As the first Charity Sunday of the new year grew closer, I wondered what cause I should support this month. Then I happened upon a chilling column by Nicholas D. Kristof entitled “How to help girls endure the unendurable”. I can’t link to it because it’s behind the NY Times pay wall, but if you can access a copy, go read it.
The topic is pretty difficult to stomach: the rape and sexual abuse of children. In particular, Mr. Kristof is retelling some of the horrific stories of youngsters in Kenya. The World Health Organization estimates that close to one third of all women worldwide have experience physical or sexual violence, with a much higher rate in developing countries. One survey found that for the majority of women in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, their first sexual experience had been a rape.
Kristof’s Op-Ed concludes with a plea to pass the International Violence Against Women Act, and in general for developed countries to do more to fight sexual abuse and gender violence world wide. However, he also discusses grassroots efforts to support the victims, in particular the Kenyan charity Kara Olmurani. Founded by a woman minister who was attacked and raped by multiple men on the way to her own wedding, the organization runs a safe house for sexually abused young girls. Not only do child rape victims often suffer terrible injuries, but if they manage to physically recover, they may have nowhere to go. They are sometimes evicted from by their homes by shamed relatives. They may live in justified fear of further violence from their attackers, who are likely people from their community.
Kara Olmurani provides shelter, protection, physical and psychological sustenance to support the process of healing. It’s a tiny organization, addressing the problems of a specific city, but I believe that every bit of compassion and caring is worthwhile. And the more people become aware of the problem of child rape, the more likely it is that we can reduce its frequency, and help bring the perpetrators to justice.
So – this Charity Sunday I will donate two dollars to Kara Olmurani for every comment I receive on this post. I also hope you’ll share the existence of the organization with your friends and family. For most of us, Africa is very far away. Still, the courage of the organization’s “little warriors” is universal.
I don’t have any stories that include childhood sexual abuse. Indeed, I don’t write much about their early years. Having had a loving and supportive childhood myself, I tend to confer the same on my protagonists.
I do have one short story that captures one of my heroines in her teens, before the events of the novel in which she originally appeared. When we meet Ruby Maxwell Chen in The Heart of the Deal, she’s in her mid-twenties, a ruthless businesswoman heading an international commercial conglomerate. The short story “Shades of Red” I wrote later, wondering what Ruby had been like at nineteen.
If you’re interested, you can find this story in my boxed set Bound and Breathless (https://www.lisabetsarai.com/boundandbreathlessbook.html)
“Sex with strangers? For money? You’ve got to be insane, Ruby!”
Jane’s Delft-blue eyes are wide with disbelief. Her horrified protest is loud enough to trigger tolerant smiles at neighboring tables. This is, after all, worldly and decadent Amsterdam.
“I’ve already hired the window. For tonight.”
“But it’s dangerous!”
“Oh, please! There’s 24 hour video surveillance. The police practically outnumber the tourists strolling around the district at night. Every cubicle has an alarm in case things get dicey. The landlord showed me how it worked.”
“But it’s so degrading! Once a man pays you, you’re obliged to do whatever he says. You’ve got no choice.”
I sip my cappuccino. My lipstick leaves a crimson crescent on the china cup.
“Nonsense. I’ll be the one in control. I was watching the women last night. Anyone whose looks they don’t like, they send away. The men are the ones who are desperate, vulnerable. They want us so much, they’re willing to pay to satisfy their desires.”
Jane shakes her head. “If your father finds out, he’ll be furious.”
“How would he find out? You wouldn’t tell him, would you?” I put on a stern face, not too different from his. Cowed, she lowers her eyes.
“Of course not. Still, you know how he is. It was tough to get him to agree to this trip at all. We had to really lean on the culture aspect.”
“I’m old enough to make up my own mind.” My friend’s red-gold ringlets, backlit by the afternoon sun, make her look like a Botticelli angel. I relish the thought of corrupting her. “Come on, Jane! We’ve been doing nothing but high-minded museums and libraries and concerts for the past three days. I just want some fun.”
“I’m afraid you’ll get more than you bargain for.”
“I certainly hope so. Look, why don’t you join me? Last night I noticed quite a few windows with more than one girl. The cubicle has a double bed, and you’re so gorgeous, I’m sure you’d be popular.”
“Not a chance. Freddie would break up with me in a second.”
“What Freddie doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”
Jane looks insulted. “Freddie and I have a relationship based on honesty and trust. I’m not going to do something sordid and risky like that behind his back.”
I wonder if Freddie has shared with my poor friend the fact that he has propositioned me, under pretense of being drunk, at more than one party. Innocence, I decide, is bliss, at least for sweet, loyal Jane.
“At least come around with me to the sex shops, to help pick out a costume and some toys.”
“I’ve got a miserable headache.” Jane sounds peevish. I worry briefly that she somehow caught my thoughts about her beau. “I’m going back to the hotel to lie down. Will I see you tonight, before – I mean, are you going to have dinner, or what?”
“I think I’m too excited to eat. But I’ve got to take a shower and do my makeup, and that will be easier in our room.”
“Okay, see you later. Be careful.”
“You know me. The coolest of the cool.”
But I’m not. In fact I’ve been obsessed ever since last night, when Jane and I wandered through the red light district, staring at the women who waited behind the glass in their rose-tinted rooms. We wove our way through clumps of nervous, intoxicated men who were all staring, too. I could smell their sweat, underneath the beer and the pot smoke. I could feel their lust. It infected me.
They barely noticed us, two teenagers in jeans, although the tight denim in my crotch was so wet, I half-expected they’d catch my scent and turn to me. They had eyes only for the bodies displayed in the rows of windows lining the canals.
Some of the women were ripe, blond, Slavic-looking, their breasts exploding out of their lace brassieres. Others were slight, deliberately child-like in Gidget-inspired bikinis or brief plaid kilts. There was a Brazilian beauty with golden skin and coffee-colored eyes; a voluptuous African princess with strings of ruby-hued beads dangling in her ebony cleavage; a serious-looking brunette wearing dark-framed glasses who sat, shapely legs crossed, like a secretary waiting to take dictation.
Some of the women posed. Others danced suggestively, or made lewd gestures at their prospective customers. There were masked women in leather, snapping riding crops against their boots. There were women whose pierced nipples and labia showed clearly through their translucent garments.
Men clustered around the dimly-lit windows like moths hovering by a candle. Mostly they’d just look, inflamed by the mere thought of all this available flesh. Sometimes I’d see a hushed conversation through a half open glass door. Such conversations might end with the man turning away, disappointed, rejected, or perhaps simply unwilling to pay the asking price. Other times the door would open wider, just enough to admit the supplicant. Then it would close and the red velvet curtains would be drawn, hiding the rest of the dance.
Those curtained windows drew me. I couldn’t stop imagining what might be going on behind them. I knew it was a straight commercial transaction in most cases, a workman-like blowjob, or a quick, bored fuck. Still, I imagined occasional revelations, epiphanies, ecstasies – meetings of strangers pre-destined to be lovers, brief but unbearably intense conflagrations of lust, lewd and mystical connections that would live in his memory, or hers, long after the curtains were flung open again.
I’m nineteen. I’ve had enjoyable but ultimately frustrating sex with two boys my age. I know that, practical as I am, I’m a bit of a romantic. Otherwise, I would not have continued to roam the red-lit alleys long after Jane gave up and went back to the hotel in disgust. As the Oude Kerk chimed two AM, I wandered up Molensteeg and down Monnikenstraat like some horny ghost. The crowds had thinned. The curtains were mostly drawn. Some of open windows were empty, aside from the signs: KAMERS TE HUUR. Windows for rent.
Please do leave a comment. Every one will help heal the soul of an abused child.