Speaking the unspeakable

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
The writer, Elizabeth Ohene
The writer, Elizabeth Ohene

Deep breath. I suppose you can’t write on sex and expect not to raise temperatures. Usually when I write on any subject, I take the position that I should not get involved in whatever discussion that is generated by the article.

I have already broken this long-standing, self-imposed rule by agreeing to write for the BBC a follow-up to my column last week on my having been sexually molested as a child.

I am told I have been “trending on social media” since last Wednesday and I confess I am bemused at what it has taken to gain such fame, or maybe notoriety is the appropriate word.

Whilst I have every intention to leave the social media to make of the article whatever they want, I believe I owe it to the very many people who have made contact with me to make a public acknowledgement of thanks and gratitude.


I suspect there will be no consensus on whether it is a good idea for me to write about having been sexually molested 67 years after the event.

There are those who don’t think it is a good idea to write at all about such a thing.

I have been given many reasons, mostly a feeling that it is not proper to write or talk about such things in public.

There are those who say that having kept silent about it for so long, I have forfeited my right to be heard on the subject.

Statute of limitations, I believe is what the legal people call it.

Since I am not seeking any remedies, I am not sure that this can be invoked.

Then there are those who feel it is too difficult a subject to have to deal with in public.

I believe there is something to be said for this.

I admit it is a difficult thing to pour out on people.

A kind person has sent to me what he says are some of “the most outrageous reasons some people have found to condemn you and the article”.

These include me being an attention seeker, (hmmm, as we used to say in the old days, try another), a lover of homosexuals, (wonder where that fits in the LGBTQ definitions), trying to divert attention from the CSE brouhaha and a political hack who is trying something to rescue her party from the abyss (completely lost on me).

Somebody suggested I was making a mountain out of a molehill; according to this viewpoint, apparently there are millions of women who have had similar experiences and have simply gone on with their lives and not tried to make a big deal out of it. (Such women are obviously stronger than me, aren’t they?)

Another person challenged my recollection of the incident, because at 74 years of age, I am probably suffering from dementia and not in a position to remember clearly something that happened 67 years ago.

And along similar lines, I am being told I cannot possibly remember the body smell of my molester. (I do).

Someone also sent me a message to question why I should waste the time of the reading public on such a subject when we have important things to worry about such as corruption, bad roads, lack of potable water in our towns and villages, lack of housing and dilapidated classrooms. (Touche, I would say).

It would have been very surprising if everybody had reacted the same way to last week’s column.

However, I should say that the overwhelming response that I have got has been supportive.

The words used the most have been thank you.

Thank you

The messages and phone calls have been to say thank you for daring to speak the unspeakable.

The saddest ones have been from other women who say that by writing the article, I have given them the strength to face up to the abuse they suffered during their childhood and which has continued gnawing at them through adulthood.

I was touched by the man who walked up to me at the vegetable section of the supermarket and told me the article had reduced him to tears.

And thank you to the gentleman who brought up the subject at the barber’s shop last Saturday.

In the past week, I have heard stories that have shocked me, made me angry and saddened me.

I have been dismayed at the sheer number of people who say that hypocrisy is in our DNA and we will never speak openly about sex or agree to sex education for children.

Many people have suggested it is important to seize the opportunity to start the painful but necessary conversation about child sex abuse in our country.

It would be presumptuous to think that the telling of my grim story, 67 years after the event, would be the spark that would light the flame to start openness and encourage sex education in our society.

As I have said elsewhere, I don’t think I have displayed much bravery by telling the story at this late stage of my life.

If I have any regret, it is that I did not summon the courage to tell the story much, much earlier.

I have no doubt that it would have been more useful, would have had greater impact and would probably have saved some children from the trauma of sex abuse.

I hope more women, younger ones especially, will be encouraged to tell of such experiences and we will succeed in removing the shame that is attached to suffering abuse.

I am grateful to all those who have taken the trouble to make contact with me and offer their support.

I would like to share some of such messages: Thank you.

You are one of the very few who can summon the courage to speak the unvarnished truth and expose the hypocrisy of our society.

Thanks for being brave enough to speak out in the hope of empowering the many young girls suffering daily abuse. You have made my day, my month, my year, you have redeemed me.

I am angry that you bore all that pain silently all these years.

There was nothing to show that you were carrying such a load all these years, you are a strong woman.

If you want to carry this forward into a full campaign, I am happy to join you. Thank you for exposing your pain to force us to look at ourselves.

I agree that this is a difficult subject and as much as possible, I shall not be dwelling on it.

I must confess though that I am happy and very relieved that I have finally found whatever it takes to tell the story.