•Tells rape survivors: Move on with your lives
By Chioma Obinna
Despite the fact that it has been established that sexual violence is real and poses global health hazard, the tales of sexual assault against women are still being kept under the table. Studies have shown that sexual violence is a very serious public health problem that affects millions of women and men. In the United States, 1 in 5 women has experienced completed or attempted rape, and about 1 in 15 men has been made to penetrate someone in his lifetime. Most victims first experienced sexual violence before age 25. Today, adolescents remain the most vulnerable. Statistics from Mirabel Centre, a sexual assault referral centre that provides timely professional services to survivors of rape and sexual assault, within few months of its operation in Lagos, showed that a total of 1, 074 victims were recorded. The youngest victim was a 10-month-old girl and oldest a 70-year-old woman.
One regrettable thing about the ugly act is that rape impacts the health of victims in many ways and can lead to long-term physical and mental health problems. For example, victims may experience chronic pain, headaches, and sexually transmitted diseases. They are often fearful or anxious and may have problems trusting others. Anger and stress can lead to eating disorders, depression and even suicidal thoughts.
Ms. Joan Amanda Banura, Executive Director, Uganda Youth Alliance for Family Planning and Adolescent Health, survived them all. Although, she was a victim yesterday, today she is a champion pioneering campaigns against sexual violence. Sunday Vanguard spoke to the 23-year-old woman who was sexually attacked at the age of six.
Meanwhile, the experience brought out the best in her. Joan, who is also a freelance journalist, poured out her heart to Sunday Vanguard. “I came from a violent family. My father’s friend attempted to defile me at age six. It was a harrowing experience”, she said.
According to her, only those who have been violated could best describe sexual violence.
“My mother was continuously violated by my father. I witnessed how my father and mother were always engaging in serious fight.”
Joan cannot be said to have enjoyed a good childhood. All through the time, she watched her father and mother engaging in physical fight.
“My childhood was not palatable but I was determined to survive. I managed to live through all that as my mother was always beaten up by my dad. But luckily enough, I survived it but I never forget that experience because it is still fresh in my memory, how I survive is a miracle.”
Joan narrated that it all began when her mother was admitted in hospital for the delivery of her last child, leaving her with two other siblings at home.
“While my mother was still in hospital, I overheard my father and his friend planning on how to send her away when she returned and, if she refused, they will beat her to death. Upon hearing this, I became afraid since she just had the baby through Caesarean Section,” she stated.
Although Joan was still a little child, she quickly made efforts to inform her mother’s sister about her father’s plan. Her father’s friend, simply identified as Sam, caught up with her while trying to sneak out.
“My father’s friend rushed to my father to inform him that their plan may have leaked as I overheard what they discussed. In an effort to stop from making a second attempt to escape, they locked me up in one of the rooms in the house. But thanks to the defect in the construction work in the house. I broke the window of the room where I had been locked and asked my younger sister to alert one of our neighbours (Mama Linda) who went to report the case to the police. But the police came only to say the matter was a family affair and that my father should free me from the room where I had been locked”.
She went on:“Upon returning home that same night, my father arranged for my mother’s arrest. We were left all alone again in the house as my father had gone out to drink with his friends.”
But troubled by the events in her home, Joan could not sleep.
“That night when our mother was in the cell and my father went out to drink, his friend, Sam, returned to the house. I was the only one in the living room because my little sisters had slept inside the room. I could not sleep because of the ugly events happening around me. My father’s friend came in asking me why I didn’t sleep, and started touching me. At that point, I knew he was an enemy.”
Joan was frightened.
“He tried to push me to the couch in the living room while trying to rest on me. I refused to lie down. He began to tell me sweet things. He told me that I was beautiful, and how he will take care of me. He undressed. By then, I did not know how a man’s organ looked like but here in front of me was a very huge one. I screamed and he held my hands, mouth and I bite him.
“I quickly went to the bedroom to alert my siblings. But before I came back, he had dressed up and pretended as if nothing happened.”
Moments later, there was a knock on the door. Lo and behold, it was her father at the door whose return to the house ended the nightmare.
“Life as an advocate
Today, Joan is one of the millions of people who has had rape experience. But one thing unique about her case is that she never allowed the experience to weigh her down.
“I can’t wait for someone else to be the change, so I decided to be the change that will stop rape” , she said.”
As early as when she was in primary school, she became a volunteer with the Reproductive Health Organisation, Uganda. In 2013, she attended the International Conference on Family Planning where she joined other young people across the world to share experiences on rape and abortion as well as how victims managed to survive and moved on with their lives.
After the conference, Joan decided to go back to her country to form another association, currently known as Uganda Youth Alive for Family Planning. Today, her organisation has reached over 100,000 young people.
“We are hoping to move to other African countries once we have enough support because we are only driven by passion, as all of us were volunteers without any form of payment” , Joan said.
“For example, we went to a community when we heard that they had the highest number of HIV infections in Uganda. So we decided to be the change there.”
She confessed that her experience early in life had been the reason for her passion for the rights of young people. “Victims like me should not condemn themselves, but they should be driven by the reality. You may have decided to have sex after marriage. What if your uncle forced himself on you? What are you going to do? Stand your ground, zip up, know your rights as young persons because we all have our rights and we need to exercise them to the fullest.”
She has the following message for people generally: “ To women who have been violated, don’t sit on your situation, try hard to move on. My advice to fathers is that they should protect the girl-child and empower her. Be proud of her and don’t sell her off, don’t marry her off at a tender age, let her go to school and work. To the girls who are defiled, it is not easy but live out of that, don’t condemn yourselves, surround yourselves with positive things,
“I have done several jobs to survive, and to ensure that you survive, I advise girls and
boys to zip up, but in case they want to engage in sex, they should protect themselves with condom” .