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, 6 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 5 children, my parents did not plan to have 5 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, 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. 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 10 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 you 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 9. 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 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 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 girls toilet, 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- I 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 5 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 favorite 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 3 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.
If you have been raped or you know someone who has, please visit us at The WARIF Centre – 6, Turton Street, off Thorburn Avenue, Sabo, Yaba or call our 24-hour confidential helpline on 08092100009.
For questions or more information please contact: email@example.com
*Real name of survivor changed for confidentiality