Tears trickle down her cheeks and leave wet spots on the bright pink scarf hanging loosely around her neck. Nomsa (not real name) turns her face away and wipes it with a crumpled piece of toilet paper: ‘I don’t sleep at night. It was such a shock for me when they told me she had been selling her body. Maybe it will be better if I don’t ever see that women.’
The traumatised woman had a few weeks earlier found out that her 14 years old daughter was one of four young girls who were allegedly enticed by a Khayelitsha women to work as sex workers in return for food.
The young girls had sex with men from a nearby shebeen and other regular clients, all in the same age range as their own brothers, fathers and grandfathers, in return for less then R100. The girls handed the money over to the Khayelitsha women who plied the girls with food.
It was April 27, Freedom Day, when Thenji (not her real name), a staff member at the Simelela Rape Centre’s cellphone rang. ‘It was a Friday,’ she recalls clearly.
‘The counsellors told me it was chaotic at the centre and that they couldn’t cope. They told me there were a whole lot of angry parents and children,’ says Thenji. When she arrived she found a group of angry and distressed parents and caregivers who had moments earlier found out their young children had been used as sex workers.
According to Thenji, a woman who has since been charged, used the girls during the mornings on the Mfuleni-Faure Road where men in cars paid the woman between R50 and R80.
The men would take the girls to an unused school building nearby where they raped them.
In the afternoons the group would return to the Khayelitsha shack where they were sold to men from a nearby shebeen. The woman stayed in the shack with her young boyfriend and her own three children, who according to the staff member, often witnessed the sex acts, but were not used as sex workers.
One of the Simelela counselors saw the shack after police had swooped on the premises: ‘The shack was in a filthy state with used condoms lying everywhere.
It was so dirty, in one bucket there was clothes and old food.
‘Hoo, even while we were there to see the place men were coming in asking us where the girls were that they could have sex with,’ said the counselor, herself still visibly traumatised from the experience.
‘Hhayi, I will never forget that day. These children are too small for that. They were so very dirty and hungry when we found them,’ she sighs, shaking her head.
According to Nomsa, the woman also forced the girls to break into their own homes when they knew their parents were not at home.
‘I used to go looking for her all the time. She would disappear for a few days and I would look everywhere.’
According to a Simelela report evidence of dagga and alcohol use was also found in the shack.
The racket was exposed when one of the young girls refused to have sex with a man. Instead she ran to a nearby police station and led officers to the shack.
Nomsa, who spoke to Health-e, said her daughter was still rebellious and disappeared for several days at a time. She said the child has been admitted to a place of safety, but that all the girls had been sent home.
‘I don’t know where to go for help anymore. I have tried the social workers, the principal, her teachers, but everyone says they cannot help me. I would like her to be helped, but nobody wants to help,’ she says.
All the girls have left the shelter and have been sent back to their homes.
Lisa Vetten of the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre said the child’s behaviour was typical of someone who had been exposed to such trauma and that it was outrageous that no assistance could be given to the mother and the child.
‘This again exposes the inability of the system to deal with adolescents and their unique problems.
‘No places of safety want to take adolescents as they are more of a challenge.’
Vetten said she was currently aware of only one shelter in the county prepared to assist adolescents.
Simelela staff members said they were ‘still trying to make sense of it all’.
‘We hope that by talking to one another about it that it will become easier.’