"I was shocked to meet girls who have been raped or abused by someone close to them."
For this 21-year-old woman from Zimbabwe, sexual violence was a constant throughout most of her life, all — like her uncle, cousin and even pastor — allegedly abused her. And the strain of her suffering drove her to the brink of suicide.
The Indian Diva met Tanaka in Zimbabwe listened to her a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. She is part of UNICEF’s work to protect children against sexual violence.
Tanaka ((whose name has been changed to shield her identity) was first abused by her cousin, when she was just 6. At 15, she was drugged and raped by a neighbor while her parents were at a wedding.
Extremely depressed and fearful, she was sent to live with a pastor who offered support. But he, too, sexually abused her, until she ran away and moved in with an aunt and uncle. The cycle of abuse did not stop there: Her own uncle raped her — and infected her with HIV.
Tanaka is one girl and one story, but, sadly, there are so many more. Around the world, data compiled by UNICEF show that 120 million girls under the age of 20, that’s about 1 in 10, have been subjected to forced sexual intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives.
Sexual violence is a worldwide occurrence, but in Zimbabwe the numbers are startling.According to figures compiled by UNICEF and the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZIMSTAT) in 2011, 1 in 3 women aged 18-24 has experienced sexual violence before the age of 18.
Too often, people think that sexual violence happens at the hands of someone unknown to the victim, but more often than not, the perpetrators are people they know.
Evidence shows that sexual violence can have devastating and long-lasting psychological, physical and social consequences for children. They are at increased risk of unwanted pregnancy, psychological distress, difficulties at school and contracting HIV — and can face stigma and discrimination in their communities because of what has happened to them.
Priyanka says, “…we, as a society, need to have difficult conversations in our homes, in our workplaces and within our communities, so that together we raise awareness that sexual violence against children is happening and, collectively, we help put an end to it.
It is on us to provide and take care of our children as citizens of the world, to educate children at a young age that it’s not OK to be inappropriately touched, that underage sex can lead to unwanted teen pregnancy or HIV, and that children can tell someone without recrimination.
It’s on us as a society to not forget the people who have been forgotten — like these people.”