The Kids Need You
Whitney had her innocence taken away at the age of five, in this story she tells us how she learned to live with happiness in her heart, in spite of those who tried to take it away from her.
Born in Bonteheuwel, Whitney Hendricks is the youngest daughter of three siblings (an older brother and sister). Up until the age of five, she lived with her parents and siblings.
“My dad was a drug addict and often stole from our home, my mom divorced him because we needed to get away from him. I think my mom was fearful for us, so she wanted to keep us safe. Unfortunately I think that my mom’s relationship with my father affected her badly, because she started drinking heavily.”
Whitney’s mom moved with her children in to her mother’s house where Whitney’s aunt and three cousins were staying as well. Also in the house was an older man, her grandmothers brother.
“My grandmother’s brother was an older man, I think in his 50’s. I remember he always looked like he needed a shower his nails were dirty and he looked sloppish. I don’t think he worked because he was at the house during the day often.”
With a small frame, petite Whitney tells us that she was molested at age five.
“As soon as we moved to my granny’s house, my uncle as I called him (the old man) worked hard to gain my trust. He used to play with me often and I soon got used to him.”
“The first incident I recall was in the morning. My mom and aunty were at work, all the children were at school and I stayed at home with my granny as I was the youngest. My granny would go to the corner shop every morning and leave me watching TV under the care of my uncle. This particular morning he sat next to me on the couch, picked me up and placed me on his lap. I remember he was playing with me and started touching my private parts. I did not really know what was happening at the time but I remember that no one had touched me like that before.”
“This would happen often and it escalated to the point were he used to put his naked penis between my thighs and he would touch me and himself at the same time. I can still remember the smell of his private parts, it made me nauseous. I remember that I never told anyone because he was family and I trusted him. I was too young to fully understand what was going on.”
The family lived in a two-bedroom maisonette that was overcrowed. Whitney’s granny and mom slept in a bedroom and her aunty with her children slept in the other bedroom upstairs. Downstairs the old man slept in an empty corner close to the kitchen and Whitney and her siblings slept in the lounge.
“I remember this particular night when my mom once again left the house to go drinking with her friends. This was not unusual and I knew that next day I would wake up and she will be sleeping on the floor somewhere in the house. However, this night I was awoken by the old man bending over me. He had taken my panty off and he was trying to put his private parts into mine. When I looked at him, he got scared and jumped up.”
When Whitney turned six, her mom remarried and the family split. Whitney moved to a new home with her mom and her siblings were left behind. What should have been an escape for Whitney turned into another nightmare.
“My step father was also using drugs and my mom’s drinking problem got worse. They would fight almost every night and I would see him hit her often. Sometimes my mom would pick me up in the middle of the night and we would walk all the way to my granny’s home. The next day, my step father would fetch us and everything would start over.”
“During this time my uncle would visit a few times during the school holidays. Everytime I saw him, I would feel scared because I would hardly see him and we no longer had a connection. I was also older and became suspicious about his intentions. I would try by all means to avoid being alone with him but he would take advantage at night.”
Whitney’s family moved home six times due to financial reasons. The last move was into a small wendy house that stopped the sexual abuse.
“I was nine years old and my mom stopped allowing my uncle to stay over, because of the size of the house. We saw him less and less. I know now that I blocked the memory of the abuse for the following years and felt nothing when I heard he died.”
The domestic violence at home continued until Whitney reached Grade 12. “My mom became a born-again-Christian and my step-father followed her a few months later. This improved our lives at home.”
Having felt disconnected from her mother for years, Whitney says that she could always talk to her best friend’s aunty. “She was a nurse and made such a difference in my life. A real role model to me, she inspired me to study after school and really guided me.”
One of the things that her aunt (as Whitney called her) did for her was helping her apply to University to study teaching and helping her get a bursary. “She told me that the factory my mom worked at offered bursaries. I got the assistance and started studying teaching – was so happy because a teacher is what I always wanted to be.”
“It was a week before the final exams that I found out I needed to give the University thousands of Rands to carry on with my second year. The bursary I got only paid 50% of the first year costs. I didn’t have the money, I tried to get a loan but couldn’t.”
The next year after dropping out of University, Whitney began working at a youth organisation giving life skills sessions in high schools. “I thought this job was the closest I could get to my dream of becoming a teacher. I loved each moment of working with the learners.”
She remembers one day when she was working in a school she had attended as a learner, one of the teachers asked her when is she going back to study. He also told her that she was very good with learners and that they needed people like her in their lives in order to succeed.
“He told me that the kids need me. I had never been told that anybody needs me and when he told me that it felt right. This motivated me to work harder and go back to university. I enrolled at UNISA to study teaching and major in languages and life orientation.”
“It was also during this time that I started attending counseling at my workplace. During one of the sessions I was shocked as the memory of my childhood abuse flooded my mind. I didn’t realise, that I had suppressed it and was living my life as if nothing had happened. I now understand why it was difficult for me to develop relationships as I grew up and trust people. Without the detour from my studies I would probably not have started the process of healing that will make me a better teacher.”
Whitney says that she feels that every thing that has happened in her life has led her to where she is now and that she uses her life experiences everyday to help others.
Whitney concludes by saying, “my life has made me aware about many of the dangers affecting children. This has given me the lens to spot dangerous situations that can lead to child abuse and prevent it from happening. It has also created a space in me to fully empathise with people affected by abuse. You can turn bad experiences into something that can prevent others from going through the same.”
Whitney is a Saleisan Life Choices staff member