Friday, October 09, 2009

Monsters in men's clothing

THE more I tried to overlook these stories because of their extraordinarily repulsive nature, the more I felt morally compelled to write about them. As I write this, I find it difficult to confront my fellow men with this question: what could drive a man to subject his own daughter to sexual abuse and to have children with her? Every time I read news reports about fathers who raped their daughters and fathered children with them, I am staggered by man's capacity to engage in the most grotesque behaviour. How much lower would some men drop before they are deemed eligible to capture the global prize for depravity?
The world has witnessed scandals of unimaginable proportions but the idea that a man would rape his daughter and father children with the same daughter stands alone as the worst form of parental abuse.
Although the world is marked by cultural differences, there are certain aspects of human behaviour that are regarded as morally unacceptable in many societies. The practice of fathers sleeping with their daughters is definitely one of them. Incest also belongs to that league. There are social, moral, religious, medical and genetic reasons why many cultures abhor these behaviours.
It may be rare in our society or indeed in Africa to find an instance in which a father has consistently abused his daughter sexually and fathered children with her. However, the absence of an example is not sufficient proof that Africa is free from such moral debauchery.
In the past 18 months, the world has been regaled in a sadistic way with disgusting tales of fathers who desecrated the innocence of their daughters. Just this week, from the Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea came the sickening report that a man who - believe it or not - "had trained to be a priest" was sent to jail for six years for sexually abusing his daughter and fathering three children with her. One of Papua New Guinea's local newspapers, The National, reported on Tuesday this week (6 October 2009) that the incestuous relationship between 49-year-old John Jack Pep and his daughter occurred between 2001 and 2007. Not only did the convicted man admit that he committed such an odious crime, it also emerged that he forced his daughter to hide the identities of their three children - two girls and a boy.
While sentencing John Jack Pep last week, Judge Regina Sagu said she would have imposed a tougher punishment but for a new law which provided for a lesser sentence. She said: "(This was) animalistic action, driven by demonic force, breaking the normal parent to child trust that rightfully exists within a family unit." The National newspaper agreed with the judge that the law needed to be amended to increase the punishment for men who sexually violate their daughters.
In an editorial entitled "Amend law to increase penalty" and published two days ago (Wednesday, 7 October 2009), the newspaper posed some soul searching questions: "How does a man become so demented that he will find his own daughter sexually desirable? How does such a man threaten his daughter with violence, rape her and make her pregnant - not once but thrice? And all this while training to become a pastor? How does he reconcile himself to his conscience and, if he really is a believer, to God?... He should have been given more than 20 years with no provision for parole on the grounds of him being a threat to society. We agree with Justice Sagu that his is an act befitting an unthinking animal. But even animals, you will note, do not directly mate with their young, so Pep has become a lower form of life."
There is a moral lesson in the story from Papua New Guinea. It is not all men who claim to be pastors who have the fear of God in their hearts. There are pretenders in white robes, operating as wolves in the day and in the night, wrecking the souls of not only their daughters but also other people's daughters and wives. There are also documented cases of pastors who were found guilty and condemned to death for killing and torturing their victims. Take, for example, the case of our very own "Rev King", who was sentenced to death by an Ikeja High Court in January 2007.
King was convicted on "five counts of attempted murder and a sixth count of murder" by Justice Olubunmi Oyewole on Thursday, 11 January 2007. According to Justice Oyewole, "the accepted evidence before the court is that the accused was angered by the supposed improper sexual relationship among the victims, upon which he assaulted them in various degrees and later decided to kill them by burning them". Rev King is still appealing that decision.
The proliferation of religious denominations, the emergence of numerous men who proclaim themselves as pastors has made it quite difficult for society to separate the criminally minded from those on a true mission for God. In Africa as in other regions, there are just too many men committing all kinds of sex and other crimes under the guise of religious duty. The fact that some of these men have not been exposed does not mean they don't exist in our own front yard.
It is not only Papua New Guinea that has been rocked by the odd news of a father who repeatedly raped his daughter. In 2008, an Austrian man named Josef Fritzl sparked international outrage when he was arrested for locking his daughter in a specially constructed windowless cellar under his house where he repeatedly raped her and fathered her seven children over a period of 24 years. Fritzl was later diagnosed with suffering from personality and sexual disorder. But what kind of lunacy would twist a man's mind so much as to induce him to imprison his own daughter for 24 years? Fritzl was jailed for life in March 2009.
Strangely, prior to his sentencing, Fritzl was bold enough to ask for leniency. He said: "I'm sorry from the bottom of my heart. Unfortunately, I can't change anything now." Fritzl's plea for forgiveness was laughable. But, you know, we must neverlaugh at a man who committed grievous crimes. How does the daughter recover 24 wasted years? Certain crimes should never be forgiven. Fritzl's crimes against his daughter (and grandchildren?) qualify as such. How do you forgive a man who, for 24 years, consistently raped, tortured, imprisoned, starved, and abused his daughter and the children he fathered? Fritzl would make a good experimental subject for forensic psychiatrists and perhaps social psychologists.
Even as the world was recovering from the shock of Fritzl's crimes, Australian media reported a similar case in which a man in his 60s has been remanded for allegedly raping his daughter and fathering four children with her for over three decades. It is one case that has shocked the larger Australian community.
From Austria to Papua New Guinea to Australia, the story is almost the same but with different degrees of repugnance. All over the world, we must examine this overarching question: Why do men - with or without disorders -- engage in such vice? What is it that stirs up the animal instincts in men and makes them powerless to control their libido?
The experiences analysed here show there are no cultural barriers to parental abuse. If it happens in western countries such as Austria and Australia, it can also happen in non-western societies such as Papua New Guinea. The challenge is for society to set up mechanisms that would serve as early warning signals so that these crimes could be detected on time before men inflict irreversible mental and psychological injuries on their daughters. There are too many monsters in men's clothing walking the streets of many countries. The best way to prevent these crimes is to find these criminals before they can claim more victims.