Image: Tunde Raphael.
It has been more than a month since I got attacked; precisely 42 days (at time of writing) since the attack. In this time frame, my life has changed.
I used to live with this false sense of security. My carefree attitude was what got me by. My only worries were about family and career and almost nothing else. Quite frankly, I was almost never worried about my personal safety.
After the attack though, things changed; drastically. Reading through my story, you would think I am strong. In fact, most people think I am a strong woman. I had friends who wrote to me extolling ‘my strength’. I also had friends who had faced worse situation telling me that they had drawn strength from my story.
Many ladies who had been raped sent me private mails letting me know that they felt they were speaking out through my story. Overall, most people praised me for being strong.
But am I, really?
As the adrenaline ebbed away and the anger died down, I have had to deal with a host of other emotions. The first and most crippling is the fear that has been hounding me. Immediately after the attack, I could not walk out of my house without a knife. I kept looking behind me to ensure I wasn’t followed. One night, I came home from the office in a tricycle. It was really dark out; the only light coming from the tricycle. I gave the driver a N200 note, so he could give me N150. The driver gave me N100 instead. I asked him why he gave me that. He started shouting about how far my house was. As I was trying to explain what I usually pay, he switched off the tricycle and plunged us into deep darkness. My heart literally stopped. I could feel fear squeezing my heart and the pain was immense. I looked around and noticed a shape in the shadow and all I could think of was the moment I was attacked. I turned and walked away; the only reason I didn’t run was because my feet were leaden with fear. The shadow was walking fast and each footfall I heard felt like ten to me. I imagined he was coming after me to attack me, to finish what they had started. I could feel the blood rushing in my ears and goose pimples breaking all over my body. I finally broke into a run and didn’t pause till I was firmly locked in my room. The shadow was just a passerby but my mind had not recovered from the sheer terror I had been subjected to. And yes, I left the entire money with the driver. He must have wondered if I was some crazy person whom he had been lucky to escape.
Another incident happened one night a few days ago. We closed from the office just as it began to rain. The driver got to my street but couldn’t enter because it was flooded. I had to come down and continue the rest of the way on foot. My voice sounded strangulated as I begged the driver to wait until I got into my compound. He had to put on the headlights on full glare. I kept walking and looking back even though the full lights told me he was still there. As I moved farther from the bus, I kept shouting ‘Please don’t go. Please wait till I get home’. Thankfully, the driver was a sensible one and he waited until I waved from my gate before turning away. It was a short distance from where he stopped but it felt like I was walking a distance a mile away. Up until last week, I never returned home unaccompanied. My closest friends must really be feeling the pressure!
Another emotion I have had to deal with is guilt. I kept blaming myself; I should have left the office earlier, I should have followed the instinct that cried out to me that night, I should not have won the dress, I should not have worn high heels, I should never have moved into the neighborhood. I kept going over and over the incident and wishing I could change just one card that led to this domino effect. I am a perfectionist and beat up myself when I don’t do well. Over and over again, I look at the scenario and somehow think ‘It was my fault. I brought this upon myself’.
I haven’t been sleeping well either. There are nights when the slightest sound will get me bolting out of sleep. Nights after that incident, I would lay awake, hurdled in a corner in my room as I imagine if the attackers would turn up. I also imagined how many would come for me. I used to sleep with my knife close to me and my stove at the ready. I conjured this thought that if I was going to be attacked, I would bathe whoever came against me with boiling water and finish them off with my knife. No, this ploy didn’t give me any confidence. Rather, it reminded me how inadequate I felt and would feel in the eyes of any attacker.
I was playing with a friend and colleague at the office when he boxed me into a corner. While I laughed, it dawned on me that if I was really attacked, there was almost nothing that I could do with a very determined attacker. All my statements about cutting his penis were almost impossible. The more inadequate I felt, the more fearful I became and furthermore, the more troubled and restless I became.
To the question ‘Am I strong?’, the answer is no. I am not. I am afraid. I am weak. I was broken. But will I get better? Yes! I will. I will be strong. I will get past this flurry of negative emotions. With every breath I take, I will work hard to come out of this my old self. It was not my fault. There was nothing I could have done to change the events of that night. Better still, there is nothing I can do to change the events of August 23rd, 2015. Right now, it is hard; it is very hard! But I will come out of this. One day, I will be able to look back and not feel that twinge of fear, of guilt, of shame.
Why do I need to do this? Quite simple. For girls like this who sent me this message.
‘Ramat I just saw your post on shades of brown and I am so sorry about dat, reading your story gave me strenght d strenght i ve been looking for for a very lng tym i must say u are brave and too strong to be a woman, yes wat happend to u is wat mst women face daily it has happened me i wantd to speak out bt i was tld nat too n besides i didnt want pple to blame me cos already i felt bad and blamed myself. i am 18yrs old and i was abused by my lecturer @ 17 i was also abused by my boyfriend and to say the truth i felt bad lik i was not a human being lik i had no control of my body bt who cld i talk to? again ramat u re indeed a woman i wish i could be like you. i love u ramat’.
I also need to do this for girls/boys/children/women who have been raped by friends, family, teachers, mentors, religious leaders, neighbors or that stranger hiding behind the cloak of darkness. I will get strong to shut those critics who openly told me it was my fault and those who didn’t say it but felt that way anyway.
You see, the essence of my life is to try to reduce the damaging effects of dysfunction in society; in families, in friendships, and in relationships. That is why I am alive! This is my view: I went through that so I can understand what victims of abuse go through, the overwhelming emotional trauma they face, the unwillingness to talk, the guilt and the shame and most of all, to learn from this. I may be hurting now, but I have learned from this.
So to all victims of abuse, I was not strong. I was weak like you were. I was sad like you were. I was as afraid as you felt. I was broken as much as you have been. The incident was not my first glimpse at abuse but it opened my voice (and your voice) to stand against this. It is not your fault. It is not our fault. We are not guilty. We should not feel shame. We must fight against the crippling effect of fear. We need to enlighten people that WE were the victims. We must refuse to hide hurdled in our rooms as the perpetrators continue on with their lives. We must live. We must survive!
Together, we will fight against those who come against us, who prey on our weaknesses, who think to break us and shame us. And together, we will win this battle! Because it is a battle! Don’t despair. Don’t let them win. Look at yourself today and say these four little (but powerful) words: I AM A SURVIVOR. Say this to yourself every day and your mind will wake up to undoing the hurt it had been done.
I am Ochekliye Ramatu Ada and I was hurt by my attacker. But be rest assured that as I proceed, I will be better. I will become strong. And like me, you will be better. You will be strong.