Source: The Namibian
ESTER* (not her real name) had her childhood cruelly snatched from her when their neighbour and her father's trusted friend raped her.

Ester was fetching water after school when the neighbour called her to his house because "he had something to give her". She innocently went into his house but the waiting neighbour pounced and raped the girl. After the abuse he gave her N$5 and ordered her not to tell anyone about it.

Her nightmare did not end there.

She was raped again during a visit to her grandmother's house by an uncle who had returned home drunk and looked all over the house for Ester. He told her "do you know that I am your uncle? You must make me feel good" as he ripped her clothes off and raped her.

Ester was raped twice by men she knew and trusted. Both had threatened her with further harm if she spoke about the attacks.

Sadly, Ester's experiences are by no means rare. According to the Legal Assistance Centre, seven out of every 10 people who report a rape in Namibia know their attacker, and a further one out of every four rape cases is connected to 'a loved one'.

After suffering physical and emotional pain in silence, Ester finally gathered enough courage and reported the crime to her parents, who were loving and supportive. Sadly, however, when crimes are committed within a family, children are often too scared to speak out.

Her father told her: "I am not blaming you, you are a small baby, and the people who did this are grown-ups and know what they are doing."

According to a 2002 study into Child Sexual Abuse in Namibia, researcher Hettie-Rose Junius found "that one of the tragedies of under-reporting is the fact that mothers [and other family members] refuse to believe the disclosure of sexual abuse when their husbands, boyfriends, brothers or fathers are the perpetrators."

The number of rape cases reported in Namibia has been steadily increasing, however, the Legal Assistance Centre estimates that only one out of 20 cases that occur in Namibia is reported. Once taken to court, rape conviction rates are just 16%.

There are several myths that are widely believed to add to a rape victim's ordeal, and prevent them from seeking help.

These largely focus on blaming the victim. Common myths highlighted by the centre include, "she was asking for it" by being provocatively dressed, young and attractive. "She was irresponsible" by walking alone at night, chatting with men, or drinking.

These two myths blame the woman and suggest that if she were 'doing the right thing' she would not have been raped. Another common reaction to rape is "she just wants attention" a thinking which values a man's word above that of a woman and treats women with inherent suspicion.

In Namibia there is a general trend not to believe claims by rape victims. This discourages victims from reporting the crimes for fear of being ignored or accused of lying. However, according to a Canadian study only 2-4% of rape cases reported are false, and information from the Namibian Police compiled by the Legal Assistance Centre, estimated that the figure in Namibia is as low as 1%.

The LAC states that "blame is taken away from the rapist and put on the complainant", even when the victim is a minor.

Another common and destructive belief is that men cannot control themselves and that it is the female's responsibility not to tempt them. This gives the rapist an excuse for their behaviour.

These outdated and wrong conceptions add to the trauma of rape victims and prevent perpetrators from being brought to justice. They also serve only to turn against victims at their time of need. By silencing rape victims they receive no official help but also have no supportive solidarity from those who have faced similar ordeals before.

Ester's family has reported her case, but have been told that it could take from five to six years for justice to be meted out due to the backlog of cases at the office of the Attorney General. In the meantime, Ester has no way to escape the constant threat of contact with her attackers.

Her father Peter* (also not his real name) tells REGAIN "they are our neighbours in our locations. They are still close."

Peter has been taking his daughter to REGAIN Trust for free counselling. "I expected to feel ashamed going here, but I was made to feel good, and got a lot of help," said Ester.

Her father has seen improvements in his daughter's attitude and found it reassuring to see her making progress. He wanted to share his and his daughter's story to let people know that if they have suffered something similar, they should speak out and that they are not alone.

REGAIN offers free counselling in a safe and accepting environment for rape and sexual abuse victims.

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