Framework

Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

A child carries her doll down a hallway at the Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children. Johannesburg, South Africa, November 2002.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

A pediatric surgeon and his team perform an operation to rejoin Nomsa'€™s colon. It is assumed that she will be incontinent for the rest of her life. Pretoria Academic Hospital, July 2006.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

A girl, 10, speaks to Tinka Labuschagne, a senior education specialist with the South African Ministry of Education. The previous day the girl disclosed to her teacher that her brother and two of his friends had been sexually abusing her since she was 6. She alleged that she had been raped, sodomized and forced to perform oral sex. She had severe problems with her eyes, a sore throat and vaginal discomfort and was suspected to be suffering from gonorrhoea. Tembisa, South Africa, January 2006.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

A young girl attempts to flee the examining room before a medical forensic examination at the Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children. A 9-year-old relative who admitted to playing "sexual games"€™ with her was later discovered to have been abused himself. Both children were sent to counseling. Johannesburg, South Africa, March 2003.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

A girl, 8, who was sexually abused by her maternal uncle, 11, rests her head on the counter after giving a statement to police. The boy admitted to playing sexual games with the girl and was enrolled in a diversion program for young sex offenders. Delft, South Africa, March, 2004.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

A map marking the child abuse cases in the Johannesburg area hangs from a wall in the police FCS (Family Violence, Child Protection & Sexual Offences) unit. Braamfontein, South Africa, December 2002.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

Superintendent Jan Swart, commander of the Police Child Protection Unit in Goodwood, South Africa, sits at his desk piled high with dockets dealing with child abuse cases. March 2004.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

An 8-year-old boy gives a statement to Inspector Ian van Romburgh, a police child protection officer, about being sexually abuse. Mfuleni, South Africa, July 2005.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

A notice on the Crime and Investigation Network about Sheldean Human, 7, who disappeared in 2007. In 2008, Andrew Jordaan, who had an IQ of 76, confessed to the crime and led police to Sheldean's body. He was sentenced to life in prison. In 2012, he was beaten to death by a fellow inmate. Johannesburg, South Africa, March 2007.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

Inspector "Stroppie" Grobbelaar searches a manhole for any sign of Kamo. Outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa, December 2005.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

Inspector "Stroppie" Grobbelaar and his dog, Fargu, search nearby rivers and dams for the body of Kamo. Outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa, December 2005.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

Volunteers from all over Pretoria are debriefed before beginning to search for Sheldean Human. Pretoria, South Africa, February 2007.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

Inspector Leon "€˜Vossie"€™ Vorster orders his dog, Milton, to search Andrew Jordaan's room for human scent, blood or clothing belonging to Sheldean Human. Jordaan was the last person to be seen with Sheldean and eventually confessed to killing her. Pretoria, South Africa, February 2007.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

A computer teacher accused of pedophilia is arrested at Villa Liberi, a children's home with 11 children, including three children of the owners. Nigel, South Africa, February 2007.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

During the investigation into Sheldean's disappearance, a suspect is arrested at a children's home in a nearby town. He was cleared in her disappearance but arrested for other incidents of sexual abuse. Springs, South Africa, February 2007.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

Sheldean Human's mother, Elize, breaks down as she speaks to the press on the afternoon after her daughter's body was found. "I am broken," she said. Wickus, Sheldean's father, sits next to her, his leg in a cast after being injured during the search. Pretoria Gardens, South Africa, March 2007.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

Nthabiseng Mokoena lies near a casket holding the body of her daughter, Sibongile, 3, who was raped and murdered in November 2003. A 23-year-old family acquaintance was arrested in the case. Soweto, South Africa, November 2003.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

The funeral for 3-year-old Sibongile Mokoena, who was raped and murdered. Robert Modimule, 23, a family acquaintance, was arrested. Kliptown, South Africa, November 2003.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

The funeral of Tina Bernardes, 11, the last victim in a series of sexually motivated crimes known as the "Mine Dump Killings." Sipho Dube, 25, was given 10 life sentences for seven murders and three rapes and an additional 114 years for other crimes, including indecent assault and kidnapping. Jeppestown, South Africa, November 2003.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

Friends and relatives try to comfort Lebohang Mokoena, Sibongile's aunt, at the Kliptown Community Hall. Lebohang was taking care of Sibongile when she went missing. Soweto, South Africa, November 2003.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

A classmate of Sheldean Human cries at her memorial. Pretoria, South Africa, March 2007.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

A classmate of Sheldean Human cries at her memorial. Pretoria, South Africa, March 2007.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

Protesters demonstrate outside the court where Andrew Jordaan, charged with Sheldean Human'€™s murder, was scheduled to appear. Pretoria, South Africa, March 2007.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

Officers prepare to raid an apartment where they suspect children are being forced into prostitution. Johannesburg, South Africa, November 2004.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

The room where three young girls were found locked behind a solid steel door in an apartment complex. The girls refused to cooperate with the police and were taken to the Police Child Protection Unit for further questioning. Durban, South Africa, January 2005.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

Police raid an apartment suspected of housing children forced into prostitution. Police found crack cocaine and arrested a Nigerian man for statutory rape. Durban, South Africa, January 2005.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

Jennifer, 13, sits in a police car after being rescued in a raid by authorities. Abducted in Durban, she had been taken to Johannesburg and was to be forced into the sex trade. She said she had not been made to work yet, but alleged that a pimp and another man spiked her drink and raped her. Germiston, South Africa, November 2004.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

During a session of Kid's Court Support at the Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children, a volunteer speaks to children during a reenactment of a sexual abuse trial. The clinic has a room designed and furnished like a real courtroom. During this session, the children dressed up and role-played as Little Red Riding Hood, the survivor of sexual abuse, and the Big Bad Wolf, the perpetrator. Johannesburg, South Africa, April 2003.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

Puppeteers perform for schoolchildren a skit designed to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and sexual abuse. Naledi, South Africa, April 2003.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Mariella Furrer

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reFramed: In conversation with Mariella Furrer

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reFramed: In conversation with Mariella Furrer

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reFramed: In conversation with Mariella Furrer

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reFramed: In conversation with Mariella Furrer

“reFramed” is a feature showcasing fine art photography and vision-forward photojournalism. It is curated by Los Angeles Times staff photographer Barbara Davidson. Follow Barbara on Twitter.

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Mariella Furrer is of Swiss and Lebanese descent and has lived in Africa her whole life. She studied in the documentary photography and photojournalism program at the International Center of Photography in New York and, since her graduation in 1993, has worked as a frereFRAMED | Mariella Furrerelance photojournalist based in Kenya. For her work, she won an Amnesty International Media Award in 2011, a grant from France’s 3P (Photographers Pro Photography) Foundation in 2005, and a grant from Sweden’s Hasselblad Foundation in 2003. She was shortlisted for the AnthropoGraphia Award for Photography and Human Rights in 2010, received a honorable mention in UNICEF’s Photographer of the Year Award competition in 2005, and was nominated for a Santa Fe Prize for Photography in 2007. Her work has appeared in a wide variety of publications including Time, Newsweek, Life, the New York Times, Outside magazine, Talk magazine, Paris Match and Der Spiegel. She has also participated in several book projects and shown her work at group exhibitions. For more information, visit http://www.mariellafurrer.com, http://www.mypieceofsky.com and http://www.facebook.com/mypieceofsky.

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Q: I look at your work and I see a profound commitment to creating awareness about child sexual abuse. What inspired you to tell this story?

A: When I was about 5 years old, I was sexually abused by a stranger. I don’t think at that age I really understood what it was that had happened to me, but somehow I knew it was wrong, and I felt to blame for letting the man touch me.

The molestation could not have lasted more than a couple of minutes, but the incident affected my life in ways that are difficult to articulate. As a 5-year-old, I don’t think you really understand that you have lost something when you are abused. Yet you have; something does change. You lose your childhood really, your innocence is snatched away, and what little is left of that once-pure child is now transformed into a sexual being, a child with a knowledge of things way before her time.

“My Piece of Sky” is the result of the journey that has since led me to explore the world of child sexual abuse. It is testimony to the young children who have survived the experience of rape, and those who have lost their lives to it.

reFRAMED | Mariella Furrer

Professor Lorna Jacklin, a neuro-developmental pediatrician and director of the Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children, begins a medical check up on a sexually abused 2½-year-old girl. Asked to lie down for the medical check up, the toddler lay back and spread her legs as she had been trained to do by the perpetrator. Johannesburg, November 2002.

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Q: How did you gain the trust from those who could help you tell this story?

A: Most of my access came through the Johannesburg-based Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children and the South African Police Service. Other contacts were made through individuals working in the fields of child protection and healing. Young survivors are surrounded by child-rights activists and child-protection officers whose absolute priority is the well-being of the children, and it took me a very long time to gain their trust. But once I had it, I was considered one of them. Today, I believe that I am as much an activist for the rights and protection of these children as anyone else, and many police officers and child protection advocates remain my dear friends, as do many of the young survivors and their families.

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Q: What was your photographic approach when working with the survivors?

A: All my photos and interviews with children were made with consent from the child’s guardian or caretaker. Once I had this consent, I would always explain to the child (if they were old enough to understand) that I was working on a project about the bad things that people do to children, that it also happened to me, and that I really hoped that one day, when people saw these photos and read these interviews, that they would want to help stop this happening to other children. I also guaranteed that they would never be identifiable in photos or interviews.

When children are molested or raped, they lose control over what is happening to them and their bodies; so when working with victims I was very sensitive about giving control back to them. I would generally begin by sitting on the floor in a corner or somewhere out of the way. Once in my spot, I would move very little. I would take very few photos, watching to see how the children responded to the camera. I would interact with them often, becoming part of the team that worked to comfort them and make them feel safe. Throughout the process I would tell them that if at any time they felt uncomfortable with me or my camera, I would stop.

Using a camera in a situation like this is very much like pointing a finger at the survivor saying: “This happened to you!” So I was very careful about the way I worked and always very conscious of how it would have felt to have a camera pointed at me at 5 years old after my own molestation.

Also when working with survivors, most of the time I used a small camera, either a Leica or a more advanced version of a point-and-shoot. Quality was not my priority. I wanted to be able to tell this story without causing secondary trauma.

reFRAMED | Mariella Furrer

The mutilated legs of Susanna. Initiated into a Satanic cult at the age of 8, Susanna, 24, suffers from dissociative identity disorder (DID). Having endured severe ritual sexual abuse for almost 18 years, she developed DID as a coping mechanism and has more than 300 different identities, many of whom are self-mutilators. The initiations involved many forms of sexual abuse including bestiality, gang rapes, and child pornography. December 2008.

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Q: You have said, “A few years into the project I decided I needed more than photography to tell this story.” How did you expand the story line without pictures?

A: At some point I felt that I needed to move beyond just the photography and to try to create a multisensory experience for anyone who was to see this work. I was curious to know more about child sexual abuse, its impact on the survivors, their families, the police, the lawyers, and to try to understand what motivated the perpetrators. So I began conducting in-depth interviews that would give me a better psychological and emotional understanding of their lives. My questions related to the psychology behind the trauma. What were they thinking when they were going through the attack? How did it impact them throughout their life, in their relationships, emotionally and sexually?

My interviews with the perpetrators were really motivated by my need to understand their childhoods, when they were first attracted to children, whether they were abused or not, how they chose their victims, and how they went about abusing them.

I also collected journals, artwork, text messages … anything that I felt would give more of an insight into what it means to be sexually abused as a child.

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Q: Your project explores the many dimensions and complexities of child sexual abuse. How did you decide what aspects of this issue you wanted to tell?

A: I initially wanted to be able to share with people as many facets of child sexual abuse as possible. This aspect of the project I did by intuition. I immersed myself into the world of child sexual abuse for 10 years. I could have continued working on it and adding more “information” as there is no end to reports of child sexual abuse, but after 10 years I was emotionally and psychologically burned out and was more or less forced to stop.

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Q: With such a large body of work, editing your book must have been a trying journey. What was the editing approach?

A: By the time I got the editing of the book, it was approaching 11 years on this project and I was just exhausted. So to be honest, I relied heavily on an old friend and colleague, Gary Knight, who oversaw the post-production and the publishing of the book; Giorgio Baravalle, the designer; and Jacques Menasche, a writer and filmmaker.

Gary and Giorgio helped me edit down the photos, which was thankfully not too traumatic. I think the most difficult job was the editing of the text and the design of the book.

Jacques had to cut out 100,000 words, ALL of which I was very attached to. … He did an amazing job, and I managed to squeeze a few paragraphs back into the book with his permission.

Giorgio had the almost impossible job of designing what should have probably been three books (photography, interviews and text, ritual sexual abuse) into one coherent package. It was no easy feat but I think he did an amazing job and am immensely grateful.

reFRAMED | Mariella Furrer

Venus, 8, shows her scar. Stabbed through her heart and lung, raped, sodomized, strangled and left for dead, she hid overnight in the bushes before dragging herself to a main road where she was discovered. The perpetrator, later arrested, is HIV positive. Venus is negative. Mitchells Plain, Western Cape, July 2005.

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Q: Has telling this story taken a toll on you?

A: Ten years later, I am not the same person. Not because I have aged, but because I have learned so much — too much really. Meeting these people and hearing their stories has taken me to the limits of my psychological, emotional and spiritual existence. It has tested me in ways that I am not yet able to comprehend. After many of the interviews I would lie on my floor for hours, in shock at what I had heard.

Many times I have wanted to lock these interviews and photos up and walk away from them, pretend I had never heard them or seen them. Only a sense of obligation to those who shared their deepest, darkest secrets with me, so that it does not happen again, has prevented me from doing so.

I have been carrying everyone’s stories, secrets for so long that I feel they have in a sense become a part of me. … So I have taken a few months off to rest and heal and prepare for a new year of adventure.

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Q: You documented this story in South Africa, but this is a global issue. How have child sex abuse survivors responded to your work?

A: I have had an amazing response from survivors and their families and have been really moved by the number of emails I have received from around the world regarding “My Piece of Sky.” This book is very different than anything that has ever been done on child sexual abuse, and I think it resonates with many people.

After a BBC interview I did a couple of years ago about this work, I received an email from an elderly lady who disclosed her abuse to me — for the first time ever. She had never told a soul about it and had been carrying this burden with her for over 50 years. …  I hope that “My Piece of Sky” will be the catalyst that gets people talking … so that they rid themselves of the shame and the blame and begin the road to true recovery. And, that it gives them enough information to be able to find ways within their own communities to protect their children … so that as time goes on we see less and less victims of child sexual abuse, child abuse and, as a result, fewer perpetrators.

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Q: What is the significance of the title of your book?

A: I titled the book “My Piece of Sky” after a quote by Dylan in my book:

“I would love to write a book. I would call it ‘My Piece of Sky’ because when I was in prison I spent 365 days in isolation at one stage because I was quite a radical, naughty boy. I was lying in prison and all I had in my single cell was the window, and I had my piece of sky, you see? And that, my piece of sky, was what I was thinking, what I was going back to, reliving past events. I had all this time to myself, a whole year, 365 days without contact, and that was my piece of sky.”
Dylan was sexually abused by several people as a child. At 13, he began making people pay to take advantage of him. Although Dylan tried hard to live a normal life, he kept falling back into a life of drugs and crime. On April 23, 2008, Dylan was arrested and was told he would be spending a very long time in prison. At about 5 p.m. the same day he took his jeans off and hanged himself in his cell. “My Piece of Sky” is named in his memory.

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Q: If people want to support organizations that help child abuse survivors, where can they find them?

A: There are so many organizations that really deserve funding, but I have listed a few of my favorites below.

South Africa:
Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children:  http://ttbc.org.za
Childline:  http://www.childlinesa.org.za

United States:
Darkness to light:  http://www.d2l.org
Little Warriors   http://littlewarriors.ca

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barbara.davidson@latimes.com

twitter@photospice

1 Comment

  1. January 7, 2014, 6:21 pm

    This is heart-breaking. I don’t understand how someone could be sick enough to hurt anyone in this way. It is so sick. This is triggering… I hope those children are okay, and I hope the amazing photograper is okay as well.

    By: Selena

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