No child should have their innocence taken away from them. To tell or not to tell my story, I have the ability to give a clear picture of how the prevalent epidemic of sexual abuse begins, evolves and takes its toll on so many innocent lives. I too was a victim of sexual abuse. I endured manipulation, control and abuse at the hands of someone I trusted and admired. Someone well respected in the community. I was raped at the age of six.
I remember vividly the day it all began. My uncle had come to visit. We were all happy and excited to see him, as he was coming from the City with goodies for us. On the fateful day, he offered to help out with the chores. He offered to push the wheelbarrow all the way to the well. This was a relief as it saved us from pushing the heavy load all the way. He asked me to sit in the wheelbarrow with empty bottles around me while he pushed.
On the way, he took a short cut which I had never used before. I thought this was clever of him. Little did I know the horror that awaited me. Once we were in a secluded place, he signalled me over and asking me to seat on his lap while he sat in the wheelbarrow. Which as a child I did. He started touching me in ways and in places that no one had ever touched me before. I was filled with so much fear that I couldn't bring myself to cry out for help. Tears streamed down my face. He continued to do this for what seemed like eternity. For many years, just the thought of him touching me, was enough to bring me down to tears.
I remember one woman who walked past us while I was still seating on my uncle's lap. She was carrying a jug filled with water on her head while holding her daughter's (I assumed) hand. My uncle briefly stopped touching me and sat there holding me tightly as if in a loving manner. I remember very well the way that woman looked at me, I could tell she suspected something. I hoped and prayed deep down that she would keep on walking without starting any trouble. And she did just that. Within eyeshot of passers-by, in the incline of a wooded area, he violated me, sexually assaulted me. My uncle went on to do things that were unimaginable, certain things I still struggle to describe up to now. I felt disgusted, sick and violated. It was as though I was standing there, outside my own body, watching this young and vulnerable little girl being raped by this heartless man, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.
The first person I informed of this was my grandmother. I trusted her. Much to my surprise, she blamed me for it. To this day I still remember her implying that the way I carried myself around her son was what led him into abusing me, in other words, I deserved it? I lost all hope, all confidence in myself and in those I trusted to protect me. I was abused more than once and the memories have haunted me throughout many years of my life. My grandmother's response put me off talking about my experience for years. I decided to put all the pain to the side and tried my best to pretend like none of it had ever taken place.
Unanswered questions remain:
Was this normal “exploration” between children and adults? Does this happen in all uncle and niece relationships? Can I blame my life failings, self- esteem struggles, and feelings of shame and unworthiness on those events, or am I just looking for an excuse for not dealing with my issues? I don’t know if these questions can ever be adequately answered for me, or by me, although at times I am clearly on one side or the other of the internal debate. How could so many people have failed this one little girl?
— Shilla Shomai
Throughout my childhood I tried leading a normal life like other children. I tried fitting in, especially at school. Oh what he did hurt. Stung, torn me from inside and burned. When it came to making friends, I struggled. I grew up fast and confused. In most cases I would select one friend and build a close relationship with them. I found It difficult staying close to more than one person at a time and it took me months just to get comfortable around that person. Problem was, my uncle had done his damage. His marks remained. He had etched into my soul this indelible scar that blazed across my forehead for everyone to see.
I spent my childhood moving from one home to another. This meant having to change schools. Looking back, I realise, I left some schools without having made any friends at all. My entire primary school, I had one best friend whom I got extremely close to. We discussed everything and spent nearly all our free time together. Because I had built such a close bond with her, I became extremely jealous of anyone who tried to hang out with her. In January 2006, I moved to a boarding school in Gutu and just four months later, my best friend sadly passed away. Her death awakened all the feelings which I had been oppressing for years. I felt alone again. From then on I started feeling the true effects of the abuse I had experienced in my childhood.
A friend of mine suggested I listen to Joyce Meyer's testimony. 'Anything you run from, always has a certain amount of power over you. Each time you see it, you ran faster. At times we have to go back and face the things that we've been running from. Then deal with these things with the holy spirit. ' that was one of the most powerful messages I had ever heard from her. Like her, I too decided to reach out to my abuser. I spent many days in tears communicating back and forth with my abuser, at times I wondered if speaking to him would eventually do me any good.
Overtime I realised that in order for me to receive my healing, I needed to do more than just reach out to my abuser and interrogate him. I had to forgive him. For a while I battled with myself, I was filled with bitterness. My life became miserable. At times I would just find myself crying for no reason, I would just get emotional.
Everything became worse during adolescence. I felt different from everyone else. Especially during high school in Scotland once I had relocated. I allowed my experience to define me as a young teenager. I doubted myself so much and found it difficult standing up for myself in any situation. I didn't know who I was. All I knew was that I was a victim of sexual abuse. The flashbacks drove me insane. At 16, I couldn't bear the trauma. I gave up on life and attempted suicide. God saved my life. The other painful truth: I would not have healed had I not told my story.
Through my faith I found healing. I started attending counselling sessions but I focused more on my relationship with God. I poured out my heart to God in prayer and at times through tears. Through the years I battled with the memories of the abuse I had faced. I longed for love so much that at times this clouded my judgement. I allowed people to mistreat me in relationships/friendships simply because I was so scared of being alone. I was completely insecure. This came with being abused, being filled with shame of what had happened and with fear of judgement. Through talking to Christ, listening to testimonies from people who had had the same experience and reading the bible, I begun to realise that I had to face my trauma and deal with it.
One day during my prayers, I decided to forgive my uncle. I remember I cried out to God as I let him know that I had finally forgiven my abuser. I reached out to my uncle and I told him that I no longer needed anymore answers/excuses/explanations. I had forgiven him and I wished him all the best. He opened up to me about how his life had turned out and we have been in touch since then. It may be shocking to say, but we actually have a good relationship now. My life since doing this has not been completely stress free, however, it's definitely been worth living. At times I still think of the trauma but the difference now is that I realise that God's grace is sufficient enough to pull me through. I am at peace.
Throughout my life I have come across friends and family who have doubted my story including some who's main aim has been to silence me. However, the few who believed in me, the few who cared enough to listen, helped me understand that the abuse I faced should never have happened. It was wrong, I did not deserve it. I have a right to talk about it and help others through my experience.
I AM SHILLA SHOMAI, FOUNDER OF JUSTICE FOR THE SILENCED.