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.
Childhood abuse is more prevalent than most people know. It is said to be the most common issue of trauma in adulthood. It’s so sad that a large percentage of children go through “Child Traumatic Stress” when sexually abused. Most time, the perpetrators are the so-called trusted family members, associates, and friends. This is often possible through grooming and most families have fallen prey to it. Mine wasn’t an exception and I want my story to be a lesson to other families so they can avoid my pitfalls and the mistakes made.
This is my story!
My name is Winifred*. I’m the firstborn and only daughter in a family of two. My parents are both working-class and they work on the Island while we live on the mainland in a central location that is easily accessible to the Island. Every morning just like the average working-class family in Lagos, we wake up early, say our prayers as quickly as we can, head for the bathroom for a wash after which we grab our breakfast and then our parents drop us off at school while they head for their offices. It’s the usual routine for us and this never changed until I gained admission into the University recently and left for school.
When I turned 9 years, my father introduced a kinsman of his to us, my dad told us he was a relative and should be regarded as our second father. We called him Uncle Richard, but his native name is Bassey. Uncle Richard was in his early fifties, a few years older than my dad. He treated my siblings and me nicely, took us out, and bought us ice cream and other goodies that children love. At other times, he took us out for movies, and my mother always endeavored to follow us on such outings except on occasions when she was unavoidably busy. My siblings and I loved him so dearly and we saw him as God-sent. He was also a children’s minister in his church and there was no reason for anyone to be suspicious of anything around him. We reciprocated his warmth by visiting his house during the weekend accompanied by my parents.
A few months after my 12th birthday, Uncle Richard came around in the evening when my parents were still at work. This was after our school bus had dropped us off from the after-school classes and the bus driver had handed us over to our neighbors which was the custom. My parents ensured we remained in our neighbors’ Mr. and Mrs. Bamise’s house until they returned. We were only permitted to go to our house to bathe and change our clothes. We were also allowed to eat any meal offered to us whilst in their house.
Uncle Richard pressed the doorbell which alerted Mrs. Bamise to go to the door, upon sighting him, she recognized him as our kinsman, and they allowed him in. Uncle Richard told her that he was sent by my parents to check up on us after which he told us to go to our flat. He came along with ice cream and snacks for my brother and me and called our parents to say that he was with us. They thanked him over the phone while my brother and I enjoyed the goodies we had received.
After we were done, Uncle Richards told my brother to follow him into the room, that he needed to check to see if he kept his genitals clean, because he didn’t want him to fall ill. When he was done with my brother, he called me to come into the room as well because he needed to check my vagina. I felt uncomfortable about this, but he assured me that it was in my best interest and explained that he did the same with his daughter while she was growing up. I didn’t know much about sex education, so I obeyed him. He instructed me to pull off my panties and lie down on the bed, then spread my legs apart and fondle my vagina repeatedly with his fingers while he made moaning sounds. While at it, he told me he needed to check deeper to see if I had any infection, he then inserted his finger into my vagina whilst also touching other parts of my body inappropriately. I cried out because it was painful, so he asked me to get up, that he would check again some other time. Before he left, he warned both of us not to tell our parents because it was taboo to say such things to anyone. He further said that if we did, we would die, and our parents would die too if we ever mentioned it to anyone.
When my parents returned, I wanted to tell them what had happened, but I didn’t want to die and I didn’t want any member of my family to die, so I kept it to myself.
During that weekend, he came to visit as usual, and my family welcomed him warmly, but I remained reclusive towards him. He called me to come, I didn’t answer him, and I told him I had homework to do but my mom in her naivety insisted that I answered him. When I got to him, he asked if I was fine, I answered in affirmation, and he then whispered that he hopes I was obedient to the instructions he had given; I just kept quiet and walked away.
Two weeks later, he came to the house again when my parents were away at work. This time he asked my brother to go play outside, that he had bought a surprise gift for him. Excited, my brother exclaimed and ran out to check what the gift was, I also joined him to see what it was, and it turned out to be a bicycle. My brother began to ride around the compound, excited about his new gift. I told him to be careful not to injure himself and went back inside to go to the bathroom. While in the bathroom, Uncle Richards opened the door and came in. I shouted at him to leave, but he told me he needed to complete his check on my privates and instructed me to be cooperative so that it wouldn’t be painful as the last time.
Uncle Richard asked me to bend over, and he held me in that position as he forced his penis into my vagina. As I screamed out in pain, he quickly used his hand to cover my mouth and continued to forcefully penetrate me, moaning to himself as he raped me until he ejaculated. When he was done, he noticed the traces of blood coming out of my vagina and asked me to wash it off. He warned me to keep quiet unless I wanted to die young, he then cleaned himself and stepped out as if nothing happened. I remained in the bathroom, sobbing in pain and filled with thoughts of hatred towards him, wishing I could kill him or strangled him or something else.
I remained there for several hours until I could no longer hear his voice playing outside with my brother, I then struggled to get out of the bathroom. I was exhausted from crying, so I went straight to bed. When my mother returned, she came to check on me as usual, but I didn’t tell her anything. She checked my temperature to see if I was sick, asked me if all was well, and begged me to eat something; I took a few spoons and went back to bed. I didn’t want her or anyone else to die so I obeyed Uncle Richard’s instruction and kept quiet.
This then became a frequent occurrence, Uncle Richard continued to come to the house when my parents were not around to molest me sexually, and I couldn’t summon the courage to tell anyone. I continued to keep quiet about it so that no member of my household would die. After some years, whenever Uncle Richards raped me, he would give me pills to take in his presence before leaving. If I refused, he would force it down my throat and tell me it was for my good, that he didn’t want me to get pregnant and drop out of school. He also started to offer me money, which I always rejected, but he later started to leave the money behind or insist I collect it.
On one occasion, my brother almost caught Uncle Richard in the act of raping me. He had asked my brother to go with his driver to buy some things at the mall, however, my brother forgot his iPad, so he had to come back home unannounced. On entering the house, my brother called out my name, this caused Uncle Richard to quickly jump off my body, but he wasn’t fast enough to leave my room. My brother noticed that something was wrong because I was sobbing, on asking what the problem was, Uncle Richard quickly jumped in to tell him that I fell in the bathroom, so he ran in to help me. My brother then told him to leave the room to allow me to get dressed, that it was wrong for him to barge into my room unannounced because even our parents wouldn’t do so, they respected our privacy. Uncle Richard, at that point, quickly apologized and reminded my brother that he was headed somewhere. My brother looked him in the eye and told him that he wouldn’t leave his sister on any account after seeing me that way.
I later found out that my brother reported what he had observed to my mother and told her how often our uncle came to the house whenever they were not around. My mother told my father, who called Uncle Richard to ask about this, but he denied it. My mother began to observe me and ask questions, she noticed I was withdrawn, and when my grades began to drop, she went to my school to question my teacher to find out if I had confided in her concerning any issue.
Her suspicion wasn’t doused so, she enrolled in therapy sessions, and explained the symptoms to her therapist, about how I was always lost in thoughts, inattentive, and having nightmares, among others. She was advised to look inwards, and her fears were further spiked by my continuous withdrawal from activities I had enjoyed in the past. An idea then came to her mind to install a CCTV camera in our house, since she had asked everyone around if they observed anything and she was not getting any answers.
My mum got assistance and installed the CCTV cameras in our house without my knowledge. I had just written my WAEC and JAMB examinations, so I was always home as I was awaiting my results. Unaware of what was in place, Uncle Richard came to our house frequently, during work hours as usual to rape me. At this point, I had also accepted my fate and had made up my mind not to return home after I gained admission into the university. On getting home, my mother would examine the content of the recordings from the camera facing the gate, and she always saw that Uncle Richards was the only person that visited the house; disappointed, she wouldn’t examine further to see what transpired afterward. She kept checking to see if any other person came in, but she didn’t see anyone. She would occasionally ask me to know if my uncle came to check up on me and I answered in the affirmative, unaware of the cameras installed.
One day, my mum arrived home from work earlier than usual and decided that she was going to explore the contents of the recording more thoroughly. This time around, she viewed the content of the other cameras and scream out in pain from what she saw. She never thought, in her wildest dream, that an angel like Uncle Richard could turn out to be the devil. She shouted Uncle Richard’s name in horror and kept screaming, my chest o, my chest o, help me! This alerted the neighbors who came in to rush my mother to the hospital in a state of shock. The incident had triggered my mum’s blood pressure, as she had always been hypertensive, and on constant medications, so she was hospitalized for some time.
My father took the evidence to the police and the perpetrator, Uncle Richard, was arrested. I was in shock too because I thought that after my mother found out, she was going to die. However, she recovered from the shock and was discharged from the hospital after a few days. My father and brother are still alive and doing well too, so it meant that Uncle Richard had fooled me as an excuse to rape me consistently for seven years.
At the police station, we were directed to WARIF Centre for medical assessment and psychosocial services. The sessions with the counselor were very rewarding and helpful in the healing process. It helped me to deal with my emotions better, made me feel better about myself, and gave me hope. I was also privileged to attend the group therapy sessions where I was taught coping mechanisms to manage the trauma. I feel encouraged now and I am moving on from the past because a brighter and bigger future lies ahead of me.
I have learned that the best way to stop sexual abuse is to speak up and never remain silent no matter the threats. I am getting ready to start my first year at a private university and I am happy, that WARIF also offers phone counseling for survivors, so I can reach out at any time.
Dear survivor, please know that you are not alone, and what has happened 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
*Real name of survivor changed for confidentiality.