Ester is a precious 5 year old girl from Mtandile who enjoys being with her family and playing with friends, just as any 5 year old does. One day as she was playing outside her home her neighbor, a 37 year old man, invited her to come and pick grass with him. Ester was so excited to be able to go and pick grass – what fun!
Ester’s neighbor took her by the hand and walked with her to the bush. She was wearing a tight skirt, so he suggested that she take it off while they work. He then laid his jacket on the grass and laid Ester on top of it. Then he began to rape her. Ester began to cry. Why was her ‘friend’ doing this to her?
Her cries were heard by some people who were nearby. They couldn’t figure out where the cries were coming from, so they began to follow the sound. They followed the cries to the bush where they found the man still on top of Ester. They pulled him off of her and gathered Ester up in their arms.
They immediately took both the man and Ester to the chief. The man willingly admitted to what he had done. Chief Phereni called in the counselors and the community police. The man was taken away by the Kanengo Police and the counselors took Ester straight to the hospital. She had been badly injured –the hospital confirmed that she had been raped. The hospital gave Ester’s parents a letter reporting the findings to give to the police. With the man in custody, and with the help of the counselors, Ester’s parents felt like they could begin to help their little girl heal.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
Three days later, some of the same people who had found Ester on that horrible day knocked on the family’s door. They needed to talk to Ester’s parents. They had just seen the man who had raped their poor girl – he was walking around the village laughing and drinking a beer! How could this be? Ester’s parents ran to the counselors in horror to find out what could have possibly gone wrong.
The counselors went to the police station to find out what was happening. The man had been bailed out by a relative and was released with the agreement that he would appear for his court date. The counselors could not believe what they were hearing! They reported all of the issues in the case to the police again, and the police agreed to take the man back to jail. Several officers followed the counselors to where the man was reportedly now living with relatives. The next day at 4am in the morning, the Kanengo Police knocked on the door and took the man back into custody. They called Mrs. Thomas, the head counselor in Mtandire, to let her know that he was again behind bars.
The man was held at the police station until his court day – just a few days later. He has been charged with rape and was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Because these things are happening every day in Mtandile, the counselors work tirelessly day in and day out. They make sure that when a rape occurs and the perpetrator is caught that the police make arrests and keep the perpetrators in jail until justice is served.
STRONG WOMEN ARE CHANGING COMMUNITIES
Their bold uniforms set them apart, and with pride they told us how the local police and clinics let them right in, no waiting in lines, when they bring in victims of sexual assault. They prepare victim support kits with fresh undergarments, a new chitenge (wrap), soap, food, and a blanket. Long after the crime has been committed, the counsellors are there for the victim. Offering support, encouragement, spiritual guidance, and comfort. They have been asked to speak in schools, in surrounding communities, and in front of community leaders about ending violence against women. When we asked how many of the women in the Mtandire rape counselling group had been victims themselves, each one raised her hand.
The good news is things are changing. They told us that women are beginning to understand their rights and the importance of reporting crimes. Men in leadership positions are speaking out against perpetrators, and predatory men in this community fear the strength and power of these women, as shown by the recent fact that rape cases have gone from 70 a month to less than three – a huge accomplishment!
Because of your support, rape crisis counsellors are working in Mtandile and other communities across Malawi to protect the vulnerable and advocate for the weak.