Welcome to the WARIF Survivor Stories Series, a monthly feature, where stories of survivors of rape and sexual violence are shared to motivate and encourage survivors to speak their truth without the fear of judgment or stigmatization and to educate the public on the sheer magnitude of this problem in our society. 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 that covers health, education, and community service initiatives.
WARIF aids survivors of rape and sexual violence through the WARIF Centre – a haven where trained professionals are present full time, 6 days a week including public holidays to offer immediate medical care, forensic medical examinations, psycho-social counseling, 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.
Raped by a stranger, stigmatized, and raped again…
As a teenager, I had lofty dreams of becoming a pilot and thought the paths were laid out for me to achieve my aspirations. But when I became 14 years old, all my dreams and aspirations were cut short, and I had to take up a cleaner role in a secondary school establishment just to survive and take care of my son.
My name is Maryam* and I am 34 years old. I am the fourth born in a family of five but lost both parents before I turned 5 years old. My maternal aunt and her husband who had three children of their own were kind enough to take me in and raise me, that made me their fourth child by extension. They were both lecturers at a Federal University and lived in the university’s staff quarters. My aunt and her husband were very supportive, they enrolled me in good schools, gave me all the support needed to excel in my academics, and treated me as their child.
My ordeal started when I embarked on a journey to visit my maternal grandmother in the village somewhere in the north-central part of Nigeria. My grandma had fallen ill, and my aunt needed to deliver some items to her. I chose to go to the village to deliver the items to my grandma because I had not seen her since I started staying with my aunt. My aunt dropped me at the park and waited for the bus to take off before leaving. We said our goodbyes and the journey started. Not long into the journey, the vehicle broke down and we had to spend some time on the road fixing the vehicle. On getting back on the road after fixing the vehicle, the journey became slow because the bus was moving at a snail’s speed. At 7 pm the driver informed us that we could not continue with the journey because the road was bad and dangerous at night so we had to park the vehicle and spend the night in the next village ahead.
The passenger who sat next to me from the beginning of the journey was a gentleman in his late thirties. He told me his name was Aliyu and he had chatted with me throughout the journey about the seminar he attended in Lagos to other stories about road travel. He seemed very nice, and I did not think twice about it when he offered that instead of sleeping in the bus at a car park, I should spend the night at his mother’s place which was in the next village where we were to stop for the night. I imagined taking a bath, having a good meal, and getting proper rest as we had been on the road all day amid vehicle problems. Aliyu’s mother was an elderly kind woman who ensured that I was well taken care of as Aliyu told her about our experience. She offered me her room to sleep in, but Aliyu requested that I sleep in his room instead, that he would spend the night with his friends in the village. We all said goodnight and I retired for the night.
Later in the night, I heard repeated bangs on the door. With Aliyu’s mother fast asleep, I went to the door to find out who was knocking, and it turned out to be Aliyu. He asked me to open the door because something unusual had happened at his friend’s place and he had to leave. He told me he would sleep on the floor in his room, and I went back to sleep. After a while, I felt a weight on my body that awoke me from my sleep. Aliyu was forcing himself on me while he covered my mouth with his hands. He ripped my pants as I struggled and pleaded with him with tears in my eyes, but he didn’t stop. Aliyu raped me.
I couldn’t sleep after the experience, the mattress had blood stains and I felt pain in my tummy and vagina. He apologized, said he was sorry and boiled water to massage my body. In the morning, he took me to the park. I did not see his mother before I left, he told me she was still asleep. I neither told my grandmother what happened upon arriving at the village nor did I tell my aunt and her husband upon my return to Lagos because I lacked the courage to do so. I had mood swings, was irritated by the presence of members of the opposite sex and I had constant flashbacks, but I did not know who to open up to.
I missed my period in the months that followed my travel, but since I had just recently begun menstruating, my aunt felt the irregularity was normal. I had always been a good child, so she did not suspect that anything might be wrong. However, my aunt’s friend called her and insisted she carried out a pregnancy test because she suspected that I was pregnant. I was taken to the hospital and the pregnancy test came out positive. My aunt was heartbroken, saying that I had betrayed their trust and they couldn’t bear the shame my staying in their home would bring. Despite my pleas and even though it was not my fault, their mind was made up – I had left them with no choice but to return me to the village. As I packed my belongings, I cursed the day I met Aliyu the rapist.
That was the beginning of the end of my dreams and aspirations. I was returned to the village to be with my grandmother, my schooling stopped, and I was a pregnant teenager in the village. The shame and stigma I experienced in the village was a bitter pill to swallow. I watched my mates go to school while I stayed at home because I was pregnant from a rape incident. After nine months, I gave birth to a baby boy. My grandmother took care of both of us while I assisted her with house chores and took care of my baby.
When my son became one year old, I decided to go in search of his father. I was 16 years old at the time. I went to the village, met with Aliyu’s mother, and reminded her of my stay in her house about two years prior. Aliyu’s mother kept glancing at my son but asked no questions and made no comment. I am sure she was wondering how I was with a baby that looked exactly like her son Aliyu. I demanded to see her son and she asked someone to take me to his office in town. Aliyu was shocked when he saw me, but he could not deny that the child was his due to the striking resemblance. I told him he had to take responsibility for what he did and for his child, but he told me that he was married with three children and that on the night he raped me, he had sneaked out of his matrimonial home to come back to his mother’s place. I insisted that he come with me to see my relatives which he did. He told them he could make me his second wife on the condition that his family never knows I exist. My relatives were angry and rejected his offer. He stormed out angrily and he has never checked up on us since that day.
My hatred for Aliyu grew. How could I live with seeing the face of my abuser every day as I looked in the face of my son? How could I cope with this pain, nursing the child of my abuser? What calmed me was the thought that my child is innocent of the crime, and he should not be made to suffer for his father’s wrongdoing. After nursing my baby for five years, I returned to Lagos in search of greener pastures. By the time, I arrived, I learned that my aunt and her family had relocated abroad. I got a job as a cleaner in a secondary school, and I was able to start sending money to my grandma to cater to herself and my son. Things began to look up as my son did well academically.
On a certain evening after a hard day’s work, I decided to relax at a kinsman’s bar and treat myself to a plate of pepper soup and drink. I sat at a table alone, but two men later joined the table and ordered drinks. I recognized them from previous visits to see the owner of the bar who was my kinsman, so when they engaged me in general discussions, I obliged. The men offered to pay for my drinks, but I declined the offer, telling them not to worry about it. After some time, I was pressed, stood up to use the bathroom, and returned to continue with my drink. That was the last thing I remembered.
I woke up naked on a bed in a stranger’s room. I was startled and confused, only to turn and see one of the guys from the bar. My anxiety rose and I woke him up and asked what I was doing in his room, and he told me, that I fell asleep and then he brought me to his place. ‘So, why am I naked’ I asked, he responded that we had sex as he reached out to pull me close, demanding that we do another round. I slapped his face, hit him several times, and got up to wear my clothes. He just sarcastically laughed at me and said that I could do nothing to him. I stormed out of his apartment and left for my house in a hurry. On getting home my neighbor came to my room because she had worried about me. It was unlike me not to return home and not inform her ahead of any engagement that would make me stay out for the night. Amidst tears, I narrated my ordeal at the hands of the man from the bar and she comforted me and encouraged me to go to the police. We both went to the police station and reported the case, and the perpetrator was arrested.
I had a mental breakdown after this. Why me? I asked. I became bitter and angry, and I resented men in general. I lost concentration a lot and had feelings of guilt, blaming myself for all that had happened to me, this led to me becoming depressed and suicidal. Despite all these, good fortune shone on me, and things took a turn for the better after I got directed to WARIF Rape Crisis Centre.
At the WARIF Centre, I got was able to access medical care including examinations such as testing and psycho-social counseling. I was wounded emotionally from the past and the counselor was able to help me in dealing with the guilt and self-blame. I was able to come to terms with the fact that what happened to me was not my fault, thus I began my journey through the process of healing. I decided to allow my son to meet his father and to see how I can piece my life together to be able to aspire to new things for myself.
I am grateful for the safe space I have at the WARIF Centre and for the emotional and psychological support from the counselor on my journey to healing.
Dear survivor, please know that you are not alone, and it is not your fault. Help is available.
If you have been raped or know someone who has, please visit us at:
The WARIF Centre – 6, Turton Street, off Thorburn Avenue, Sabo, Yaba.
Or call our 24-hour toll-free confidential helpline on 0800-9210-0009.
For questions or more information please contact: email@example.com
*Real name of survivor changed for confidentiality*