For Tiffany Rademeyer* (16) it was a family member and the person who was closest to her, who did her the most harm. And she was convinced that nobody would believe her if she ever told the truth.
Tiffany was born in Cape Town and grew up in Bonteheuwel. “My parents were married before they met. From their previous relationships, I have three older sisters (8, 16 and 20) from my mom’s side, and one sister and one brother from my dad’s side. But the brother from my dad’s side died from a drug overdose when he was 23 years old, and my sister from that side has always lived with her mother. I was the only child from my parents being together.
“From my mom’s side, all siblings lived together, until the oldest sibling and the one born before me got married. The middle sibling is still living with us in the house, together with her 13-year-old daughter.”
Tiffany remembers her parents not having an amicable relationship.
“From when I was really young, my parents would fight because my dad drank. He would sometimes go to the shebeen** and come back and fight with my mom. He would fight verbally. He would never hit her. When they were fighting I would start to cry, because I didn’t know what was going on. I just heard people shouting. I was very scared when they fought, I thought something would go wrong and I would end up without a mother. My other siblings would try to stop the fighting.
“On the weekends was when my dad would drink. He wasn’t an alcoholic. During the week, when my dad wasn’t drinking it was calm at home. My mom worked. She worked since I was a baby – she was a machinist. My dad also worked, but the work that he did was in the movie industry, so it wasn’t a stable job. He used to put up the props for the movies. We had food to eat every night due to the combined income from my sisters and my mom.”
Outside their home, Tiffany experienced additional volatility due to the presence of gangs in the community.
“In our road live two merchants and they fight for turf all the time. One day, when they shot a guy, we were caught in the crossfire. We were all crying and we were ringing the bell of a house to let us inside but they were too afraid. They only opened the door when the shooting stopped. I used to be scared to walk down the road because you never knew if someone would come down the road and start shooting. When the shooting starts, we close the doors and stay away from the windows, in case of stray bullets. I’m used to it now. When we hear gunshots, we aren’t even surprised, because it’s an everyday thing.”
Feeling unsafe at home as well as in the street, Tiffany recalls when things got worse at home. She was nine years old.
“I can’t remember exactly when, but I know my dad was drunk one night and he started touching me inappropriately. We were alone in the room at the time. Everyone else was downstairs and my mom sent me upstairs to get something in the room and my dad was there. When he began doing it, I was confused. I was thinking, ‘what is happening?’ He had never touched me in that manner before, and even though I could not fully understand the seriousness of what he was doing, deep inside it felt wrong.
“Every day he would touch me. I told him, ‘no’. I told him not to do it. He told me that he knew what he was doing. One day, he told me that he was going to stop. He stopped for a week, but then he started again. I didn’t tell anyone what was happening because I wasn’t sure what meaning to make out of it.”
But in high school during life orientation classes, Tiffany was made aware of the fact that her father was abusing her.
“In Grade eight, I started learning more about what he was doing. I was sitting in class one day and I didn’t want to tell my friend directly what was happening to me at home, so I wrote her a note. I wrote, ’you want to know what happened to me?’ She said, ‘what?’ I told her that, ‘I’m being molested by someone whom you wouldn’t expect.’ She said, ‘who?’ and I told her, ‘it’s my father.’
“She told me to tell my mom about it but I said I was scared to do that. She encouraged me and said that I must be strong. Ramadan started and on the 25th day of the fast, my friend sent my sister a message in which she told her what was happening.”
Tiffany’s sister met with the other sisters. Thereafter, they called their mom.
“We were at my oldest sister’s place and they called my mom to go there. They asked me why I didn’t say anything and I said that I was scared. They told me that I should not have been afraid and that they will always be there no matter what. When my mom came and my sisters told her what had happened, she also asked me why I didn’t say anything. I didn’t answer her because I became very emotional and started to cry.
“They were all emotional and angry. My sisters said that they were suspicious about something being wrong because I was always afraid of my father. We were all crying and very distressed. They all believed me. I was feeling very safe because I knew they were all on my side.”
Tiffany’s mom insisted that they should disclose the abuse to the oldest sister.
“When we arrived inside my aunt’s house, I was asked to read the SMS my sister had received from my friend. While I was reading, I burst into tears and my mother read the messages further. My aunt said that maybe my father touched me by mistake and I took it the wrong way. She also said he couldn’t have done the things we were saying he did. My mom just said, ‘okay’, and we walked out.”
Tiffany’s father was then confronted about the abuse.
“We went home – all of my sisters, my two brothers-in-law and my mom. We were all downstairs and my father was upstairs. My mom called him and he came downstairs, saw all of us and said, ‘I didn’t call everyone to gather at my house.’ My brother-in-law is very protective of me and he just snapped, and hit my father. We stopped the fight and my brother-in-law went outside for air. Upstairs, my mom and sisters spoke to my dad. I am not sure what they said. But then my sisters called me upstairs where they were with my dad and they asked me to tell him what I told them. I told him.
“He didn’t say anything. That night he packed his clothes. I couldn’t sleep that night. The fighting and all that was going through my mind was too much. I was heartbroken but also relieved for telling my family. The next day, my mom and sisters put him out the house. He went to stay at his sister’s place in Mitchells Plain. I actually didn’t feel sad. I was just glad he went away because I knew he couldn’t do anything to me anymore.”
Her family was worried about Tiffany’s mental and emotional well-being.
“My mom said I should see a counsellor because I am in serious need of dealing with my emotions. We went for counselling at the multi-purpose center in Bontehuewel. The counsellor gave me good advice – that I should stay strong and try to overcome that experience. My mom was with me during the counselling sessions. After a few weeks of counselling, the counsellor asked to see my father because she said only a sick person would do that. He came for counselling, but I was not in the session.
“In the next session with me, she said that it was not good for a husband and wife not to live together. After that, my dad came to live with us again. He was away from us for only a month.
“I didn’t really like that. I was angry. Very angry. I couldn’t understand. Why would grown-ups make such a decision?
“In the beginning, it was awkward to have him back. I became even more vigilant with what I wore to avoid attracting any attention at home or outside. I avoid him as much as I can. I am never in a room alone with him and if my mom or sister are not at home I don’t go home. I would rather walk to one of my sister’s houses and stay with them. We have never had a proper conversation again. If he talks to me I do not answer. But to be fair, he only scolds and puts me down – more than talking to me. He keeps criticizing anything I do at home. He has stopped drinking and he hasn’t touched me again.
“The whole situation has impacted my family badly. My family is not as close as we were before. I don’t think my sister ever forgave him. My mom and dad are also not close.”
Tiffany has decided to focus all of her energy on her studies in order to be independent one day. She has also decided that any romantic relationship will need to wait until she is much older and ready to deal with the emotional scar her dad’s behavior has left her with.
When asked for her last remarks, Tiffany concluded; “You don’t choose who your parents or family members are. It’s like playing the lotto, some of us are lucky and others are not. For those people who are unlucky, we need to be patient until the day we grow-up and are able to make our own decisions. That day, we will be able to determine who deserves to be close to us … in my case, only people who respect and care for me. Until than stay safe.”
Tiffany * is a Leaders’ Quest participant.
* Tiffany Rademeyer is a false name due to the sensitivity of her home situation.
** Shebeen: a local bar where alcohol is sold without a license.