Have you ever listened to people give reasons for why something happened and found you differed with all of them? Differing silently though, otherwise they might think you are mad. I’ve always felt like that about the most gruesome of crimes, crimes against children: babies and infants in particular. I’ve always felt this idea that we should just “lock up the perpetrators and throw away the key” hurts us more than it does the perpetrator. We never get the real reason for their crime so someone else is bound to repeat it.
Today’s blog is that kind of blog, it takes a look at the reasons we have these horrible sexual crimes against infants. These crimes are so shameful I feel judged just bringing up the subject, but my little inner voice says I must not hide behind the fear of judgement. That I must do my bit to contribute towards driving society towards that a more saner existence.
If you’ve read any of my other posts you’ll appreciate by now that I’m not big on wordplay or word manipulation. I try to say what I mean, which is to say that today’s title needs a little bit of explanation. It plays on words, just a bit. It’s tempting to just say “Hurting people hurts people”, but that is almost absurd to say because it’s glaringly obvious, if you hurt people, they get hurt, duh! A much more apt, albeit longer title would be: “People who are hurting inside(emotionally) are more likely to hurt other people”. Get it? Phew, glad we got that one out of the way.
We live in a society where a lot of people are hurting inside all of the time. I’m not talking just grief and mourning but hurt that is a result of a variety of factors. You’ve probably read or heard it said that abuse victims are more likely to become abusers themselves, but like me you have probably just accepted that as one of those given truths: I was abused so I will abuse. The truth is the equation doesn’t balance out just that easily. There are so many abuse victims who emerge from the abuse more determined than ever NOT to inflict the same abuse on other people.
So there has to be something to the equation that makes some abuse victims become abusive themselves. These people are hurting inside. Continuously so. This condition of continued hurt prevents the individual from seeing a way out of their hurt and as a result they unconsciously inflict that hurt on others close to them. Even worse when this is done consciously.
Believe it or not, the paragraph above is what has kept me from publishing this particular blog for a few weeks now. I know its contents to be true but I had no tangible evidence to back it up. My blogs aren’t particularly academic so you won’t find lots of references to scientific journals but I do like having my opinions backed up by experts. So when I couldn’t find an expert to back up my theory that people who rape infants are hurting inside I decided to sit on this. And then bam! This morning on my way to work, a gruesome story of the rape of a six-week old baby on the radio got me thinking again.
The talk-show host interviewed Dr Amelia Kleijn about her doctoral thesis. In short, she went behind bars and chose 10 convicted infant/baby rapists who were willing to open up to her in a bid to understand what we as society term “sick, horrible, unthinkable”. And she asked the question: Why? Who rapes a six-week old infant? The results are complex, but in short: all 10 of those men had zero empathy, they were from broken homes, mostly poor, some were abused in childhood, no positive role models to speak of, but most importantly, to me anyway, all of them had an emotional score to settle. Not with their victim but with society: their overwhelming motive was “revenge” for childhood hurt, bullying and abuse. The trigger to do what they did was trivial: a girlfriend insulted their mother, a man insulted their manhood but they all had a score to settle. In other words, we could loosely say they had an undiagnosed emotional disorder of some kind.
As I write this, South African society is reeling with shock at the recent murders of two girl toddlers in the Diepsloot informal settlement. Not long ago, Anene Booysens was murdered in such a gruesome way that her convicted attacker ripped her open after raping her, leaving her entrails exposed. Who does that? Who is so twisted as to rape and murder a two year old? Just the thought of it sends shivers down my spine.
Another recent case that’s so incomprehensible is one where both biological parents ganged up on their own infant. I say ganged up because both were convicted for her death. The child had been through it all, malnutrition, broken ribs, cracked skull, the lot. At the hands of her own biological parents. Something is wrong with us, not just the parents, if we do not endeavor to find out why those parents did what they did. Sometimes the sufferers of such abuse survive and become friends with our children, mine and yours. Sometimes they become dysfunctional adults, and we call them “sick” when they do unspeakable things to others.
These are just a few of the high profile cases that have been reported in the media. Some sections of our media have suggested we are a nation at war with itself, at war with its children. The truth of the matter is family murders, sexual abuse, physical abuse of children and women are belt of shame around our society. And we cannot seem to put our finger on the cause of the problem.
Depending on who’s got the platform the causes of our societal ills range from a male-dominated society, religion, sexism, apartheid, poverty, neglect of parental responsibilities, poor education, unemployment, stress, you name it.
But when it comes to the most gruesome of crimes, the ones that fill you with shame just hearing it said in the news: the rape and murder of a 2-year old girl, the rape and murder of a 75-year-old granny, the murder and mutilation of a lesbian, a man shooting his two-year-old and four-year-old kids and then himself, a father raping his own daughters, the list is endless, everybody just throws their hands up in the air and calls for the “harshest possible sentence” against the perpetrators. As long as we caught them, it’s all good, they’ll rot in jail. But surely, besides justice and closure for the victims and their families, it is our duty to ask the most difficult questions of ourselves.
Why did the quiet boy next door commit such a vicious crime? Why did he turn on someone he knew and brutalize her so badly simply because she is a lesbian? Why did Anene Booysen’s killer murder her in such a vicious fashion, to the extent of ripping her tummy open? What possesses a father, who loved his children to bits, to take their lives, and then his own? Uncomfortable questions, unsettling questions and indeed painful but I’m convinced that our quest for a better society lies in getting to the bottom of these questions.
It is my contention that each one of the people who commit these vicious, violent crimes do it because they are hurting inside, emotionally that is. Hear me out before you dismiss me as an apologist for every murderer, rapist or child molester sitting in prison. There are people who unfortunately commit these crimes because society has its deviants. But in the main, I believe people who hurt people they love or should love do so because they themselves are hurting inside. Hurting people hurt people.
Our society mostly believes what it sees, if we cannot see it we conclude it cannot be real. Unless we see the symptoms manifest on a physical body and a doctor making a diagnosis we are not convinced. I mean, there are still people who question the existence of HIV, not that they wear badges declaring their doubt, no, they simply don’t believe such exists. That a ‘normal-looking’ person can be afflicted with a disease-causing agent without presenting any symptoms is beyond their comprehension. So it is with mental illnesses, a ‘normal-looking’ person with a mental illness carries on just like everyone else.
It doesn’t help that society has chosen to confuse mental illness with mental disability. The result of such confusion is that one treatable condition, mental illness, is usually left untreated because of the stigma that goes with with it. I mean let’s face, who wants to be known as ‘that one who maybe has a mental disability’. That’s the damage that stigmatization does, it leaves people with totally treatable illnesses afraid to be diagnosed, in fact unwilling to be diagnosed because ‘you are mad, I’m not mad!’.
What does this have to do with people committing unspeakable deeds against people they love? Everything! Mental illnesses such as clinical depression, bipolar disorder, personality disorders and others affect people in a whole variety of ways. We might both be clinically depressed but the “symptoms” might present in totally different ways. One person might develop a penchant for taking little risks like gambling, another might develop something else. My point here is it’s quite possible to have a society which has a sizeable portion of its population afflicted by a wide range of mental illnesses. Really, you might say. Yes really. You accept that a non-communicable illness like hypertension can develop into a national threat but won’t accept the same of a mental illness?
Apologies to the scientifically inclined amongst you, the example I’m about to give is a personal one and obviously anecdotal. I look back at times and wonder why it is that the periods of heavy depression that I’ve gone through were accompanied by a lot of emotional pain. Pain amplified by the “unfairness” of the people around you. Yes people around you, even those close to you. The lines get so blurred you see them as the source of your pain and every act by them becomes confirmation that they have it in for you.
For me, the depressed state is incredibly lonely. I think the loneliness amplifies the emotional pain. Leading to strange and funny thoughts. In my first year in boarding school I encountered the one or two remaining bullies in the school. They just took. Anything they wanted. They took. But here’s the deal, when you are as emotionally fragile as I was as a teenager, all sorts of thoughts cross your mind. It’s a good thing guns and knives were not easily available because in my bullied state of mind, I had it in me to one day, one day, get my own back. In the mean time, I just continued hurting, silently.
I’m never surprised when a bullied kid takes revenge, never. Because I was once that kid. Like a deer caught in the headlights of a fast-approaching car, the bullied victim feels like they have no choices. From where I stand now it seems excessive that a child would take his mom’s gun to school to deal with the bully, but it would have seemed like a very logical choice when in the bullied state of mind. The hurt I felt didn’t justify the level of revenge I wished to take, but it gave rise to those totally disproportionate thoughts of revenge.
Because I was hurting inside, emotionally, I could contemplate hurting someone else. Justifiably or not. Hurting people hurt people.
I avoid quoting Christian preachers when I write because I want non-Christian readers to feel at home and relate. I need to acknowledge though that my title is one I heard during one Joyce Meyer’s preachings. She is a self confessed abuse survivor, who readily admits: ‘hurting people hurt people’.
In the fog of the emotional cloud of pain that develops due to your situation, your actions can make you seem like a complete psychopath. This is what happens when we react after a mass shooting, how could he? He was just a ‘normal kid’. According to you, he was a normal kid. Medicine has not yet developed a pain-o-meter to measure the levels of emotional and psychological upheavals that result from a combination of emotional fragility and circumstances.
Whenever I hear of a case of a ‘normal’ loving father hurting his children I wish for such a scale because it would help. Or a thirty-year-old raping a granny. We dismiss it as Nyaope(cocaine/heroine mixture) but never really question why the kid took to drugs in the first place. Oh, you took drugs but would never stoop that low, maybe you have never felt as worthless as that young man, that the pain of his worthlessness would lead him to hurt others in the way that he does. I pray that you will not take my literary liberties here to mean I think they are justified in acting that way, drugs or no drugs.
But you and I should be looking for solutions, thinking outside of the box as they say, asking those uncomfortable questions. However unpalatable the truth.
My fellow Christians will feel like rapping me over the knuckles for not suggesting that the answer lies in the church. I believe it does, but to simply say that’s the answer without taking into consideration that in certain societies the church itself has contributed immensely to the perpetration of sexual crimes against children and indeed, covering up would be insensitive beyond words.
I’m convinced the basic unit of the family is central to getting our society right. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting a mother-father-child unit is the answer to everything. I just see a family structure of well-balanced emotionally mature adults rearing children as our best weapon against most if not all societal ills. Those emotional imbalances, mental illnesses and other disorders are easily picked up in a family setting before they manifest negatively in society in the form of infant rapes.
This is not an easy undertaking. The same Dr Klein suggests that up to 60% of South African children grow up without a father figure in their lives. 60%? Staggering! Even if the 50% in that figure grow up in balanced families with caring mothers, uncles and grandparents, it is that 10% that we should be worried about. The 10% in child-headed homes who have no one to guide their emotional ups and downs. I believe that’s the 10% that we ask ourselves this question about: who rapes a six-week old baby? Yet we are rearing them everyday.
The restoration of the basic family unit would go a long way in reducing most of our ills. Speaking with reference to our beloved country, of all the crimes that have been perpetrated against the people of this land, the worst was the fragmentation of the basic family unit through policies like the migrant labour system. At one time we could say: it takes a village to raise a child, that village has been ripped apart. And each time the rape of an infant is reported, we are reaping the results of that destruction of the family unit.
The absence of a mother, father, aunt or uncle and even just responsible adult figures in the lives of most of our children is hurting these kids more than we know. Whilst not all of them will turn into infant rapists, we should learn and understand that our own society is breeding those angry men. The church should step up and fill the void created by absent adults in households. Society must explore ways and means of not just ‘supporting’ child-headed households but finding out how we can get back to “it takes a village to raise a child”.