We spoke to 3 survivors of sexual assault to unmask a sliver of the trauma of rape

The trauma of sexual violence is an oft-mentioned and well-studied phenomenon that is the reality of millions of women and men globally.

In Nigeria where 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 10 boys are reported by UNICEF to have experienced sexual violence, the number of survivors is staggering. Yet, this massive number notwithstanding few have a clear mental image of what this kind of trauma feels like.

We spoke to 3 survivors of sexual violence about their recovery and what carrying on feels like after a sexual violation. One thing cuts across this interview like a stray thread in a loose seam, regardless of age or gender, the impact of sexual violence goes beyond the physical.

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Aina* (35, F)

“Recovery is being able to go days, sometimes weeks, without a recall moment. I don’t know about others who have been through therapy after theirs, you know.

I didn’t go to therapy. I just leaned on my best friend who I found out had experienced the same at 13 after I told her. The regular check-ins we do for each other despite being continents apart – she is currently resident in Germany.

I was in a mall isle the other day, it is one of those back isles where you are often alone, and the smell of his perfume wafted into my nose from behind and I lost my grip on the colander I was checking out. My heartbeat raced and I froze despite wanting so badly to turn around and see who was behind me. I had to remind myself I was in a mall at 2 pm, and when I turned around it was another random shopper.

I used to think being sexually assaulted by someone you know is the worst thing that can happen to a person due to the gravity of the violation when you consider that trust is also violated. My violator was a stranger whose face I didn’t even get to see, but I see him every day in every man whether a relative or a stranger. It is worse with strangers but my reaction to men is always dread, especially when I am alone with them. That is what carrying on feels like.”

READ ALSO: Gender-based violence ends with you: An interview with Anita Kemi DaSilva-Ibru | The YNaija Special Series on #RapeCulture

Khalid* (25, M)

“No one ever fully recovers abeg. You can bury the violation so deep that you don’t even remember the details of the moment, but you can’t erase the scar it left. Like physical scars, something can always trigger it to itch even years after it healed. That trigger for me is the smell of plain vodka.

I used to love the stuff so much, then one night after a long stressful day at work I had one too many glasses and fell into a drunken sleep, only to be awakened by the feeling of a hand rubbing my inner thigh. It was my roommate. He kissed me even as he pinned me down, and he smelled off my leftover vodka.

Even the sight of vodka sends shivers down my spine. It isn’t fear, it is me struggling with a number of ‘what ifs’ and the sight of that drink always gets me thinking. ‘Maybe if I hadn’t even bought just that one bottle. Maybe if I hadn’t drank it and left some for him to drink when he returned to the house late at night. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.’ I carry on regardless.”

Muna* (45, F)

“Recovery is many things for many people. It can be leaving the town you were born and brought up in, because every memory collected there is tainted.

It can be switching career paths completely because you don’t want to even risk running into your abuser at some random industry conference. It can also be arranging to have your abuser disappeared from the safety of your new home cities away because you can afford that kind of thing. It is all of that for me.

Still, none of that washes away the trauma, it lingers like the smell of a dead animal you can’t find in a room. I have arrived at a calming peace in the knowledge that the fool paid for his crime, but there is always anger.

I am angry at the violation all those years ago. I am angry at having to leave the career I always wanted from a very young age because of it. I am angry that I couldn’t speak up for fear I will ruin me – I was just 23 and beginning a career in finance, and it nevertheless ruined me in a way.

I don’t advise carrying on, because I think it is illogical to expect someone to do that, but if you can then cheers to that, just get revenge if you can.

There is no one-size-fits-all method to dealing with the trauma of sexual violence. The trick that this author knows from lived experience is to take one day at a time and be kind to yourself.

It helps to remind oneself constantly that they are not in any way to blame for their violation.

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of subjects.

READ ALSO: Holding fort for the girls and women who cannot speak for themselves | The YNaija Special Series on #RapeCulture

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