- By Dr. Kemi DaSilva-Ibru

Dear Reader,

Welcome to the WARIF Survivor Stories Series, a monthly feature, where stories of survivors of rape and sexual violence will be shared to motivate and encourage survivors to speak their truth without the fear of judgement or stigmatiza­tion and to educate the public on the sheer magnitude of this problem in our society. This series was launched in response to the positive feedback received by me from survivors following my cover interview in This Day Style Magazine on the 28th of July, 2019.

We will start with a brief introducti­on of WARIF and the impact we hope to achieve with this series. The Women at Risk Internatio­nal Foundation (WARIF) is a non-profit organizati­on set up in response to the extremely high incidence of rape, sexual violence and human traffickin­g of young girls and women in our society. WARIF is tackling this issue through a holistic approach which covers initiative­s in health, education and community service.

WARIF offers assistance to survivors of rape and sexual violence through the WARIF Centre, a safe haven where trained profession­als are present full time, six days a week including public holidays to offer immediate medical care, forensic medical examinatio­ns, psycho- social counsellin­g and welfare services which include shelter, legal aid and vocational skills training. These services are provided FREE of charge to any survivor who walks into the Centre.

We start the series with our first survivor Lola* who shares her story of abuse from childhood.

“I was the 4th of five children. My parents did not plan to have five children and so my younger brother and I were always seen as mistakes or burdens. My parents had to work twice as hard to make ends meet for the family; my dad was a constructi­on worker so he was hardly at home as there was always one building that needed to be completed and so sometimes, he wouldn’t come home for days.

My mom knew that my dad’s constructi­on job was not sustainabl­e. He was getting older and the jobs were not coming in as often as they used to. So she took a loan from a microfinan­ce bank and expanded her little kiosk where she sold provisions and turned it into a shop; she became ten times busier as she was meeting the needs of not just the people on our street, but almost the whole area at this point.

Whenever she came home from the shop, she was tired, cranky and didn’t even want to hear that any child was up to mischief. If she had a bad day, she would take out the frustratio­n on us with her long cane that she kept behind the freezer. We did not like that cane.

The year my mother expanded her shop, I turned nine. The burden was becoming a lot on her as my older siblings had gone off to boarding school and she had to worry about my brother and I. It was at this point that she brought her youngest sibling to stay with us – Uncle

Lola grew up with physical pain from the abuse and emotional scarring from the horrific experience­s that shaped her life. This is the case with many survivors until they seek help and start their journey to healing.

Sunday. We were all very excited when he came because we were all so close to him; he would to buy us sweets and biscuits every time he came to visit and would carry us on his shoulders and twirl us around. It was always a lot of fun.

One Sunday afternoon, right after the church service as we waited for my mother to finish one of her Women’s meetings; I walked into the toilet and saw that John had followed me in, he was the son of one of the women in my mother’s group and I always thought he was strange. I asked what he was doing in the girl’s toilet but he did not respond. He pulled down his trousers and asked me to touch his penis – I was confused about what he was doing and asked him why? I said I would report him to his mom for playing in the girl’s toilet. Just as I was about to push him away, my uncle walked into the toilet and saw my hands on him with his pants down, such an uncompromi­sing position. He shouted at me, I tried to explain that John followed me and I didn’t touch his penis. He called me a naughty girl and said he would tell my mom what I do in toilets. I pleaded with him not to tell her, if he did, I would be beaten severely, I did not want that.

A week later, the nightmare began! Just after I thought Uncle Sunday had forgotten about the incident, he called me to his room and accused me of always playing with boys. He said I was a bad girl and reminded me of what he saw in the toilet. He said “Do you remember your mom has warned you many times not to play with boys? What exactly were you and that boy doing the other day? I need you to demonstrat­e it to me, otherwise I will tell your mom.” I remember that day like it was yesterday! His eyes became scary as he rose to take off his clothes. He stripped naked and asked me to touch his penis. I was so scared and confused, I didn’t understand what was going on. I didn’t want to scream because I was afraid he would tell my mom. I didn’t want to get into trouble. I didn’t want to be beaten. He told me to lie down and cover my mouth, I tried to explain that all John told me to do was touch his penis. He called me a liar and said he was going to confirm whether John did something else to me.

He told me to take off my underwear and at this point, I was crying and begging; he put his heavy weight on me, parted my legs and inserted himself into me. I felt like dying - l had never experience­d this form of pain before. It felt like I was being torn open. I begged him to stop, I told him this was not what John did, I told him he was hurting me but he kept moving up and down on me as he asked me over and over again “Is this what he did? Did you like it?”

When he was done, he stood up and tossed my underwear to me, he told me not to bother telling anyone. He said that no one will believe me because they know I am fond of playing with boys. He said my mom has warned me several times not to play with boys so if I say anything he will tell her that he has seen me with five different boys at different times in the church toilet. I knew it was my word against his and she would definitely believe him; after all, he was her favourite sibling and I was just a child.

Uncle Sunday continued this assault on me. He would pick us up from school, place my brother in front of the TV with some snacks and take me into the room. It happened almost every day after school, sometimes he would use his fingers or tell me to use my mouth. He lived with us for three years. These were the worst years of my life. I didn’t want to go home from school. I stopped associatin­g with people, I hated all boys and men. I felt all my classmates were better than me; every night I would sleep in fear and be awakened by either Uncle Sunday or nightmares. I lost my appetite and couldn’t eat anything. I felt worthless and prayed that someone would notice. I wanted my mother to notice. But she didn’t.

I became a very angry person and would daydream about how to kill Uncle Sunday, I felt I could poison the stupid fanta that he drank every time he was done with me. When I couldn’t bring myself to do it, I contemplat­ed killing myself because I wanted it all to end. I wanted the pain to end, I wanted the shame to end, I wanted the emptiness to end. If no one noticed my pain and how I was feeling, then no one would miss me if I was dead.”

Lola grew up with physical pain from the abuse and emotional scarring from the horrific experience­s that shaped her life. This is the case with many survivors until they seek help and start their journey to healing.

Lola is currently a critically acclaimed visual artist, she learnt to channel her experience­s into her work as a form of release and coping strategy. She has found healing through counsellin­g at WARIF and is an advocate for the eliminatio­n of sexual violence against young girls.

Dear survivor, please know that you are not alone and it is not your fault. Help is available.

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