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About last night: Stay quiet and protect daddy

Published: 
Wednesday, March 2, 2016
MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS

“Given the prevalence of incest, and that the family is the basic unit upon which society rests, imagine what would happen if every (child) currently being abused—and every adult who was abused but stayed silent —came out of the woodwork, insisted on justice, and saw that justice meted out. The very fabric of society would be torn.” 

So said Mia Fontaine (2013), in her article “America has an incest problem” as she speaks of an imagined space and time in confronting the longstanding crime of incest. I often thank God for my father whom I remember as being judicious with his daughters. Very early, I noted that my father never came into our bedrooms and I always remember how upset he’d seem when we accidentally crossed paths in towels—and that happened because we had outdoor bathrooms.

I recall how agitated he became with my mother when we wore, according to him, “clothes that look like the store robbed us of fabric.” As a child with good powers of observation, I never missed daddy’s circumspection. While we are six sisters of which I’m the youngest, we were never all together growing up. Living in abject poverty then, I’ve reasoned why my parents felt it necessary for some of my sisters to live with relatives at times.  

Therefore, when I speak of my father, it’s my specific encounter with a none-too-friendly man who is regarded with respect (and humorous stories about his ill-temper) by villagers to this day. He was past 53 years when I was born and I always say that age gap accounted for our tempestuous relationship. But that’s the worst I can say about Oliver Ravello. And I cannot imagine any girl or woman should ever have anything worse to say about their father. 

Yet I’ve sat next to friends/relatives who have borne their father’s child when they were still children—pregnancy being the public evidence of his “private” crime—who with their complicit mothers have “hid” those children to mask daddy’s criminality. 

And they and their siblings walk around (sadness etched on their faces) pretending it did not happen. They forever carry that indignity, always wondering if the next person they encounter knew/knows that daddy raped their little bodies from as early as he decided to yield to his criminal desire, above his God-given duty to defend them. 

That’s part of the plain, sick truth of our sweet T&T that we cannot bring ourselves to accept. Incest is the most underreported crime everywhere and, in a society of pretences as ours, if you speak out, as advocate or survivor, you touch raw nerves and set yourself up for a stoning. 

Just ask activist and former government minister, Verna St Rose-Greaves after her characteristically brazen piece last week drew so much ire from the very men/women she sought to protect by her bold statements. She said, among other things, that, “Sexual abuse has been normalised in our society so even our leaders either cannot recognise it, or refuse to accept their complicity in it. “If we have not experienced it personally,” said St Rose-Greaves, “we have heard so many stories.” 

In solidarity with St Rose-Greaves and all victims/survivors, I agree that “for too long we have ignored the ugly things that have been part of our daily routine.” Sexual abuse, especially incest, is a cringe-worthy subject in T&T as in many other countries, and is a violation of which little is said even though we know and suspect that people within a child’s home/family account for more cases of childhood sexual trauma. 

Our ugly truth bears evidence in the physical, psychosocial (mental, emotional, social, and spiritual) injury it’s leaving in its path here. The problem with incest, as all sexual abuse, is that it does not go away at some time in the future, and without intervention, society is made to pay the hefty price. 

Fontaine asked, “How could a whole community be in such denial?” and answered saying, “one need only realise that (we) are mirroring the long-established patterns and responses to sexual abuse within the family. Which are: Deal with it internally instead of seeking legal justice and protection; keep kids quiet while adults remain protected and free to abuse again. 

“Intentionally or not, children are protecting adults, many for their entire lives,” Fontaine continues, talking about families that continue to socialise “while seated at the same table as the people who violated them.” 

• Caroline C Ravello is a strategic communications and media practitioner with over 30 years of proficiency. She holds an MA in Mass Communications and is pursuing the MSc in Public Health from the UWI. She has been living/thriving with mental health issues for over 35 years.