The rape of the sick

The rape of the sick

MASERU – IN the first incident a single donkey given to Likengkeng’s* grandmother was all that justice amounted to for all that the underage girl endured when a man seized her the other night and raped her, cruelly deflowering her.
When yet another man last July raped Likengkeng, those in whose hands the fate of the mentally challenged 14-year-old girl lay, probably thought themselves fair and kind-hearted for deciding that unmentioned number of cows handed to the grandmother were enough restitution to the girl for her suffering.

Under the Sesotho customary law, impregnating a girl or elopement is an offence punishable by payment of seven head of cattle.
“The grandmother went to the alleged rapist’s family where she negotiated payment of cattle,” said ’Mareabetsoe Mofoka of the police, who got involved in the matter when a concerned fellow villager alerted them of the abuse of the girl.

The father of the second suspected rapist and Likengkeng’s 84-year-old grandmother are in police custody for allegedly attempting to cover up the crime.
The second suspect remains at large and wanted by the police who are also looking for the man accused of committing the first rape in March last year when Likengkeng, who is also an orphan, was only 13-years-old.
But do not let the sickening conduct of Likengkeng’s granny or of the families that sought to use their possessions to help their rape-accused-sons evade accountability distract you.

For the rape-for-cattle/donkey batter deals speak to an even more worrying situation especially in Lesotho’s poverty-stricken countryside, where a harsh cocktail of poverty, ignorance, deep-seated patriarchy often means mentally disabled women are treated as nothing more than mere things or animals at the mercy of libidinous males.

In some cases, such as in Likengkeng’s, other women help facilitate the abuse of their mentally challenged fellow women.
True, one must admit, that in the absence of firm facts and figures from the police, correctional services or any other such authority it is hard to say for sure how big a problem of sexual abuse of mentally challenged women is in Lesotho.

Neither the police nor the correctional service record statistics of people who were arrested or jailed specifically for raping or sexually abusing mentally disabled women, which, it could be argued, is something of an oversight especially on the part of correctional services.

For one would think correctional services ought to know who is in jail for targeting mentally disabled women if they are going to be able to counsel and reform the predator away from their deplorable instincts.
But effectiveness or lack of it of correctional services’ counselling and reformatory programmes isn’t the most worrying aspect of it all.

What is more alarming are the bombshells dropped by Lesotho Correctional Service spokesman, Superintendent Neo Mopeli that more than half of inmates in the country’s prisons are sexual offenders.
Police spokesman Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli also says that 933 sexual offences, including rape, have been reported nationwide since January.
It is a frightening trend.

One which when taken together with the words of police spokesman Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, leaves one fearing the worst for the mentally challenged women and girl children.
The police spokesman had this to say: “The majority of sexual victims are still those defenceless people.”

It is a scary observation by the police officer but one that is backed by a growing body of evidence and research from around the world that like bullies at the school playground, rapists tend to target those they perceive as vulnerable and unable to speak for themselves.

For example, in a 2017 academic paper tilted: Traits of Vulnerability in Repetitive Sexual Assaults of Mentally Disabled People, Elmas Shaqiri et al, observed that children and adults with little or no functional speech were at increased risk of being sexually violated because perpetrators know that a silent victim is the “best” victim.

And all that this growing body of anecdotal evidence does is point to what might be a seriously under-reported but widespread problem of abuse of mentally disabled women and girl children.
Indeed, in their paper Shaqiri and colleagues poignantly observe that “the issue of sexual abuse, assault, rape and unwanted pregnancies among mentally disabled women is largely under-reported for many reasons”.
It might be true that sexual abuse of mentally disabled women and girls is under-reported.

But in the case of Lesotho the brazen manner in which some of the victims were attacked in the few cases to gain public attention suggest rampant abuse of these women, with some of the perpetrators acting as if they do not even believe it is a crime to force themselves on these women.
The first attack on Likengkeng quickly comes to mind.
The young girl did not suddenly find herself alone, cornered by her rapist, somewhere away from people.

According to police sergeant ’Mareabetsoe Mofoka, it was actually at an event attended by several people, a ngaka’s night vigil in one of the villages in Qacha’s Nek when the man grabbed Likengkeng from among a group of dancers and dragged her into the darkness to rape her.
It is not clear why no one intervened to help the girl, who immediately after the attack left for home to report to her grandmother.
And, of course, just like the people at the vigil the grandmother would also let her down proceeding to accept a donkey as compensation for such an attack on her granddaughter.

In another case highlighting the blatant way in which mentally disabled women and girls are abused, a 60-year-old man from Qoaling in Maseru would in broad daylight lock a 19-year-old mentally disabled woman in his room and rape her.
But it is not all gloom and doom for mentally challenged women and girls as both the police and communities are beginning to wake up to and act against sexual predators as happened in the case of the Qoaling man mentioned above.

When a friend of the mother of the abused 19-year-old alerted her to what was happening she immediately reported the matter to the local Chief Thoriso Matsoso who acted swiftly, summoning the suspect – apparently a known sex pest with a previous conviction of raping a minor – to his court.
When the chief asked the victim what happened, she answered with a straight face that the man had had sex with her two times in his house.
“He said we should do the nasty things and we did. He gave me M10,” the woman told the chief’s court.
“He did it again but he hasn’t given me the money yet,” her concern that she had not been given another M10 and not that she had been raped serving to further show her condition of disability.

The chief instructed that the girl be taken to a clinic where a doctor confirmed rape had occurred and upon which the chief instructed his men to take the suspect to Lithoteng Police Station where he remains in custody awaiting trial.
It is this kind of intolerance to abuse of women exhibited by Chief Thoriso Matsoso and his people as well as the fact that the police are actively clamping on the rapists whenever cases are reported to them that should give hope to not only mentally disabled women and girls but to every woman in Lesotho.

This though might have come too late for Likengkeng and others like her who have already fallen victim to the sexual predators.
Now 15-years-old Likengkeng is pregnant from the second rape and only God knows how she will be able to look after the child, while the possible imprisonment of her grandmother would only help to further complicate her situation.
*Not her real name.

’Mamakhooa Rapolaki


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