Victim Support: A National Need

A call to action

In 2007, following media exposure on 702, people responded to the story of “iThemba” (a pseudonym) a four year old girl who had been violently raped by a 26 year old and then re-victimized when she was taken to a provincial hospital in Springs.
While she was playing in her grandparent’s yard in Daveyton, she was lured to a veld with the promise of money for sweets, R2.40 to be precise. It was here that Sanele Mahlangu raped her. Her screams alerted a young woman in a house across the road from the maize field. With the help of the community, this young woman stopped the rapist and picked up the screaming child, the community then restrained Sanele. When the child calmed down, she held out her hand to her rescuer, opened up her clenched hand and said ”please give this money to my mamma, she needs it”
hand[1] The little girl, together with her grandma was rushed to a provincial hospital in Springs. There they waited. When her grandma requested help, the nurses told her “we don’t do rape”
The injuries she sustained shocked detectives from the North Rand child protection units. Her non treatment at the provincial hospital led to a a media and community outcry. It was only 24 hours later that she received treatment and was also examined by a district surgeon who performed a forensic examination. Little iThemba was then taken to a private hospital for rehabilitative treatment.
The investigating officer advised me that the High Court in Delmas had handed down a LIFE SENTENCE to Sanele Mahlangu. JUSTICE SERVED!
We may not stop violence or crime, but it is our response of kindness and determination to ensure that justice takes place that makes the difference.
Another story of hope began unfolding on the 5th November, 2009 when a little girl of approximately 5-6 years of age was bought into our centre for examination. A neighbour in Etwatwa, heard small mewing noises coming from a shack in her neighbourhood.
The police were called in to investigate and upon opening the shack door were horrified to find the little girl, tied by her ankle to a table drinking out of a bowl and gnawing on a bone. Here they found little “L” Little “L” had no sense of balance, could not walk and was not potty trained. She had even been eating her own faeces at her shack.
Her moods swung from uncontrollable laughter to violence; her knees, elbows and ankles were covered in hard callouses.
Our counsellor placed a doll in her hands which she threw away, she did not respond to any form of maternal affection… “L” displayed inappropriate promiscuous behaviour during the forensic examination, which also proved to be positive. The mother “Little L” was supposed to have trusted and depend on for a normal childhood was the very same person who ripped her innocence away from her. The mother has since been imprisoned and is awaiting trial.
A week later, Little “L” came into our centre with the lady providing her care: there is such a turnaround. When I met her, she was unable to talk but grunts and tries to talk in limited syllables. I gave her a teddy bear and put my arms out. She was helped toward me as she cannot walk on her own, and hugged me. She held me tight… Afterwards I was quite emotional and had to walk away to hold back the tears. Then she played with one of our counsellors’. Laughing!
This story of Horror has slowly developed into a story of joy and healing.
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Little ‘L’ has visited us for the fourth time. Considering her staggeringly awful start to life there is such positive improvement that one can only rejoice at her stamina and tenacity. We cannot believe the difference in her overall appearance and her amazing capabilities. Not only has she managed to take her very first steps on her own but she is attempting to communicate through hand gestures and simple words. Her first real word was ‘Ma’, which was directed to her caregiver.  She now identifies the children that she shares her life with by their names and is able to participate in a few of their games. Her skin tone has changed from a grey scaly texture to a silky sheen; her eyes are brighter and she is more aware of her surroundings. There is strong evidence that Little ‘L’ is being taught social skills and is accepting of the healthy boundaries set for her. A visible bond of trust, love and respect has developed between Mrs. ‘M’ and Little ‘L’ and we can only hope that the courts see fit to keep Little ‘L’ with her Foster Mother.
It is too early to tell whether little ‘L’ was born disabled or whether her ordeal is the reason for her setbacks. It will only really be evident after extensive long-term therapy. There are times when she hides in her cerebral world, especially when distressed. We must not forget that her world was a small, dark shack with almost no human interaction for the first six years of her life – the big, wide world must be terrifying for her. We are witnessing the power of love first hand. Without the warmth and compassion of her Foster Mother and her family it is doubtful that she would have really had a chance in life. We are hoping that the Media attention surrounding little ‘L’ will bring about an awareness of child rape.
IThemba has been in a fortunate position to provide assistance to victims of such heinous sexual violence. Unfortunately, these are only two cases out of a few thousand that iThemba has been involved in, and demand for assistance usually outstrips capacity and resources available.
And so, IThemba Rape and Trauma Support Centre is faced with the unenviable task of asking major companies and corporations to donate money to them in return for little more than a good feeling or as a way in which to obtain BEE points for those vital government projects. Many corporations view corporate social responsibility as a way in which society can be gradually changed through societal change.
As the managing director of the Tshwane Leadership Foundation, Dr Stephan de Beer puts it: “More often than not, the investments by companies bear real fruit and make a tangible difference in people’s lives. In return we make sure that we realize the best value possible from every donation by helping to build healthy communities.
I don’t believe in charity, but I do believe that investing in humanity will bring about change in our society, and will change South Africa for the better.
Through these two amazing little girls we have recognized the need for a Victim’s Support Fund to enable survivors the opportunity to find some semblance of normality and empowerment after rape.
Partnered with this fund is the development of a National Trauma Support Helpline 0861 HOPE 4 U (0861 467 348) to enable victims of crime to access services and be advised of their rights.
Your support will ensure that these services will make a difference in the lives of many voiceless victims of crime.

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