Several years ago, a child was referred to the Child Health Department of the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital because she was unable to walk after “allegedly being raped” (as the referral note said), nearly two months before.
The surgeons, to whom she was initially referred, thought she might have some illness not connected to the rape incident, and they wanted us to have a look at the little girl.
I was then a very junior member of the paediatric team and, therefore, dutifully followed my bosses off to the surgical ward to see this little girl.
She was a tiny little thing lying in bed. I could not believe that she was 13 years old – she looked about eight. She couldn't get out of bed. She could sit up if she was helped but that was about all she could do.
We were a team of about six doctors standing around this child's bed discussing her and trying to work out just what was wrong with her. I remember feeling very frustrated. I mean for goodness sake, what had happened to her was that she had been raped.
I remember that I raised this point but my boss dismissed it with a wave of his hand. “Oh, I'm sure she was sexually active before this incident and she just said she was raped to prevent herself from getting into trouble. You know these girls…”
We requested x-rays of her hips and when the x-rays came back, they were horrendous. Both hip joints were destroyed.
Contrary to what everyone thought, the child was not pretending. She was in excruciating pain. But the rape incident was still completely ignored and the conclusion that the team came to was that there must have been some disease that was there before which the family just hadn't noticed.
Her grandmother, who was taking care of her in the hospital because her mother had just had a baby, was positive that before she was raped, she was a perfectly healthy child, attending school and living a normal life. No one listened to her. Medications were prescribed for her and eventually she was discharged home in a wheel chair. As far as I know she never walked again.
She was 13 years old…
Before she left the hospital however, I decided to go and talk to her and find out from the child herself what exactly had happened. Thirteen-year olds do not just suddenly out of the blue develop chronic hip joint disease on both sides. I was certain that the explanation for the damage that had been done to her lay in the rape incident, which everyone had decided to overlook because “you know these girls…”
It took three visits to get the little girl to open up and talk. Initially she would just stare at me and ignore me. On the third visit, however she began to open up. Even her grandmother, it turned out, had never really heard the details of the sordid story.
She was returning from school when three big boys called her. She went and they began to ask her questions. She realised that they had been drinking and tried to leave them but they kept pulling her back.
Eventually they dragged her into an uncompleted building and started slapping her. Then they took turns at raping her. Whilst one was busy with her, the other two were violently forcing her legs wide apart, so hard that the pain in her hips was what she remembered most from the incident.
They didn't have just one turn each. It went on and on. After a while she passed out and didn't feel anything anymore. Her grandmother confirmed that when they found her she was unconscious and didn't wake up until later when she was taken to hospital.
I believed her. She was so deeply traumatised that she didn't eat or even sleep very much. She just lay in the bed staring at nothing.
Because no one, not even her family, was prepared to listen to this child, the young men who did this went scot free.
There seems to be an unspoken underlying rule in many rape cases, that somehow the female victim must have done something to deserve being raped.
This assumption makes it difficult for the families to seek justice because instead of the girl being seen as the victim, she often ends up being stigmatised as a “bad girl.” In this case, even we, the Health Care team members were not interested in being advocates for this child and listening to her story. As a result the young men who were responsible for this terrible crime most likely are still walking around enjoying their lives.
How could she have obtained justice? Who would have believed her? How would this little child have summoned up the courage to stand up and tell her story, especially to a group of people who had probably already decided that she had it coming to her? I always wonder what became of the child.
Childhood victims of violent rape are amongst the most pathetic of all victims of violent crime. Apart from the extreme physical and emotional pain they go through, they must often suffer the additional trauma of society, somehow feeling that they themselves are responsible for their plight and thus often don't even get the sympathy that victims of armed robbery, for example, receive.
They are often too young to even understand what is going on and are left completely confused and traumatised. They are commonly threatened with death if they tell.
Unfortunately many of them grow up accepting the fact that it must have been their fault somehow, and they carry an additional burden of guilt and a deep sense of low self-esteem which affects every area of their lives as adults.
Article by Dr Gyikua Plange-Rhule
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