'Dad raped us' - Sisters accuse father of years of sexual abuse
Published: Sunday | May 17, 2009
The pain of 47-year-old Brigitte Smith is poignant as she revealed to The Sunday Gleaner how her now 72-year-old father allegedly raped her from as early as age four.
Here, the recollection of sustained sexual abuse is filled with details, some too graphic for publication.
Smith, an accountant, said her ordeal lasted for eight years until age 12; but two of her three sisters endured much more.
Rhonda Moore, a secretary with the United States government, said up to age 14 she was still being raped by her father. Marie, who is a chief in the United States Air Force, said she took that job at age 17 just to escape the abuse at home.
Their youngest sister, Pauline, blew the whistle on her father when she sought the intervention of school officials in New York City in 1987.
The case was being tried in the New York Family Court when, according to his daughters, their father fled to Jamaica, leaving his US$60,000 per annum job, as well as his wife, behind.
The sisters claim his wife, their mother, turned a blind eye to the abuse. Mom's response was, "It happen already, what would you like me to do?"
In an exclusive interview with the four sisters, The Sunday Gleaner was given the details of a life they lived with a man who allegedly abused them regularly and a mother, they said, failed them.
"I remember my belly hurting, wanting to pee, but he just kept on doing his thing. He said he loved me like no other would, that I couldn't tell anyone else about it as they would not understand, and it was our little secret," a still very angry Brigitte Smith stated as she replayed the events that took place in her life more than 40 years ago.
"I would wake up with him assaulting me. When I said 'stop!', he said I was hurting him because he loved me and I would not let him," said Smith, now married. "I would say, 'sorry, I do not want to do that anymore,' and he would be mad with me."
Smith said she lost her childhood during the eight years she was forced to be around her father.
"He always treated me like a woman, saying how pretty I was and my breast was getting big just for him."
Even after she moved to New York with her mother, Miss Esmie (not her real name), her father would visit for two to three weeks, a period that felt like a lifetime.
"He wanted sex day or night. He would send me to take a bath."
But while Smith was being forced to deliver sexual favours, she said she never knew she wasn't alone - her siblings were also victims.
"Since I can remember, I was being raped by my father. My earliest memory was of me telling my brother, who is two years my junior, that my father loved me more, but it was a secret. He continued even after he brought us to the United States and the abuse got even worse," recalled Rhonda Moore.
"I remember thinking that I could be pregnant and he could act like it was nothing. At this point, I was 12 years old."
Moore speaks of times when she would get day-long headaches and would cry.
"He eventually moved the family to another part of The States and I met my best friend. Seeing how her family lived, I realised that what was happening to me was wrong and I started to fight back. I was 13-plus then."
Moore said she kept several diaries, which she still has. According to Moore, she told her mother to read them but, "she did not believe me, so life went on".
She said at age 14, when she started to resist his advances, her father eventually left her alone. But she had to face the consequences: no school fees, no new clothes, no attendance at her high-school graduation. Nothing.
She said it was not until her younger sister, Pauline, now a PhD candidate, could take the abuse no longer and reported it to her teacher that the matter came to light.
The statute of limitations for rape in the United States is five years, but time does not run against the Crown in Jamaica.
"While New York tells us that because of us not stepping forward the next day after the incident, we have to suffer, Jamaica is giving us the opportunity to seek justice after 40-something years. I would say that the system has come through," said Moore.
Last Tuesday, the four women stood bravely in a Resident Magistrate's Court in western Jamaica, silently rejoicing, having earned their day in court after 40 years.
The father, a retired teacher who is now blind, was arrested by the police in October 2008. He appeared in court last week for the preliminary hearing and is set to answer the charge of sexual molestation in the Circuit Court in November.
Moore is aware that they have not yet tasted justice, but she is happy that the case has gone this far.
"People are seeing him for what he is. Some are looking at us and saying, 'Why would you want to send him to prison? he is old and blind'. They all need to think back and say, 'How could he rape that baby? She was helpless'," said Moore.
She said she was born with what is called a ventricular septal defect - a hole in the heart - plus asthma, which forced her to visit the doctor on several occasions.
"Did all this stop him from raping me repeatedly? No, it did not. So why should we have pity on him?" she asked.
As for closure, Moore said she does not envision that happening in her lifetime.
Moore said that over the years, she has become very vocal about what she went through.
"I do not see it as an embarrassment, but as a lesson, and my sisters and I all hold our heads high. What does not break you makes you stronger."
Marie said she remembers her father molesting her when she was about five years old.
"It lasted until I left home to join the air force at the age of 17. When I returned home for a visit about a year later, he tried again, but I was able to stop him."
Her ordeal, she said, has made her stronger, and definitely a better mother who absolutely puts her children first and will protect them with her life.
"I told my husband about my father's abuse and that lessened the effect on our relationship," she said.
According to Moore, past relationships were affected and she has had nightmares for years.
"I have not had psychiatric counselling, but my relationship with my sisters and the talks we have had have made the whole ordeal easier to deal with."
Marie does feel a sense of sadness when she looks at her father now.
"I cannot believe how much we feared this person, who is now a pathetic, blind, old man."
Her feelings for her mother have changed, she said, from sympathy to anger.
"When I think about my own children, my daughter, in particular, it hurts my heart to think that a mother could close her eyes and allow her daughters to be raped so that she could have what she considers a better life."
Marie said that although the experience was extremely difficult, she never once thought of committing suicide.
"I have always been able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. For me, that was graduating high school."
She wanted to go to college, but her parents decided that she could not stay on campus. The result: "A ride back and forth with my father every day," she said.
"I knew that this would give him the opportunity to continue to rape me. I joined the air force to get away from home, but it was not an easy decision. I knew I was leaving my two younger sisters behind to deal with this monster."
Marie says she still lives with the guilt of thinking she abandoned her sisters when she left home.
Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
Allegations by four sisters about years of sexual abuse by their father have rekindled discussions about the long-term impact on the victims.
Clinical psychologist Dr Karen Richards says the victims could definitely suffer psychological and emotional damage.
"And this is the case whenever one is sexually abused, particularly by a person who is close to you."
Explaining the various reactions that abuse will produce, Richards spoke of immediate, short- and long-term consequences.
"In the immediate, you might expect an extremely frightened, fearful and anxious child, because the abuser usually uses blackmail and threats, which the child buys into," she said.
"In addition, there is guilt and shame because the abuser tells them most of the time that they are bad," Richards added.
She said unexplained, extreme bouts of anger, passive behaviour in some cases, and being prone to things like nightmares, are some of the side effects.
In the medium term, the victims might suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, hyper-vigilance, avoidance and intrusive images of the event.
In the long term, Richards said the victim usually experiences a lack of trust, depression and low self-esteem.
"I remember a woman once telling me that she had a difficult relationship with her body because she believed that there was something about her body that must have attracted her abuser."
Addressing the issue of mothers who would turn a blind eye when their children are abused, Dr Richards said some women have been known to place their children on the sacrificial altar of their relationship. "In that case, her loyalty lies with the man and not with her children."
However, for some mothers, there is a genuine sense of disbelief. "They can't bring themselves to believe that the man they have brought home to their family could be a danger to their children. To the woman, it is an indictment on her judgement."
Richards added that in some cultures, there is the idea that the victim is now damaged goods, and in some cases, the mothers, too, are of this opinion, because of the stigma attached.
"Often, they are living in abusive relationships where they have been mentally beaten down by these men and may become very fearful," said Richards.