*Some names have been changed in this article to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.
When you were seven-years-old what were you up to? Playing with Barbie dolls maybe? Watching cartoons until your mother had to drag you off to bed? Carousing and messing around with the neighbourhood kids? Such a carefree and liberating time in a youngster’s life.
Unless you’re three little girls who had that innocence snatched away from them one afternoon in anticipation of two more youthful antics typical of island-life; mango-picking and an ice-cream treat.
Lisa* is somber but determined. As she led me up a gravel pathway I sense her reticence, but she is still polite as she asks about my origins. We have to meet in this particular area because she in unable to afford the transportation to make it to our office. The young mother is out of work. She also does not want her true identity revealed. These are just some of the lengths she’s had to go to in order to protect her now nine-year-old daughter. She sees it not as a sacrifice but a fitting penance really. Self-recriminations abound. What if she had not gone to work that day? What if….
You can see the sharp pain flash in her eyes as I gently prompt her but she has to get her story out. It may be the only way to atone for that fateful day in August 2011.
“I was at work. I used to work in the hotel industry. She always goes just next door, less than a minute walk and play because they have kids. That day she went there and play and the man was there, and he told them let’s go and pick mangoes with him. He’s a friend of the family so he comes there. He is a neighbour. And he told them after that he is going to buy ice-cream for them. And then he brought them in the bushes.”
Lisa takes a deep breath as if to expel the horror from her body.
“The man led them into the bushes which is fifty feet from the main road and then he had sex with all three of them one by one using his mouth and penis on them and from that day my daughter has never been the same.”
Lisa would not get to learn of the assault until the next day when her brother’s girlfriend tipped her off that something might be amiss. The woman had overheard the children in a roadside conversation involving the seemingly mundane threats of “telling your mother.” Lisa was not overly concerned, chalking it up to regular juvenile foibles.
“When I called her I thought it was something simple, a simple matter. I never thought she was raped,” she explains apologetically. “But then when I asked her and she started crying I knew.”
Grief-stricken, Lisa leapt into action, immediately proceeding to the Marchand Police Station where she was encountered her first roadblock.
“They told me they can’t do anything for me. I had to go downtown. The police brought us to the hospital. The examiner still got evidence that she was interfered with. They sent her home. Two days after they sent her home she couldn’t urinate. She was having a lot of pain, she couldn’t ease her bowels, she was only crying. I brought her to the hospital where she was admitted. She spent five days there just taking drips. Trust me, I’ve been on a journey that’s not easy.”
Meanwhile, the perpetrator in question had yet to be found.
“By the time we went there, the same night, his family was hiding him and somebody saw him early in the morning. He got up and he went down to the countryside. After he escaped I went to the media. After the news aired they caught him in Choiseul. He’s been in prison.”
But the true imprisonment has been the emotional and psychological vise that has had a permanent grip on a little girl filled with self loathing and invisible scars.
“She speaks about suicide, that she’s going to kill herself, and it’s been very difficult to deal with my daughter. You can have faith but it’s really when you are caught in a situation then you see that your faith is really put to the test. It’s been very hard for her to go to school. She stays, she cries, she doesn’t want to stay down here period. She just wants to just get out of St Lucia. Sometimes I have sleepless nights. My daughter has pain, she’s still suffering so much with pain and it’s been two years. It’s so difficult. Sometimes I just feel like just giving up but I said I’ve just come so far, too far for me to give up now. And I thank God. If it wasn’t for God I don’t know what I would’ve done. I thank God for giving me the strength. You cannot speak to her. She’ll run away. When she runs away you have to leave her, and I will just pray and then she comes back. The first time she ran away she went all in town, no shoes on her feet. She feels like nobody loves her and I’m trying so hard,” she says, her voice fading to a whisper.
In the aftermath of the attack, Lisa and the mother of one of the other victims took their daughters into Human Services for counseling, after a referral from Family Court, where she encountered further obstacles.
“When the Family Court referred me to Human Services at the time they told me they have no professional counselors in St Lucia and that matter is for a professional counselor. So they sent me back to the Family Court. When I went back Ms Wilkinson was doing sessions with my daughter and the other child. Most of the times my daughter went she would come back and say, “Mommy Ms Wilkinson is not there today.” The last time she went she said “Mommy they said Ms Wilkinson is not working there anymore.”
Lisa was crushed but started trying to source funding to remove her daughter from the increasingly toxic situation.
“I’ve been trying my best to try and get her out but it’s been so difficult because I’m a single parent. I wrote some letters in 2012. I dropped them by different places asking for assistance to try and get my daughter out of St Lucia but I never got any response. But in June Sarah Peter called me and she told me HTS is having a show called Off Limits and they’d like to speak to me.”
That phone call would set off a new chain of events which would see the heartbroken and downtrodden mother be accused of lying and her daughter’s plight trivialized by an institution which should have been at the forefront of protecting her child. Continued in this weekend’s Star Newspaper.