Too young to be understood?
By Bernardo Mondragon
Translated to English by Kayla Lapiz, Linking, Learning and Communications Officer, Voice Philippines and Indonesia
My name is Jella. I am a 15-year-old student. I wanted to share with you my story. As you read, however, I want you to keep in mind that I am now a brave, strong girl who has the whole community as her support.
I was five years old then. I was playing outside our house when our neighbour, whom we will call “Uncle Ben”, called me and said that he had some candy for me back in his house. I went with him. True enough, he handed me dozens of chocolate candy. While I was eating and enjoying the sweet treats, I felt a pinch on my private part. I thought it was normal then because he told me we were just playing “house”. The same thing happened over and over again until my mother noticed something different with me and how I would often complain about aches that I felt in my private part. One day, my mother finally caught Uncle Ben molesting me. What they did not know is that Uncle Ben’s 16-year-old son was also doing this horrible act to me.
My parents had me undergo a medical examination to check for any injuries. The results proved that wounds were present, and this served as a basis for filing a case against the father and son.
Unfortunately, my parents separated after two years. I eventually had a stepfather. He was kind, caring, and treated us as his own. But he did the same thing that Uncle Ben and his son did to me, even worse. I was still too young, then, and thought it was normal. Although I thought that, deep down I felt that it was not. I felt disgusted every time it happened. I did not tell my mother because I thought she would not believe me, seeing how close they had gotten. I especially did not say anything to my father because I imagined the chaos that it will result to. Then came a point that I could not take it anymore. I told my sister, who immediately told my mother. We tried to tell the police but my stepfather got word and by the time the police came, he was gone. We never saw him again.
Another two years passed by and my mother thought that it would be best for us to transfer homes. We settled in another island where we lived peacefully. There I met a new friend who we will call “Rhea”. We got very close to each other and I spent a lot of time playing with her at their house. It was almost like I was living there, especially because my mother was always at work. It was going great until the same, horrible event happened. One morning while Rhea and I were playing, her father asked her to go buy some ice. It is then that he took advantage of me. I was afraid to tell my family so I told my teacher instead, who of course reported it to my parents. I regret not telling them sooner. We tried to file a case but were told that it wasn’t going to go anywhere without evidence. I was not able to get any medical examination anymore. Again, we resorted to moving out.
I decided I wanted to live with my father. I thought it would be more peaceful there together with his new wife. In 2018, however, I had to go back to my mother who fell ill. After being discharged from the hospital we went home and settled. While I was sleeping, I felt something in my private part and to my horror,it was my uncle. I could not do anything as he was holding a knife with his other hand. I was not able to do anything but cry. I went back to my father without saying anything. I was restless— I had nightmares every night, I felt dirty, and I felt like dying. My sister knew about what happened and shared that she had experienced it too. She had told her husband but instead of getting support, he told her it might have just been a mistake. I was so depressed with what happened but at the same time I did not want to cause conflict in our family.
One day, a social worker knocked at our house. I was about to leave the house when my stepmother told me that someone from Act for Children Alliance wanted to talk to me. It was about a programme that aims to raise awareness on children’s and women’s rights, coordinated by Child Alert Mindanao. I was still doubtful then, but thought they might be able to help me and the situations I had been in. I joined them and regularly attended meetings together with other children. Last January, we discussed about Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation. We were watching a film about a girl that had the same encounters as I did and I did not even notice that I was already crying at the same time. I decided to share my experience to the Speaker and Social Worker. Through Act for Children Alliance, I felt the support that I had been looking for. I am gradually feeling peace ever since I became a part of their programme. They continue to visit me and provide me with counselling even after I decided I did not want to file any case. They helped me realise that the traumatising experiences were not my fault. On my part, I also try inviting other children to join the programme so that they can also know about their rights and the protection we can get as girl children. I am very thankful for what Act for Children Alliance has been doing for our community.
This deeply moving story narrated to the project staff by a girl from Purok 2, Mangga, Bara ngay Gredu, Panabo City. The girl continues to undergo psycho-social treatment