Karabo Mokoena
Content producer
3 minute read
3 Dec 2019
10:00 am

Why do families protect sexual predators?

Karabo Mokoena

We need to hold child abusers, even our own family members, accountable.

File image for illustration: iStock

How many of you know of someone that was abused in their home, and they knew or lived with their perpetrator? How many of those families knew that their family member was molested every other day, but did not do anything about it? 

The Darkness to Light organisation released a report in 2017 stating that about 90% of children who are victims of sexual abuse know their abuser. It is also a heartbreaking fact that 30% of the victims of child abuse are suffering at the hands of their family members. 

How many of these sexual predators are held accountable? 

I know of a guy that was removed from his hometown in Limpopo after sexually assaulting a young child. The family quietly swept it under the carpet and decided to relocate him. He came to Joburg and abused another one of his nieces. 

A lot of children shy away from reporting these crimes because they are more afraid of the family’s reaction than living with the trauma of abuse. It’s easier to die in silence, than be to be looked at sideways because you MUST HAVE done something to invite your father’s brother to touch you in that manner. 

For some, they build up the confidence to disclose their trauma and perpetrator, only to find out that the family knew. 

So what exactly are the dynamics that make it so easy for families to protect sexual predators? 

Abusers have power

Security is an important thing in our communities, and we will do anything to protect that. Even if it is at the dismay of our children or our loved ones. If you find out that the breadwinner has been sexually abusing your child, the thought of removing bread on the table scares you. So it is more convenient not to expose them, just to ensure that we can continue surviving as a family.

What will people say? 

People generally have the “abantu bazothini” (what will people say) syndrome. This is the disease that makes people more concerned about other people’s opinions, than their own issues. A family that is perceived to be respectful would not want to deal with the embarrassment of people knowing that they live with an abuser. So, to protect the image of the family, they protect the abuser.


A lot of abused girls and women have been coined liars because the abuser is very endeared and would surely not be capable of such a heinous crime. A priest of a church, the school’s favourite soccer coach, or the kid’s most adored uncle. All these people are potential abusers because abusers don’t walk around with stickers on their foreheads. Accepting that someone you trusted is capable of such crimes is hard. So, families would rather deny that their own relatives could hurt a child. 

Children are vulnerable human beings that need to be protected at all costs, even if the cost is shunning your favourite sibling. 

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