scaled the brick wall that cordons off one of the abandoned blocks part of the Ta’ Monita complex where a gang of minors is alleged to have raped, molested and abused children their own age in Marsaskala.
The breeze wafting in through the windows overlooking Marsaskala bay is chilly. I move from one room to another trudging over broken glass panes, burnt mattresses and empty bottles of alcohol. Cigarette butts, condom packets, tissues, bus tickets and graffiti signal that others have entered this place before.
In a room a mattress is strewn in one corner. The graffiti on the wall warns intruders: ‘Leave my nest.’ Sexually explicit messages are written above the mattress. Similar rooms have mattresses strewn on the floor.
As I walk through the corridor a particular message catches my eye. ‘Have you ever been hated?’ someone wrote. Was it a simple meaningless message, the likes of which are often seen in public places written by someone passing through the follies of youth? Or was it a cry for help written in vain on the walls of a place few people bothered to venture into?
Metres away from the building I am inspecting, parents wait for the primary school gates to open. They talk of the shocking news. Mixed reactions of disbelief and condemnation pepper the air. The alleged perpetrators are mostly still children, under 18 years of age, some even 15 year olds. The parents cannot understand how a child can sexually molest another child, or worse how six kids can rape a disabled young girl.
These are stories reminiscent of a deranged New York suburb. But here we are just behind the Marsaskala parish church and its environs.
“These cases confirm all the reports the local council including myself had been lodging with the authorities about rampant vandalism and abuses in the locality,” Marsaskala Mayor Charlot Mifsud tells me.
He has been insisting for more police patrols in the area and the re-opening of the town’s police station for years.
Mifsud laments the authorities’ apparent ‘see no evil, hear no evil…’ attitude. “When I had spoken about vandalism and the incidence of drug taking in Marsaskala by youths who come here to entertain themselves, I was not believed. At one point I had also mentioned the area next to the primary school where youths congregated in the garden causing havoc and disturbing other people. I was not imagining things at the time and I feel sorry that things have come to this point,” he says.
Mifsud tells me that parents have approached him expressing their concern. “This situation hurts me and worries a lot of parents, who have young children that frequent the entertainment places in the area. Only this morning I had parents expressing their concern at what has happened. We are talking of children aged 12 and up; not adults. In most cases these kids just tag along with their peers not to appear odd or out of place. That is why I have been insisting on better police surveillance. I don’t want the reputation of my locality to be tarnished by such horrible deeds,” Mifsud says.
The Mayor’s reaction echoes that of many Marsaskala residents, shocked by the news that has shaken the idyllic seaside locality home to a growing population of youngish couples and a popular evening haunt during the summer months for many people in the South.
But the issue is not one linked solely to better enforcement. Marsaskala parish priest Fr Anton Cassar talks of a social problem and insists parents must not abdicate their role.
“Parents have to continue taking care of their children. Parents must listen to their children, talk to them and take heed of their moods and feelings. Too often I hear how parents don’t even know where their children are hanging out and with whom,” Fr Cassar says.
Meanwhile, the message on the wall has stuck in my head: ‘Have you ever been hated?’ Who knows what ‘hate’ the person writing the message was referring to?
The gang of 14 covered their faces while being taken to court on Thursday. It is unknown whether they did so out of shame or simply to protect their identity hoping they will still be able to continue their horrid game. Theirs will be a process conducted behind closed doors. Few details will emerge. The lurid stories will be buried deep in the Court’s registry. The accused are also victims of circumstances, of a society that is raising its children on a diet of glamour, where recognition among peers is life’s ultimate goal.
But there is also the pain and anguish of the victims of alleged rape, abuse and violence. Their scars will linger long after the Court delivers its sentence. The hurt will remain, they will probably hate themselves and possibly one day they will be the ones asking that painted question: “Have you ever been hated?”
Four boys aged 15
Two boys aged 16
Three boys aged 17
Three boys aged 18
One boy aged 20
One girl aged 16
- A 15 year old and 18 year old are brothers
- The youths are from Marsaskala, Zabbar and Zejtun
The 45 charges
- The youths stand accused among others of sexual abuse, rape of minors, public nudity, abduction, violent threats and possession and distribution of pornographic material to minors, theft and forging money
- The charges list 15 episodes of rape on seven separate occasions on the same five girls
- In one instance a disabled minor was allegedly gang raped by six boys
- Abuse is alleged to have occurred between May and November 2004 and May and October 2003
- The alleged abuse mainly took place in Marsaskala and Zabbar
The alleged victims
16 girls under the age of 18
One girl is disabled
Another has not yet reached 12 years of age
Eight are from Marsaskala, six from Zabbar, one is from Fgura and another is from Bormla