Culture & Communication
« Bravo to Mariella Furrer for her courage, vision, persistence, patience, creativity and compassion that give this work its lifeblood. And my highest respect and thanks to the brave souls who shared their lives in My Piece of Sky. Their testimony helps us get closer to understanding the incomprehensible. My Piece of Sky is transforming evidence; let it move us to a better place. »
— Preface by Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. Senior Fellow, The Child Trauma Academy, Houston, Texas
« Later the doctor told me that I would not be able to have babies. He said that when I am older and I want a baby, I cannot because my womb is not good anymore. He said my uncle had damaged my womb. »
— excerpt from interview with child abuse survivor Balbawa who was raped by her uncle on her 14th birthday
My Piece of Sky is a personal journey for Mariella Furrer that began over 30 years ago when a stranger molested her. She writes in the book’s foreword: « You lose your childhood really, your innocence is snatched away, and what little is left of that once-pure child is now being transformed into a sexual being, a child with knowledge of things way before her time. »
Mariella started documenting child sexual abuse in 2002 when a U.S. based women’s magazine hired her to take photographs for a story about infant rape in South Africa. She was so appalled by the number of victims she continued to explore the issue on her own. She spent the next ten years working in close collaboration with child protection advocates and the police to research and document with her camera and a sound recorder the crisis of child sexual abuse in South Africa.
The results of Mariella’s ten-year project are gathered together in My Piece of Sky: Stories of Child Sexual Abuse (November 2013). This monumental work presents over 600 pages of powerful photographs, in-depth interviews, and poignant artwork and poetry that collectively deliver an unprecedented and thought provoking examination of child sexual abuse, from how it impacts on the survivors and their families, to its effects on the local child services professionals, police, prosecutors, and the community at large. The book enters particularly difficult and risky terrain by offering insight into the backgrounds of the perpetrators, and how their own childhood experiences may have led them to abusing children.
Mariella approaches her work with grace, dignity, and compassion, and a willingness to navigate in rough waters with a deft but delicate touch, and without judging. This important work, that is a call to action to prevent and heal child sexual abuse globally, was previewed at this year’s international photojournalism festival Visa pour l’Image at Perpignan.
Among the exceptional aspects of the project is the access Mariella had to photograph, interview and follow her subjects. Through patience and persistence, she was able to get child organizations and law enforcement authorities, which are usually reluctant to open their doors, to do so. She became « one of them. » The trust she established enabled her to get her subjects to talk about their experiences with remarkable candor. While working with the children, she would sit on the floor to make them feel more comfortable. If they cried she would hold their hands. When speaking with sex offenders she told them that she did not regard them as « monsters, » and wanted to understand what motivated them.
The stories presented here reveal unspeakable depravity, horror, and suffering, but also reflect the amazing resilience of the survivors. Susanna, Venus, and Dylan are among the seventeen survivors who are interviewed in the book. To protect the identities of the subjects, the real names are not revealed unless otherwise mentioned. Here are snapshots of their stories:
Susanna was eight years old when she was initiated into a satanic cult where initiation activities included sexual abuse, gang rape and bestiality. As a result of the trauma she experienced, Susanna developed DID (dissociative identity disorder) as a coping mechanism, and has over 200 identities, many of whom are self- mutilators. (Pictured below are her mutilated legs.)
Venus was also eight when she was stabbed through her heart and lung, raped, sodomized, strangled and left for dead. The man who did this to her was a family friend. Venus hid overnight in the bushes. She was unable to cry for help because of the strangulation. She managed to pull herself onto the road in the morning where miraculously she was discovered by a neighbor and taken to hospital.
Dylan was sexually abused from a very young age by two of his male teachers. Filled with guilt, self-hate, and low self-esteem, he became a male prostitute and a drug addict, stole cars, lived on the streets, and was in and out of jail. At times he was able to regain control and hold a job, and for a while he was happily married, but it never lasted. In 2008 he was arrested and told that he would spend a very long time in prison. The day of his arrest he hanged himself in his cell.
The book also presents interviews with six sex offenders, a senior superintendent with the South African Police Service, and two prosecutors, and the stories of two children who were raped and murdered and who are remembered on the dedication page. The searing interviews are the backbone of this important volume.
In the book’s preface, Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. Senior Fellow, The Child Trauma Academy, Houston, Texas writes: « My Piece of Sky is an astounding work of transforming evidence. Calling My Piece of Sky a book is too limiting. The raw narrative of the survivors; the power and evocative force of their drawings; the haunting photographs … all combine to create a multi-sensorial experience that in the end allows a view of sexual abuse that is unparalleled … »
An estimated fifty child rapes are reported every day in South Africa, and child activists estimate the real rate of rape could be twenty times higher as many victims are too afraid or ashamed to report the abuse. Although Mariella focused her attention on South Africa, the tragic reality is that the sexual abuse of children is a global issue, and one that is rapidly on the rise. Mariella hopes that her book will help kick off a global campaign to stop the abuse of children.
My Piece of Sky was designed by Giorgio Baravalle at de.MO Design.
Photographer and Photojournalist Gary Knight oversaw the production and editing of the book.
Website Coming Soon!
Price: $36 U.S.
676 pages – 110 images – 52 illustration and journals Size 167 mm x 223 mm
About the Authors:
Mariella Furrer was born in Beirut in 1968, and has lived in Africa her whole life. She attended the Documentary Photography & Photojournalism Program at the International Center of Photography in New York. Since her graduation in 1993, Mariella has worked as a freelance photojournalist based in Kenya. Mariella was awarded an Amnesty International Media Award in 2011 for this work, a grant from 3P (Photographers Pro Photography) Foundation, France, in 2005, and a grant from the Hasselblad Foundation, Sweden, in 2003. She was shortlisted for The Anthropographia Award for Photography and Human Rights (2010), received a Honorable Mention from Unicef’s Photographer of the Year Award, 2005, and was nominated for the Sante Fe Prize for Photography, 2007. Her work has appeared in a wide variety of publications including: Time, Newsweek, Life, New York Times, Marie Claire, Outside, Talk, Paris Match andDer Spiegel. She has also participated in several book projects and shown her work at group exhibitions. For more information, visit www.mariellafurrer.com.
Dr. Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. is an internationally recognized authority on children in crisis. He is co-author of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog: What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love and Healing, a popular book based on his work with children, published by Basic Books. Over the past fifteen years, Dr. Perry has been an active teacher, clinician and researcher in children’s mental health and the neurosciences holding a variety of academic positions. He served as a consultant with the FBI and was a former Chief of Psychiatry at Texas Children’s Hospital, as well as former Vice-Chairman for Research in the department of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine. Currently, he is a senior fellow of the Child Trauma Academy in Houston, a non-profit organization that promotes innovations in service, research and education in child maltreatment and childhood trauma and adjunct Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago.
All images are copyright Mariella Furrer. Photo captions (below) are in the order the images are presented in the press release:
March 2003, The Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children, Johannesburg, Gauteng
A young girl attempts to flee a doctor’s room before a medical forensic examination. A nine-year-old relative who admitted to playing « sexual games » with her was later discovered to have been sexually abused himself. Both children were sent to counseling.
January 2006, Thembisa, Gauteng
A ten-year-old girl 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 six. She alleged that she had been raped, sodomised and forced to perform oral sex. She had severe problems with her eyes, a sore throat, vaginal discomfort, and was suspected to be suffering from gonorrhea.
The mutilated legs of Susanna. Initiated into a satanic cult at the age of eight, twenty-four-year-old Susanna developed DID as a coping mechanism and has over 200 identities, many of which are self-mutilators. The initiations involved many forms of sexual abuse, including bestiality, gang rapes, and child pornography.
November 2002, Johannesburg, Gauteng
Professor Lorna Jacklin, a neurodevelopment pediatrician and director of the Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children, begins a forensic medical examination on a sexually abused two-and-a-half-year-old girl. Asked to lie down for the medical check up, the toddler lay back and spread her legs as she had been taught to do by the perpetrator.
February 2007, Pretoria, Gauteng
Friends and relatives comfort Lebohang Mokoena, Sibongile’s aunt, at the Kliptown Community Hall. Lebohang was looking after Sibongile when she went missing.
November 2003, Pretoria, Gauteng
Members of the ANC Women’s League at Sibongile Mokoena’s funeral.
March 2007, Pretoria, Gauteng
Protest outside the court where Andrew Jordan, charged with Sheldean Human’s murder, is scheduled to appear.
April 2003, Johannesburg, Gauteng
A child’s drawing at the Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children.
November 2004, Germistan, Gauteng
Jennifer, thirteen years old, sits in a police car after being rescued during a night raid. Abducted in Durban, she had been brought to Johannesburg and forced into the sex trade. She said she had not been made to work yet, but alleged that the pimp and another man spiked her drink and raped her.
In collaboration with Andrea Smith Public Relations – International PR