Letting Go of Shame
Updated: Jun 24, 2020
| This is the 491st story of Our Life Logs |
The first 15 years of my life was bliss.
I was born in the city of Abeokuta, Nigeria, in 2000, as an only child to my parents. My father was a naval officer, and my mother, a nurse. While they were both quite busy with work and didn’t have much time to spend with me, I found my joyful company with my neighbors. Like my father, Mr. Ogudu was also a naval officer, and Mrs. Ogudu, simply the most loving and kind-hearted woman I’d ever seen. They had two children; Alfred was two years older than me, and his little sister, Jessica, was my age and my classmate. Because home was very lonely when my parents were absent, I saw Fred and Jessi as my own siblings. We played together and always had fun. All those simple and innocent years.
I did well at school too; always a star student that my family was proud of. In primary school, I was the class captain and held the majority of the votes at all times. I was known as the outgoing and fun person in my class. But that image of me was fading. As I reached secondary school, my life was about to change forever.
That year, I was 15, and my body was growing and maturing. Mrs. Ogudu used to sit me and Jessi down and educate us on how our bodies would grow from a girl to a woman. At the end of the session often came her gentle warning: Be careful with the way boys approach you. Her words rang in our hearts. Since Jessi and I were clearly not ready to become mothers at 15—at the time we thought all sex would lead to pregnancy—we stayed out of boys’ ways. More so, I wanted to remain focused on my studies and not get distracted.
In the rare instances when my father was home, he would share tales of “loose” ladies and how they had nothing to show for it. He would say to me, “I will honor you so much if you remain a virgin till the night of your wedding.” I agreed. That was my promise.
Unfortunately, some people saw my celibacy as a challenge. One in particular was a boy in my class named Akin. He was known as the class bully and always got what he wanted. For some reason, that made him attractive to many girls, but I was never phased. Yet, that disregard only made Akin more interested in me. He tried to pressure me into a relationship, but I always said no. He was persistent and refused to take no for an answer.
One day, he took it farther than usual. English class had just ended, and our teacher had left the room. I had my nose in my textbook and was gossiping with Jessi, when Akin came out of nowhere and tickled me from behind. I was so mad that I could not help but shout at him. He still did not stop, no matter how uncomfortable and angry I got. He came closer and started saying inappropriate words to me. That’s where I drew the line. I dashed out of the classroom and headed to the principal’s office.
I reported Akin for sexual harassment, and the principal immediately called him to his office. Akin was given a two-week suspension. To make a further example out of his behavior, the principal held an emergency assembly where he flogged Akin in front of the entire school. I thought it was over; Akin had learned his lessons. I even felt a little bad for him for the punishment he had got.
That day after school, Jessi and I decided to walk home without Fred, as he was still playing football and we were famished. Our route home was miles of bush paths and empty roads littered with abandoned government properties and uncompleted buildings. I had heard that the buildings housed some bad boys in the community, but I had never seen any.
As Jessi and I walked home, we talked about our day like usual. But suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone whoosh past me in a hurried run. I could feel it then, the warning of trouble, but it was too late. When I turned around to see who had run out of the bush, I saw that it was Akin, accompanied by three boys I did not know. I could feel my heart thumping against my chest. What do they want? I wondered with fearful eyes. Jessi was beside me quivering with fear.
One of the boys commanded Jessi to “Get out of here!” My kind but scared friend ran all the way home without me. That was when I really started to panic. I summoned the courage and shouted, “What is all this nonsense, Akin?!” The little noise that came out of my throat probably wouldn’t classify as a real shout, but it was all I could muster. A wicked grin spread across Akin’s face, and I wondered if I’d ever make it home. If I’d ever see Jessi again.
Akin and his goons seized me, bundled me up in one of the abandoned buildings and began to beat me. I was punched, kicked, and slapped until I was bruised and bloodied all over. I thought that would be the worst of it, but then Akin came closer with that wicked grin once again. Fear spread through my whole body, and I screamed as he tore my uniform and removed my clothes.
I tried to free myself, but the other boys overpowered me. I sobbed for help, but they threatened to stab me with the knife they were holding if I made any noise.
“I am a virgin…please,” I pleaded. But they were deaf to my pleas and the deadly boys began taking turns with me until I was bleeding. The pain was unbearable, and that’s the last thing I remember thinking before I passed out.
When I opened my eyes, I noticed people around me in white. Am I dead? Then my mother came into view, and she was dressed normally. She and Mrs. Ogudu ran to my bedside and asked how I was feeling. I realized then that I was in a hospital. I was disoriented at first, wondering where I was and how I got here. But then I remembered the boys and the pain and my screams. Remembering it all broke me down, and the panic resurfaced. I had been raped. Those boys stole from me something I could never get back, and I had broken my promise to my father. I was a complete wreck.
My family and the Ogudus were by my side as I got help and recovered from the incident. But even with all the love and care that I was being given, I felt empty and numb. I didn’t feel like myself anymore. I went to different counseling units to help cope, but I was so deeply broken that I feared I’d never recover.
I was scared. I felt shameful. I’d developed an inferiority complex and at just 15, I had no idea how to manage such trauma. I had known about rape from movies, but I had never met someone who had been a victim. Now, I was one of them.
I was told while in the hospital that Akin and the other boys who raped me were arrested. My father was taking the case seriously and wanted justice for me. Akin’s parents visited me in the clinic and pleaded with my parents to show mercy on their boy, but my parents refused to budge. Akin and his friends were convicted and sent to juvenile home. I never wanted to see them again. But even with them jailed, I wondered, would I ever get free from the trauma? They may be gone, but the dark feelings remained like a cloud around my head.
I spent two months at the clinic recovering until I was allowed to go home. Yet at home, the fear and shame remained at the front of my psyche. Small triggers would set me off. Whenever someone raised their voice at me, I would panic, my brain tracing back to the dreadful day those boys shouted at me as they laid me on the sandy floor. The confident leader I used to be was now gone, and I became very self-conscious.
After about three weeks, my mother found me well enough to return to school. She didn’t want me to waste away at home. But deep inside, I knew the fear still lingered and I wasn’t quite myself yet. I wanted nothing more than to be free from the memory, to wake up and not feel weighed down by the past. I wanted to get back to my normal life without the chains of mental torture going on in my head.
My mother drove me to school that first day. On the way, I asked her, “Mom, how can I get back to my normal self?” She sighed and asked me to see my school counselor. It sounded easy for her. She had no idea what was going on in my head.
Being back at school was strange. I felt like everyone was looking at me, which made me even more self-conscious. Even when someone like Fred looked at me for a little longer than usual, I would start to panic. I feared that something was wrong with me or something bad was going to happen, even though I knew the stares were innocent. I could no longer hold my positions as a student leader, and I walked around in shame, trying to hide from the gossip swarming from the incident. My personality was simply lost, and I didn’t know how to get it back.
Not knowing what else to do, I went to the counselor’s office for help, like my mother had suggested. The counselor had also been raped when she was a teenager, so she understood my feelings like no one else could. In the end, I asked her, “How did you get free from the trauma?”
She took a deep breath and said, “I kept busy. I joined a volunteer organization that fights against rape and sexual abuse.”
Hearing this sparked hope in me I had been searching for. Of course! Be around people I could talk and relate to. I found my way out of her office, forgetting to even thank her. I looked for Jessi to propose the idea. Jessi had always wanted to be an activist, so she was all in.
And so, Jessi and I became members of a women’s rights organization, where we empowered each other and helped those recovering from assaults. Through it, we also made our best efforts to protect the ones who could be targeted by rapists. Being around women with similar hardships who were now doing well in life motivated me to work past my trauma and move forward. I thought, “If they could do it, I can too.” That sentence helped me get through.
To aid my recovery, I also started meeting and having conversations with rape victims. By talking to people and trying to align myself with my actual goals once more, I was getting back to the girl I once was.
It’s been five years, and I’m proud to see myself grow out of that horrible experience. Today, I stay happy by helping others recover from their hardships. I make sure girls I help know that what happened was not their fault, and in saying so, it helps remind me that it wasn’t my fault either. I’m still managing my feelings, but it’s a lot easier through this organization.
Currently, I’m in my final year at the University of Ibadan studying History and International Relations. Once I am done here, I plan to align myself with women needing my help. I will take with me the teachings of freedom to every girl victim of rape across the globe by becoming a motivational speaker and life coach. I think it’s important for women to know that you can recover and that you can be yourself again. But first, you have to let go of the shame. That is the message I live for.
This is the story of Rita Peters
Rita currently resides in Ibadan, Nigeria, where she is a student at the University of Ibadan. With a moral choice to remain celibate until marriage, Rita’s dream was ripped apart when she, at the age of 15, was violently raped by four school boys. After the rape, Rita dealt with the trauma and tried to get back to the confident leader she once was, but the journey was tough. It wasn’t until she joined a women’s rights organization that she was finally able to address the trauma and move forward from it. Rita has now found new purpose in pursuing a path to helping other survivors like her. She plans to become a motivational speaker and life coach after graduation.
This story first touched our hearts on January 16, 2020.
| Writer: Rita Peters | Editor: Kristen Petronio |
#womensrightsorganization #rapevictim #trauma #Nigeria #survivor #sexualassault #assault