'Abuse silences you' - Sharing the story of SA's oldest sexual abuse case
(This article and audio contain sensitive content that may be triggering)
"I want to have a voice and to be able to speak to the same degree to which I was bullied into silence."
This is how Claudine Shiels describes her need to have her day in court, after she and her sister kept their silence about their childhood sexual abuse for decades.
Shiels and Lisa van der Merwe brought their case 45 years after the reported abuse happened in the seventies.
Shiels has also just published her memoir Walking Through Front Doors - Seeking Justice for a Stolen Childhood.
She shares her story with a live studio audience on Lunch with Pippa Hudson.
Shiels says she had to weigh up conflicting advice - being urged to tell her story on the one hand and on the other, to wait until the court case was over.
She ultimately decided waiting 45 years had been long enough and it was "time to speak".
Somebody involved in our case said to me: 'Write your story. You now have a voice. Say what you need to say.' I really took that to heart because the thing about abuse is that your are silenced for so long.Claudine Shiels, Author
I changed names, but I just thought: why must abuse victims be silenced forever? And I'd really found some courage, I'd found some confidence... I felt, why must I be held down any longer?Claudine Shiels, Author
I thought, why collude with the silence of the 70s? I'm not doing it anymore.Claudine Shiels, Author
She says it has taken her a long time to connect with the shock and horror of physical and sexual abuse, which in itself is shocking.
We just took it for granted. It almost felt like some men had this attitude that this is a rite of passage for every girl.Claudine Shiels, Author
It's only since we've actually laid charges and my sister and I have spoken, that we've kind of allowed ourselves to dig really deep into that dirt and say: Actually, this is horrific - the fact that people can help themselves to other people's physical bodies against their wishes and with everything saying no.Claudine Shiels, Author
Everything we did and everything we said sent a clear message: NO! And yet it was ignored. It was as if certain people just had this inherent belief that everything was there for the picking, including young minors' bodies.Claudine Shiels, Author
Shiels says she's actually glad that she finally connected with the horror of what happened to her, and it is essential to do this.
She notes that this is not just her story, but a universal one.
The author recounts how a freak accident on a railway line when she was seven changed her happy childhood, growing up with loving parents and an extended family.
What was possibly post-traumatic stress led to her mother to leaving the family home which in turn possibly triggered her "gentle" father's deep-seated rage and anxiety.
After the divorce is when life started changing and she felt a responsibility to "make him feel better".
Later, her father also got married again, to a "glamorous" woman.
After my mom left I became very aware of the fact that I am the oldest daughter and I became quite deeply connected to my father's pain.... My dad was always so proud of me... I had this deep connection with him.Claudine Shiels, Author
It's not to say I didn't keep missing my mom... but there was enough going on to distract and bury that and I deliberately focused on the exciting part of having a new stepmother.Claudine Shiels, Author
Amid the constant entertaining and new lifestyle, her father was easily manipulated says Shiels and also started drinking as a distraction.
This changed both her father and step-mother's parenting styles, which led to the two girls feeling worthless. Amid this, two male visitors to the home became their abusers, she says.
The two men have not yet pleaded to the charges in the ongoing court case, which means they cannot be named.
I can see now that grooming took place... they're treating you [two vulnerable children who are feeling a bit neglected] nicely, buying you ice creams, taking you to the beach...Claudine Shiels, Author
Shiels and her sister became estranged after leaving this dysfunctional home and bringing their story out into the open has brought them back together.
She says the Director of Public Prosecutions is busy "tightening up" the legal framework to try old cases.
Listen to the compelling discussion in the audio below:
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