As the international Me Too movement gains momentum in Malta, several women are finally revealing their sexual abuse trauma. Claudia Calleja lifts the lid on their stories.
Becky* was about 12 years old when her mother would leave her with her partner’s father, who she trusted. The mother never suspected he was sexually abusing her young daughter.
“I can’t remember how old I was. But I remember I used to like Teletubbies at the time... I don’t remember all of the abuse either. But I remember on several occasions he used to abuse me orally. At the time, the worst thing was I didn’t even think it was bad. I can’t remember how long this went on for either, but I know we moved far away and I never saw him again and he later died. My mother doesn’t know till this day,” wrote Becky.
She was one of the dozens of women who told her story of sexual abuse on the Facebook community page Women for Women.
Becky, who is now in her late 20s, consented that her story be published in Times of Malta on condition of anonymity to raise awareness of these realities.
Many others posted their experience in the closed Facebook group, under #MeTooMalta. These Maltese women joined the international #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and sexual abuse.
Many of the disturbing stories had common threads. The women often said they were abused when they were children or teens, and abused by people they trusted – relatives, friends and teachers. Some were too young to even realise what was happening, while others felt something was wrong and suffered psychological repercussions as they kept their shame bottled up for years.
Others managed to stop things before they got out of hand. Carmen* was one of them. Now in her early 30s, Carmen was about six years old when she, together with some other students, were summoned to the headmaster’s office “to read to him”.
“We were waiting in line outside his office... and at one point he called me, it was my turn. I started reading this book and at one point he told me to put the book down. Then he got both of my hands and put them on his groin... and started kind of rubbing... and rubbing my hands more and more. At one point (in hindsight) I remember I was like... uhhh... why is it getting so hard?
“And then my six-year-old me told him: mummy tells us not to touch other people’s private parts. I must have shocked him or something.
“He said: but it’s OK... then he stopped and told me to go back to class,” she wrote in her post, which she consented to Times of Malta to reproduce.
Carmen adds: “This specific headmaster has nowadays passed away. But the memories remain. Bottom line... always, always teach your kids about private parts from a young age.”
The need to change the law
Women for Women founder Francesca Fenech Conti was shocked at the number of women who came forward.
“I hope this response will act as a wake-up call to our authorities that we have a massive problem.
At one point he told me to put the book down. Then he got both of my hands and put them on his groin
“We need to acknowledge it and dig deep and conduct research into the root causes to ensure our future generations of children do not suffer sexual abuse and trauma of this kind at the hands of those who are meant to protect them,” she said.
Many of the women who were abused as children cannot seek justice today since too much time has passed. As the law stands, crimes are time-barred after a number of years, depending on the severity of the case and the penalty associated with it. The higher the penalty, the longer the prescription period.
Lawyer Kaylie Chetcuti, who graduated last year, made this the focus of her dissertation titled ‘A study on the limitations of prescription in cases of rape, defilement and sexual assault in Maltese criminal law’.
Her recommendation is to amend the law to start the prescription period once the victim turns 18.
“Unfortunately, when children are abused it is often by people they trust, even parents. They do not know the system and their very abusers block them from reporting the crime.
“By the time they become adults, it’s too late to report,” she said, adding that turning 18 might offer more understanding and financial independence to victims wishing to report abuse.
Support for victims
Rebecca Farrugia, 28, is one of the founding members of online support group White Tulip Malta. She set it up last year following her personal experience nine years ago when she was sexually assaulted after being drugged by someone she trusted.
“I felt shock and shame for a very long time and never spoke up about what happened. Then one day I was speaking to a friend of mine and she told me about her experience when she was a child. I thought: ‘This is happening to many people. We are led to feel we have done something wrong.’ So out of anger and want to make a difference it was set up with the aim of offering education, compassion and empowerment,” she says.
This is happening to many people. We are led to feel we have done something wrong
NGO Victim Support Malta also provides a range of support services for victims of sexual assault and rape. This support ranges from access to a social worker (throughout the initial stages of accessing support, and to ensure that clients are well supported and well informed) and free access to psychotherapeutics, counsellors, and free legal support.
If one wishes to check whether or not the case can be prosecuted at law, VSM is able to offer free legal consultation, and to support the individual in filing the report if this can be done. For information, contact executive director Krista Tabone on 2122 8333 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Women’s Rights Foundation also offers free legal advice to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and gender discrimination through a free legal helpline 8006 2149.
White Tulip can be reached via Facebook or by sending an e-mail to email@example.com.
*Not their real names.
Sexual abuse explained
What is rape? To force someone to have sex when they are unwilling, using violence, threatening behaviour, power or coercion. Rape can also occur when the victim is unable to give consent.
What is sexual assault? To force someone into sexual activity when they are unwilling, using violence, threatening behaviour, power or coercion. Sexual assault does not necessarily include the act of sex and can also occur when the victim is unable to give consent.
What is sexual abuse? The act of having sex with a child, elderly person or someone who is mentally ill, against that person’s wishes or without that person’s consent.
What is violent indecent assault? The act of touching (or the threat to touch) a person’s body in a sexual manner without consent by another person. For example, it can include unwanted touching of a person’s breast, bottom or genitals.
What is consent? Consent means permission for something to happen or agreement to do something. A person is unable to give consent of they are asleep or unconscious, significantly intoxicated or affected by drugs, unable to understand what they are consenting to due to their age or intellectual capacity, intimidated, coerced or threatened, unlawfully detained or held against their will.
Source: Health Ministry website
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