went to one of the public toilets as most of the area’s houses have none.
“When he didn’t come back and it started becoming later, I knew something was wrong,” said the mother who then went in search of her son.
She reported him missing at the police station. With the help of the authorities, they scoured the area and went knocking door-to-door.
But when she finally returned home, her son appeared to be asleep in bed.
“I quickly checked him because he looked strange. When I tried to lift him he just slumped back down and then I saw the blood.”
She rushed the injured boy to a nearby day hospital where the doctor confirmed her son had been raped.
“That moment killed my life,” she whispered.
It was later confirmed that her son would never be able to produce children.
“He told me when he had come out of the toilet, a man came from behind and kept his mouth closed with his hand. He took him to the bushes and raped him. To think this happened to my child because he went to the toilet, why must we live like this?” she asked.
The next six months were spent at her son’s bedside while he recovered at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.
“He couldn’t speak or eat and his body was so bruised,” she said. Once home, the boy started suffering seizures which the mother believed, had been triggered by his seeing his attacker again.
Her son had asked the investigating officers “if they had guns”, revealing that his attacker had threatened to kill his family if he ever spoke about the rape.
The suspect was arrested but two weeks later was out on bail.
“I went to the police station to ask why he’s out because I have to see him and I can’t sleep and worry all the time about my son’s safety. I wish I can get away from this place because it haunts me every day what happened to my child.
“I wish that guy can one day feel the pain I feel. I work with kids and it’s so difficult to think my son will never get the happiness he deserves,” she said.
Her story is only one of many violent sex crimes linked to the lack of proper sanitation in the city’s informal settlements which has left women and children most at risk when visiting communal toilets.
Proper sanitation could slash the rate of sexual crime
A study by Yale’s School of Public Health and School of Management indicates that by improving access to public toilets in South African townships, sexual assaults could be reduced by as much as 30 percent.
The research findings, published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, were based on a mathematical model as the “first quantitative analysis” of the link between sexual violence and sanitation. The model, applied to Khayelitsha, tied the risk of sexual assaults to the number of toilets and the total time spent walking to and from them.
It found that between 2003 and 2012, an average of 635 sex crimes were reported in the township involving female residents moving to and from local communal toilets.
Researchers calculated the annual social cost to South Africa of dealing with these sexual assaults amounted to R500 million.
The study established that if the number of toilets were increased from 5 600 to 11 300, it would not only save the country millions, but would decrease sex crimes by nearly 30 percent.
“The increased costs of toilet installation and maintenance would be more than offset by the lower costs associated with sexual assault,” said the findings. And a further increase of toilets to 21 400 would see sexual assaults cut by almost half at 49 percent.
It said the findings had “global implications” with similar links between sanitation and sexual violence in cities from Kenya to India, including makeshift urban settlements such as refugee camps.
Yale Professor Gregg Gonsalves was quoted as saying they hoped the findings “would spur other research to document the phenomenon in greater detail and to strengthen the evidence base for policy making”.
Local advocacy group the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) agrees with the researchers’ findings and said the study highlighted how the lack of access to sanitation left, particularly, women most at risk of being sexually violated.
The head of the coalition’s local government programme, Axolile Notywala, said even the City of Cape Town recognised the link between crime and the environments people lived in.
A section in the city’s social development strategy stated “the placement of communal toilets, water pipes and other utilities will be cognisant of the need to prevent opportunities of crime”.
Notywala said a 2011 city census showed that over 10 000 people had no access to sanitation, including communal toilets, which meant almost 50 000 homes still used the bucket system.
“In informal settlements, toilets are not private spaces where a grandmother, a child, or any other person can undertake one of the most basic human functions. Women and children are especially vulnerable... and there is a constant fear of being raped,” he said.
He said even with the few existing flush toilets, shared by the community, many residents still had no access to any sanitation.
With no toilet facility, these residents resorted to using the nearest field or bush, areas Notywala cited as hot spots where the majority of sex crimes occurred.
Notywala said statistics collected from Khayelitsha police stations during 2013/2014 showed 543 registered cases of sex crimes. This compared to 62 reported cases in Cape Town central and just five in Rondebosch.
“For many residents of informal settlements, using a toilet is one of the most dangerous things you can do,” Notywala said.
The SJC wants the city to take urgent action to increase its water and sanitation budget for townships.