Sexual assault affects every stratum of society: every gender, race, religion and class. However, an alarming number of survivors in Malta say their stories of abuse began when they were minors.
From cat-calling to flashing, groping and even rape, in Lovin Malta’s survey on sexual harassment, hundreds of respondents said they experienced this violence as children.
“When I was a young teen, I used to go to a Christian group for youth. Our group leader, who was a priest in training, tried to have intercourse with me,” a man, now in his 20s, said.
This is the tenth part of a multi-article series shedding light on victims’ stories of sexual harassment and abuse in the country – from rape to abuse on transport, stalking, threats and digital abuse. Here are the stories of harassment of minors.
Abusers often prey on victims they perceive as powerless, like say, school children.
“I had a guy stalk me on the way home from school in Msida repeatedly. While I walked, he drove slowly, describing in detail what he wanted to do to me if he had the chance,” a British woman, now in her late 20s, said.
The harassment continued into sixth form.
“Another time I was walking from A level exams to the bus stop and a guy flashes me from by opening his long coat, exposing himself to young children near me too.”
“That same year, I was on the same route and a bus driver of a parked bus crept up behind me and shoved his hand up my knee-length skirt and grabbed my vagina. Another time, a guy tried to drag me and put me in his car as I was walking along a residential street in broad daylight. I grew up in five different countries and I experienced the most sexual harassment in Malta.”
“Once I was locked in a school bus and the driver tried to take advantage of me. I screamed and yelled to open the door of the bus. He was also a friend of my parents and was about 20 years older than me,” a woman, now in her 40s, explained.
One woman recalled a moment of sexual violence by her teacher that still haunts her today.
“There was this sports day activity and I was part of it. One of the organisers came into the room where we kept our things and wanted to take me to bed. He tried to force me but I didn’t give in. I was still young and never said anything to anyone. But that ugly experience is still there.”
Victims often try to downplay the abuse they experience. Some even blame themselves.
“I was 12 and walking with my step mum on the pavement and we were catcalled by people in a car. They kept honking and shouting that they wanted to rape us. At such a young age, I thought it was my fault. I felt dirty and ashamed and so I did not tell anyone,” a woman, 18 said.
“One time while walking to class in Ħamrun there was a delivery guy stuck in traffic who decided it was appropriate to please himself while catcalling me. He also thought it was a great moment to flash his junk at me. I somehow felt I deserved it,” a woman in her 20s said.
Abusers aren’t just older people. One respondent was assaulted by a school friend.
“There was a boy in my class that kept grabbing my breasts and vagina in crowded hallways. All he got was a telling off and, when he did it again, he got a detention,” a woman in her early 20s recalled.
“What’s more, he still tells people I’m a bitch for getting him in trouble at school, saying he was just having fun.”
“When I was like 12, I was on my way home from lessons and a group of men, clearly adults stopped their car and started to offer me money for sex,” a 40-year-old respondent said.
Many victims feel they can’t even walk anywhere without being exposed to hurls of sexual rhetoric.
“I used to like to walk around as a teen. I have so many memories of men driving their cars and slowing down next to me to pass a crass comment or blow kisses,” an 18-year-old said.
“Another time, I was out shopping with my mother in Valletta. A man asked me if I’d like a free full body massage in front of her in the middle of the afternoon.”
“Everyone I know has stories of being stalked. I’ve been followed, catcalled and given unwanted attention countless times from as young as a 13-year-old. Once I was waiting for the bus with my friend in Paola. Both of us were going to the beach. I noticed a guy flashing his private parts to us and jerking off whilst staring in my face. Whenever someone passed by he would hide it under his shirt,” a woman, 17, said.
Another was nearly kidnapped on the road.
“Years ago, I was walking to my friend’s house and a car with four guys stopped and tried to grab me to put me in the car. Thank god I managed to kick, scream and escape,” a respondent, now in her 30s, described.
One respondent wasn’t as lucky.
“When I was in my teens, this guy followed me home (it was in the afternoon in the middle of the street), grabbed me, pushed himself on me, held me down, and touched me everywhere. He finally let go, maybe because of my screams. He held my mouth and raped me,” a 30-year-old woman.
“I was too young, shocked and traumatised to tell anyone, let alone make a police report.”
Unfortunately, many respondents feel the same way. In fact, out of nearly 1,000 responses, just 5% said they filed police reports.
“I didn’t have much information on the man beside a vague description. It wouldn’t have led anywhere. This is only one case that I still consider reporting to the police now, but it’s been 15 years since it happened and I feel like nobody would believe me.”
Some abuse isn’t physical, with dozens more describing being forced to watch people touch themselves.
“As teenagers, my two girlfriends and I used the public toilets in Valletta. Once a man ran in, pulled his bits out and started wanking in front of us. We screamed and huddled together and climbed onto the window ledge and he kept getting closer while pleasing himself. He literally finished his job and ran off,” a woman in her mid-30s said.
“Outside of work, the worst incidents involved men masturbating in public where you can see them. This happened on buses, at the beach, while on picnics and once even in a shop,” another woman said.
Sexual violence doesn’t have to come from a passerby on the street. It could be a relative, teacher or superior at work.
“I was 17 and working in an office. I was getting some photocopies done and leaned over to add paper to the tray. A male colleague in his 40s put both his hands on my behind. I was too shocked to say anything, so just stared at him in surprise – this was in the mid-90s,” a 35-year old woman said.
“My manager forced me to touch his private parts. It was my first job, how was I supposed to react? I kept the job for a month but had to leave as I felt too bad every time I saw him,” one respondent, now 21, recalled.
Another woman in her 20s was assaulted at work.
“My boss, who was triple my age, would brush himself on me every time he passed my desk. I realised he was doing it to all the women there. I left, but others are still there years later.”
One man, 25, said he was harassed by a Maltese TV presenter.
“I used to work in TV morning shows as an intern. One of the well-known presenters who is still on the air, came in to introduce himself to me one day. It was all fine. Then he asked for my phone number. I felt weird giving it to him so I refused,” he said.
“He also made a joke once because I’m underage and it would be illegal. Then one day he came in before the show started and started massaging my shoulders. It was so out of nowhere I didn’t even know what to do.”
When he got home, he searched his name and found out that it “happened a couple of times with young interns working on his show”.
“But of course he got away with it. Needless to say, I quit that job because it was such a hostile work environment. All I know is that if we were in the USA right now, his career and show would be ruined. And honestly, I dream of the day it is.”
The anonymous man said the workplace allowed people in power to act as they pleased.
“On this show, a lot of politicians used to come as guests, mostly male politicians. And honestly, the disgusting things I would hear are surreal. One politician told a story to other men in the room about how he had a boner in the morning and his wife wouldn’t let him and I quote ‘put it in so he had to jerk off to some porn video,” he said.
One respondent said her colleague only stopped because other people came into the room.
“It was my first job in a hotel. I went to work at 4 am one morning and was looking at the roster in the kitchen. A colleague snuck up behind me and pushed me up against the wall and started to hug me tightly that I couldn’t move and he started grinding his dick on my ass.
“He stopped because he heard other people coming in the kitchen.”
“At work, my manager (I was only 16) used to ask us young girls how old were and if we had boyfriends. Sometimes when he walked close to me he grabs my hips. I only lasted a week there because it was uncomfortable,” another respondent, just 18, said.
“It was a day after I turned 16. At a staff Christmas party, one colleague offered me a lift home. I accepted as it wasn’t the first time he dropped me off at home,” another woman, now in her 30s said.
“But on this occasion, instead of taking the road to my house, he took another road. I started telling him that I have to wake up early for school and that my dad is waiting up for me to get home. He completely ignored me.”
He parked, reached over the passenger seat and he pulled the leaver to put her seat down.
“He then quickly got on top of me and started kissing me, my neck, my face and grabbing my breasts. I started crying and yelling, telling him to stop but all he said was “uwajma qas li qed nahxik! Oqod kwieta ghax nikxfek! Oqod kwieta!”
She kept on crying, saying her parents expected her at any moment. He eventually stopped and drove her home.
“I burned my skin with boiling water in the shower and cried myself to sleep. It’s been six years but I still can’t drive past the place he took me. I shudder every single time I see a white Toyota Pajero.”
Many decide they would rather quit their job than report to the police. However, when the abuser is a family member, it’s almost harder to break away.
“My best friend dad starting touching me while I was 12. I was waiting for my best friend to come downstairs. The other day at school everyone started calling me a whore because ‘the dad’ said that I intimidate him and everyone believed him. My family still doesn’t know,” one female respondent, now 16, said.
“When I was far younger, I opened the door to our house, and someone who asked for my uncle angrily grabbed my wrists, slammed me against the wall, and said something angrily which I was supposed to tell my uncle while fingering me. I think I was 11,” another, in her 30s, said.
One respondent said her cousin threatened to kill himself is she didn’t let him touch her. She felt she had no choice.
“Mine was incest. He was a priest, my uncle, the brother of my mother,” a woman in her late 50s said.
At 14, she went on a trip with him and a group of school friends to Verona. He booked a double bed for both of them.
“He invited me to go to bed with him. I tried to sleep in the bath, on the floor, until he realised I was trying to avoid him. Eventually, I called my sister in Malta who flew out to take me home.”
However, she says, no action was taken against her uncle, who passed away two years ago.
“He stalked me throughout my life and convinced me I was under his spell,” she said.
At least one child per week is a victim of sexual assault in Malta. Figures show that Malta over 30 cases of child sex abuse are registered each year since 2018, totalling 350. However, like countless other instances of sexual assault, the vast majority go unreported.
Psychological trauma, mood disorders and guilt play their part. However, time-barring on sexual assault cases is preventing victims from coming forward.
In Malta, sexual assault crimes can be time-barred for up to fifteen years, depending on aggravating factors like the victim’s age. It means that abusers can escape a guilty verdict and jail time if the victim reported the crime outside the stipulated time period.
This is made far more challenging when victims often know their perpetrators in Malta, and in some cases live with them.
In other words, time-barring allows pedophiles and sexual offenders to get away scot-free even if they’re guilty. Victims who suffered child abuse have previously spoken to Lovin Malta, detailing how the darkest moments of their life were made worse because of expiration dates on when they can come forward.
Time-barring on these crimes can be a major reason why victims, who are already left to deal with trauma, fail to turn to authorities for justice. Family Minister Michael Falzon has said he is open to removing time-barring on such cases, but it is yet to come to fruition.
The realities of sexual assault survivors have been front and centre thanks to the MeToo Movement, but it’s not enough to speak out about the issue. We need tangible action, by clamping down on offenders by removing time bars, making sure victims know what their rights are, and, in the case of minors, nurturing an environment where they feel comfortable enough to inform a person of authority.
No child deserves to have their lives robbed of peace and justice.
If you have suffered sexual assault, whether it was recently or not, and would like free, professional emotional support or legal assistance, get in touch with Victim Support Malta on + 356 2122 8333 or send an email to [email protected].
These are just some of the hundreds of personal, anonymous testimonies of sexual harassment victims have experienced in Malta. This series aims to give a voice to victims and empower them to break their silence to kick-start action.
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