When I was a small primary school pupil, mother drummed into me how wrong it was for any male to touch any part of my body hidden in my dress. There was a reason those parts were not exposed to the public, she said and, so, very few people had the right to lay a hand on them.
She, of course, had exceptions, but any suspicious touch was supposed to be reported to her immediately and so the lines of communication on such sensitive matters were opened between mother and daughter.
A few years later, she was to baptise me with another dose of counsel when I headed for boarding school where she could not be around to daily supervise my movements or guide my decisions.
She specifically warned me against male teachers who, she said, had the tendency to lure girls in relationships with promises of undeserved good marks and sometimes money or goodies such as biscuits, in return for sexual favours.
Mother alerted me about some teachers who would not directly state their intentions, but would, for instance, trick a female pupil to meet them in secluded places, such as staff-rooms at odd hours, where they could take advantage of the unsuspecting pupil and abuse her.
That advice might not have been enough to protect her children from every form of abuse, as some perpetrators use force that would make it difficult for the victim to fight them, but it prepared us for the evils we could encounter.
Such that when a male servant tried to go beyond the bounds of decency in touching my sister’s body, we all went up in arms against him, reported him to mother who showed him the exit before he could inflict damage on any of her children.
When a male teacher in secondary school attempted all the tricks on me the other year, he was to be shocked that a 14-year-old girl was so clever to outwit him and dodge all his efforts at tricking her into a teacher-pupil relationship. Before he could even say the words, I had read all signs of a cunning teacher—from what mother had said at home.
So, when I read the story about the abuse that a 14-year-old Blantyre boy has gone through at the hands of a sodomy suspect in Blantyre, my heart broke for the little boy.
I thought about the hundreds of girls who have, in ignorance, been repeatedly abused by uncles, fathers, teachers and other trusted figures in their homes and communities.
Some of the young ones are fooled into thinking that the abuse is some normal occurrence that must secretly be enjoyed by the perpetrator and the victim; and in ignorance they just give in and shut their mouths.
It is such stories that make me wonder if just a little timely parental advice about sexual abuse could not save some of the children from these ordeals.
At a time when people are doing unimaginably strange things to children, advice from trusted sources such as mothers could help in minimising cases of child abuse.