Rape has for years been highlighted as a concern as the violation of the survivors impacts them for the rest of their lives.
The growing number of these vile incidents and the many unreported cases, however, shows that it continues unabated, often perpetrated by those closest to the victims.
The Namibian Police say the country has recorded 690 rape cases from January to August 2021.
According to the gender equality and child welfare ministry, about 1 566 children were sexually violated, while 883 were physically abused between 2019 and 2021.
New Era spoke to a survivor and a convicted rapist to try to understand the prevalence of rape in Namibia.
Selma (not her real name) is just one among thousands of victims who suffered at the hands of sexual predators.
“I was my dad’s sex slave for almost five years. He would sneak into my bedroom every time my mother was working nightshift, tie my hands on the bed, and force himself onto me,” the rape survivor shared the shocking tale of how she was raped by the man society expects to protect her. “He threatened to kill me if I tell anyone about it. While most people see their homes as safe places, I felt like I was a prisoner in my own home”, cried Selma.
She grew up in a house where domestic and sexual abuse was a regular occurrence. It was an open secret – something known, but not spoken about.
Her relationship with her father, who is now deceased, suddenly turned abusive when she turned 15.
“He would touch me inappropriately and always say I am ripe. I don’t even remember how many times he raped me because it became a norm, and every night when my mom was not home, he would have sex with me.
It had gotten to such a point where I did not scream anymore; I let him do whatever he wanted to do,” she narrated her ordeal.
Selma’s experience with multiple incidents of sexual assault by her father left her feeling self-conscious and blaming herself. “I have made several attempts to run away from home, but a part of me thought that was how he showed he loved me.”
The abuse only stopped when she turned 20 years old and moved to Windhoek to pursue her studies.
Asked if she has ever reported the assault or told anyone about it, Selma said she never had the courage to.
She feared that nobody would believe her and the truth would destroy their family, especially because everyone in the family depended on him.
“I was also made to believe that highly connected people are untouchable, and that is what my mother told me when I finally opened up to her three years ago. My mother, who was also being physically abused, never got the justice she needed,” said the survivor.
The abuse and trauma had serious effects on Selma’s life, including an inability to maintain relationships, suicidal thoughts, and fear of giving birth to a girl. To this day, Selma is also “sensitive to unexpected touch”.
“The abuse haunts me daily. I have become too fragile, withdrawn and self-conscious. The thought of men just freaks me out, to be honest,” she sobbed. Now 32, Selma is not fully healed from the experience. However, she bravely shared her story to give hope to other victims of sexual assault.
“There is nothing like completely healing from the rape trauma as the feelings of shame, embarrassment, self-consciousness, sadness and anger all hit us at different times. But I am finally comfortable to share my story to give hope to the hopeless. I want everyone going through a similar situation as me to know that they are not alone. We are in this together,” she added.
Twelve years after the last rape incident, Selma is still receiving medical and psychological treatment, but says she still bears the wounds of the assault.
Through the eyes of an ex-offender
Meanwhile, aconvicted rapist who says his stint in jail helped him to rehabilitate, shared his experience of being imprisoned for six years, and wants to help fight the prevalence of rape in Namibia. In 2014, Uazenga Tjamuaha, now 29 years old, and three others were convicted of gang-raping a 17-year-old girl in 2008. Tjamuaha, who was only 14 at the time, said he was swayed into raping their fellow learner at the Okakarara Secondary School.
“It was peer pressure. As a teenager at that time, I would do everything my friends would do because I would not want to be called boring and all sorts of names,” he said softly as he recounted the day he and his peers violated and assaulted their schoolmate. “I could hear her crying, screaming and pleading with us to stop hurting her, but we continued raping her. All four of us, taking turns. All we wanted in that moment was to satisfy our needs.”
Tjamuaha, who is willing to own up to his wrongs, said he acknowledges that he will never be able to repair the damage he did to her.
“I really don’t have an answer as to why I raped her. Nothing can ever justify my deeds. My worst regret is causing harm to such an innocent soul, but I will never regret going to prison because it taught me much about humanity,” he added.
“Every human being deserves respect and dignity, especially women. I went through the rehabilitation programme, which exposed me to a new world. I started seeing the world differently.”
Asked how he feels to be labelled a rapist, Tjamuaha said he has had to deal with being called names since the day he committed the crime.
“At this point, I am not afraid of being called a rapist. You can ridicule me, judge me, but please also learn from my mistakes,” he observed.
Life after prison for many former inmates is anything but a cakewalk. Surely, they have their freedom back, but they also face a host of challenges as they integrate back into society.
The most widely known obstacles are unemployment, roadblocks in the areas of public assistance, adoptive and foster parenting, and so forth. “That mistake I have made has destroyed the rest of my life. Till now, I can’t even be employed as a security guard because of what I have done,” he said with regret.
If there is one thing Tjamuaha would like to teach other rapists is to own up to their wrong deeds, and help combat rape.
“We should be the first people to fight these types of crimes that we caused ourselves. We have caused so much damage in society, and we need to fix the mess we have caused. Change starts with us,” he advised.
Renowned social worker and advisor to the First Lady and Gender and Child Protection specialist Veronica Theron said her experience of working with both perpetrators and rape victims has been complex. “The majority of sexual assault cases are perpetrated by people known to the survivor, and that makes it more complicated. Rape remains one of the most underreported cases in the country,” she explained.
In 2016, the Office of the First Lady conducted a research study on 65 hardcore criminals, being those who were incarcerated for rape, murder and gender-based violence acts. Some of the key findings from that study were dysfunctional families, the impact on the boy child, fatherlessness, rejection, lack of love, the importance of the first 1 000 days in the child’s life, and undealt with trauma that perpetuates violence later in life.
“Not all rapists rape for the same reason. We have different kinds of sex offenders; some rape for sexual gratification, some are anger rapists and paedophiles. Sometimes it can be patriarchy, mental disorder and negative gender norms, so I am conscious not to say these are all root causes that contributed to the high number of rape cases in the country,” she added.
Asked what can be done to curb rape in the country, Theron said “children need to be taught about basic safety measures. To end the rape culture, perpetrators must be held accountable. Establish policies of zero tolerance for sexual harassment and violence in the spaces of work, church, school and in our communities in general.”