Changing Faces- a view on female sexual offenders

South Africa is portrayed as a liberated country, as a result of it’s history, there are humanitarian organisations dedicated to eliminating/reducing all forms of violence against women, children, gays and lesbians, etc. we are always given a sense of protection from things that might harm us. We even take a few extra measures to protect ourselves, either from experience or paranoia.

With an average rape campaign, the man is seen as the natural perpetrator but what if the perpetrator is an aunt instead of the HIV positive uncle or the mother instead of the alcoholic father?

Sexual abuse is a common theme in our country; it’s become something common to watch the news and see that someone like Virginia Tiny Mokopo, who allegedly molested kids in Oprah’s Academy for [elite] Girls. The most recent scandal in the very same school, are several girls getting expelled for sexual ‘misconduct’.

I grew up wanting to be nun and I changed my mind about being a nun after discovering that I need to travel a different route in my life. Holding them in high regard for most of my life, I was disturbed to find out about a nun on the internet, Sister Norma Gianini, who pleaded no contest to two counts of sexual assault in 2000. At the age of 79, this Roman Catholic nun is said to have had 60-80 sexual encounters with a certain man, since he was thirteen years old. This was the first of many other women found out have committed crimes of this nature, there are a number of websites, blogs, books, etc. that take the issue into depth but really, are we aware of this matter?

As women, we have learnt to point fingers at men. Women we need to acknowledge the issues amongst ourselves and stop looking at campaigns at face value with the ‘usual suspects’ in mind. We have underlying problems in our society that we dare to never speak about. Organisations that are directed at providing information centres, help centres, etc. seem to just concentrate on ‘popular’ problems and once you are that one in x amount of people (who is raped by a woman) with no idea which way to turn. I believe that any human being is capable of harming another, man or woman.

The boxes and institutions we have chosen to live in can limit our judgement and opinions. In particular, concepts such as feminism can be misjudged or mis-communicated and the only person that could possibly sexually abuse a woman or child is a man. Once we get out of these boxes, the world grows into a bigger place, leaving space for optimism, even about sexual violence. Optimism doesn’t only refer to good, pretty things. Anyone can be the perpetrator.

Closer to home, writer and poet, Mario d’Offizi author of Bless Me Father questions experiences in his life, some of which he chose to block out of his memory. Growing up in a hostile environment at home, he and his sisters where eventually taken to ‘homes’ until he ended up in Boy’s Town. His journey begins in his 50’s, as a father to three children and a husband. One of the first memories he revisits is an encounter that he had at he tender age of six.

‘… I had a very painful earache. I heard footsteps on the wooden floor, approaching my bed. A young woman appeared holding a candle appeared from behind the partition. She placed the candle on the floor beside my bed and sat next to me. In this bit of light I noticed — and will never forget — that she was wearing a pink night night gown. Her head uncovered.

She sat beside me and wiped my brow with a facecloth. It was warm and she gently spoke to me. This went on for a while. It was comforting to feel the warm cloth on me. Then she opened her gown and revealed her breasts. I saw that her nipples were pink. She took my hand and placed it on one of her breasts. Still wiping my forehead, she place her other hand beneath the sheet and began to fondle my breast, stomach, thighs and penis. Then she took my hand from her breast and placed it between her legs, gently using my fingers to play with herself; moving them in and out.

… I never knew who she was; she could’ve been a nun or or one of the bigger girls who often looked after the little ones.’ -page 55, Bless Me Father.

Here, D’Offizzi was not injured physically instead there was a bit of fondling involved. Being a six year old, the world is much smaller. Who does he tell, what does he say? How does he explain it to himself? It takes time to absorb a sexual experience as an adult, what more as a child?

After I read the passage, I wasn’t sure what to perceive it as. Was it abuse or not? But he wasn’t hurt, was he? But the girl/nun was certainly aware of what she was doing and took advantage of a child, invading a child’s privacy, knowing very well that a six year old Mario won’t tell. Even if he did, maybe the woman would be easily exempt from the same harsh punishment a man would receive. With the perpetrator being a woman, society’s stereotypes create assumed guilt for the man when it comes to rape, the woman is presumed innocent simply because of her gender. She won’t be seen as a perpetrator but maybe as a mentally ill person, less years in prison, etc.

Statistics have shaped our way of thinking immensely, as much numerical detail as they contain; they can make us ignore certain aspects of of our society. Rape statistics, in particular, mostly cover man to woman rape and man to child rape. Women violating other women, men or children are normally a very small fragment of the cases. The issue is rarely addressed, as a result a victim who has been abused by a woman is unsure of what has happened to him/her, how to deal with it and where to go for help.

Between 2001 and 2007 rape cases decreased by a nice looking 11.9% with 36 190 cases reported but on the other hand only 1 in 36 cases result in conviction and 1 in 3000 women can expect to be raped everyday. But by whom? If the perpetrator’s mask remains the same in all these statistics, that only supports stereotypical views that have destroyed our society for many generations. No matter how small an issue is, it’s an issue and issues need resolutions.

“Let’s stop sacrificing our sisters in order to hold on to myths of women’s non-violence. This must be foremost on our agenda.” Lori B. Girshick, Trainer/Consultant LGBT Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Vuyo R. Seripe is a freelance writer and artist based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Apart from working on corporate writing projects, she contributes articles to a variety of publications and is a keen observer of South Africa’s emerging urban cultures