Thirteen years on: Life after sexual assault

by Sian

Image source: http://www.goodfon.su

Image source: http://www.goodfon.su

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Our contributor Sian speaks about her own experience of rape and how she has come to terms with it in the years following her attack.

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It has been thirteen years since I was raped and I have now lived longer with the memory of the attack than without. That milestone of thirteen years seemed so significant to me a few weeks ago on the anniversary of my assault. It made me question what had changed over the past thirteen years, and how the experience had left me feeling many years later.

Day to day life is now very different in comparison to how I lived in the early aftermath of being sexually assaulted. Initially I had been so confused by the events that had taken place that I doubted anything had really happened at all. Because the truth was so incomprehensible, I concluded that I must have wanted to have sex that evening. I had been drinking, I had kissed someone; maybe I had just got it all wrong.

For long periods of time, I could convince myself that I hadn’t been raped, yet the guilt of telling friends there was something desperately wrong, when I thought I could have been exaggerating, or making it up, felt more awful than accepting the truth.

I had stopped sleeping, and when I did manage to shut my eyes, my dreams were filled with violence, sexual abuse and confusion. The long nights staring at a black ceiling were some of my loneliest and it felt as if there was no escape.

Two years after the attack I began to feel the full force of what had happened to me. The tears I silently cried seemed to never stop, and my memories of being a normal fifteen year old are punctuated with flash backs of hiding under my bed whilst fiercely holding my pillow over my mouth to stop myself from screaming. The endless questions from my mum, asking whether I was being bullied, or if I was unhappy at school, I seemed unable to answer truthfully because I felt that I didn’t know the truth.

After school ended, the desperate sadness I had been experiencing seemed to end too, but was replaced by acute anxiety that crippled me and made life very difficult.  Panic attacks, endless worrying, and waking up every morning with a sense of impending doom was so much harder to shift than depression, and I battled to try and keep my life as normal as I could whilst thinking I was going to be murdered or sexually assaulted if I walked down my street alone at three o’clock in the afternoon.

Anxiety has affected my life for over a decade, and it is only over the past few months that the panic attacks have ceased. It took thirteen years for me to pluck up the courage to go for therapy and try to overcome the trail of devastation that rape has had on my life. It was during therapy that I was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder and began addressing this with EMDR and talking therapy, and after a year of this treatment, it is only now that I can fully understand and accept what happened to me.

Without a professional, or a trusted adult to speak to straight after I was sexually assaulted, my brain was unable to process the experience. It tried all the immensely clever tactics it had, to suppress the ordeal and this over powered any desire I had to speak out about what had happened to me.

Recovery from the experience of extreme violation is not linear and it is impossible to do it alone. It is horrendous and terrifying to talk about sexual abuse and it takes every ounce of courage you have, but I promise it does help. Sexual assault pervades every day life in a tortuous way for women who are unable to talk about their experience.

I used to wish with all my heart that I hadn’t been raped, but now I just wish that I’d been able to speak about it and ask for help so much sooner.

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Battle of wills: What I lost when Mayweather won

by Joshua Piercey

Image source: forbes.com

Image source: forbes.com

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Joshua Piercey reflects on life inside and outside the ring for boxer Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather Jr. who having a built a career dodging punches, has also dodged long-term imprisonment for a string of violent offences against women. Joshua analyses why Mayweather Jr. has managed to evade justice and how giving perpetrators’ leniency is a catalyst in the ongoing battle against domestic violence.

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It was billed as the fight of the century, two of the greatest boxers of our time, going head to head at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The anticipation of the fight between rags-to-riches scrapper Manny Pacquiao, and the vainglorious Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather Jr. was undeniable.

Pacquiao was cast as the underdog, a role bestowed upon him by the boxing world, which has the capability of crafting the drama and publicity-friendly storyline, of any Hollywood director.

Mayweather Jr. played his villainous counterpart, powerful, undefeated and excessive, he was the boxer who was the favourite to win, that many wanted to see fall. Where the audience rooted for Pacquiao to triumph over the odds stacked against him, I had my own reasons for wanting to see Mayweather fail. In my eyes, he is a serial criminal having committed repeated domestic violence offences against women.

In terms of money, glamour and hype, it was truly the fight of the century. Over five million boxing fans paid up to 100$ to view the fight, while the boxers themselves were alleged to have split $300 million 60/40. Pacquiao pledged to donate half of his $80 million winnings to charity, while Mayweather allegedly agreed to put down the $10 million bail of Marion ‘Suge’ Knight, facing trial for murder and attempted murder of two men. Apart from highlighting the polarised priorities of the highest ranking boxers in the world, this is an example of Mayweather using his high public profile and fortune to bypass the law.

Mayweather at his trial in 2012 Image source: AP

Mayweather at his trial in 2012 Image source: AP

 

 

 

Josie Harris, photographed by USA Today, said that she has to take anti-anxiety pills after a violently abusive relationship with Mayweather Jr.

Josie Harris, photographed by USA Today, said that she has to take anti-anxiety pills after a violently abusive relationship with Mayweather Jr.

Despite being caught on the wrong side of the law on many occasions, Mayweather has been given extreme leniency for repeated violent offences. He has a long and ugly history of criminality, stretching over a decade. He’s assaulted at least five different women, picking up seven arrests or citations in the process but in exchange for guilty pleas and no contests, many other charges against him have been dropped. He’s done time for a misdemeanour battery charge, but arguably not enough. Mayweather served 60 days out of a 90 day sentence for this offence but the ruling judge even permitted him to postpone his sentence in order to fight Miguel Cotto.

Mayweather’s rap sheet is bewildering to behold, not least because the crimes took place during a period any other perpetrator would have been imprisoned.

His unrepentant criminal career has not gone unnoticed. It’s not so much the elephant in the room as the elephant smashing up the buffet. It is known, and the fact that it’s largely unremarked, has not gone unremarked. But acknowledging something reprehensible is not the same as doing something to address it. This is not the fault of commentators, but the law who has failed to deliver justice on the account of Mayweather’s profitability.

It’s undeniable that Mayweather’s value to boxing is part of what keeps him on the streets – his financial contribution to the city of Las Vegas and beyond, was cited by the judge as the reason his time in jail was postponed. Mayweather makes obscene amounts of money – for everyone, from cab drivers and hotel porters, to journalists who write articles – and jailing him would negatively impact this. Should extenuating circumstances have a limit? Yes, and it is the duty of those who enforce the law to impose those limits.

The law should not be bent in any cases of domestic abuse, no matter who the perpetrator is. It should be enforced – rigidly. Mayweather is representative of a wider problem – domestic abuse is demonstrably an epidemic, especially in America, and prosecution and imprisonment rates do not match the number of crimes being committed. Mayweather is the avatar of something very ugly. We can only hope that a delayed onset of public outrage creeps in, but in order for the public to fulfill this moral obligation, the example must be set by the law and the judicial system.

The details of Mayweather’s time behind bars makes for interesting reading. Without an entourage, he comes across as lost, petulant, childish. He refuses to eat his meals, surviving off candy. He bribes other inmates for favours. He acts, tellingly, like a man who has never been punished and is now struggling to deal with consequences he has never learned to expect.

Like it or not, Mayweather is a role model. But there is a story beyond what he does in the ring. And for that story to have any value or integrity, Mayweather should face justice, and if that has an impact on his ability to fight and make money, then so be it. Mayweather is a poor role model, but perhaps he could be a good lesson – to those who claim to represent the law, not just those who have to follow it. And to us, the people who should have let what we know to be morally indefensible, crush our enthusiasm for the fight of the century.

I knew that Mayweather was a serial abuser. I should have boycotted the fight.

Acid Attack: A story of survival against all odds

By Flora Aduk


Flora Aduk recalls her meeting with acid attack survivor Juliet Bukirwa; a remarkable woman who refused to be silenced by those who expected her to tolerate mistreatment and abuse simply because of her gender. 8 years later, Juliet is living life on her terms and displaying incredible resilience in her recovery and despite the obstacles she has faced as a result of her attack.


She hesitates when I ask if we can meet at Garden City in Kampala over the phone.

 “I don’t think I know the place, but I’ll find it, just direct me”.

When I spend time with Juliet Bukirwa, I realise that even from that brief conversation, her resilient nature shone through. At just 25 years old, Bukirwa has been to hell and back but you could never tell from her cheeky laugh or animated conversation. Even her hairstyle covers the effect of an unthinkable trauma.

 Juliet_2[1]

Bukirwa survived an acid attack, aged just 17.

“People always stare at the scars as if waiting for an explanation. It used to bother me, but not anymore. Even my children used to fear me but now they are used to my appearance”. The memory of that night is painful, but because of her resilience, her story has become one of hope. “I could have died, but I didn’t, it is all in God’s hands. I simply accept myself as I am,” she says.

Her infectious hope engulfs me as I listen. “It happened in 2007. My ex-boyfriend, father of my eldest daughter, poured acid on me one night after failing to enter my house and force himself on me,” Bukirwa narrates. The couple had met when she was just 14, within two years Bukirwa was pregnant, had dropped out of school and moved into his parents’ home in Nateete, a Kampala suburb. Shortly after she gave birth, the relationship turned violent as he sought every opportunity to beat her, especially when she refused sex. “He started cheating and when I complained he would beat me. His mother told me to do what I had come to do as a wife”.

Bukirwa refused to accept a lifetime of misery, she left to seek refuge at an aunt’s place in the same suburb, then rented a room close by and even enrolled into school. Life was hard but she survived, many times doing odd jobs and even singing to make money. She chuckles as she mentions that she was once a backup singer to Ugandan star Eddy Kenzo.

A mother’s instinct later caused her to contact her ex-partner. “I needed to see my child, I had left her at his parents’ house. I visited often though never found him at home. His friends and neighbours started telling him that I looked lovely, wondering how he could leave me,” she says.

He started pursuing her. Once, he forced his way into her house and tried to rape her but she escaped, he often threatened her and once used their daughter as leverage, hoping she would grant him audience. She still refused. He attacked her the next day.

Bukirwa didn’t have electricity in her one-roomed home in Nateete. She was making her way in darkness to the outdoor latrine when suddenly she felt a harsh sting on her face, neck and arms. “The pain is indescribable, probably a snake bite comes close,” she says. She screamed and ran, banging on her neighbours’ doors but no one came to her aid. That is all she recalls of that night. What is strong in her memory is waking up to the realisation that her left eye and ear had simply melted away, her face, neck and arms bearing huge scars. “Maybe one day I will have surgery that can remove these scars,” she says, as she shows me the effects of the acid burns. A side fringe covers what is left of her eye, behind the hair is just a pinkish hollow.

Without any further query from me, she adds “I think I can also get a new eye,” demonstrating how used she is to the natural train of thought of those receiving the explanation of her scars. “It really hurts when it’s cold and sleeping used to be a challenge since it can’t close,” she adds. I ask what became of her attacker. “I forgave him and left all to God,” she says. Her attempts to report his past violence came to nothing. The police asked her to pay $6 for a medical report, which she couldn’t afford.

Juliet lost an eye as a result of the severe acid burns

Juliet lost an eye as a result of the severe acid burns

After six months in hospital, Juliet lost hope of pursuing the case. However, at Uganda’s National Referral Hospital, Mulago, she met people from Acid Survivors Foundation Uganda, who helped her access treatment and counselling. She also developed skills in bead making. “Bukirwa’s zeal for life is what has kept her going. She is one of our positive cases,” says Hilda Birungi, Programme Manager.

“Life is hard for a survivor. Finding employment is hard. The attack removes your right to love and be loved unconditionally. People discriminate against you”. Her second attempt at love two years after her attack left her a single mother when her second daughter, now 5, was just an infant.

As a survivor she has a conviction to speak out, to be a counsellor and an advocate because she believes only a survivor can know the depth of the pain. “If only I could get an opportunity to be a representative” she says, with hope in her voice. She recently failed to get a visa to attend a conference for Acid Attack Survivors in the USA.

Her advice to survivors of violent crime is “don’t give up … you were able to break through. You may struggle but you can change your destiny.” If you are in a violent relationship, Bukirwa stresses “don’t sit back and ignore the violence, do something. When you separate, cut off all links for you never know their intentions.” 

I thanked her for her time and her honesty and left. On my way home, I reflected on what could drive someone to such an extreme expression of hatred, and how many people guilty of such crimes continue to walk amongst us because of a failure of the justice system.


If your life has been affected by acid violence, or you are concerned for your safety in this regard, please contact http://www.acidviolence.org for support and advice.