Halima Layeni: Standing up for sexual abuse victims across Nigeria
Editor’s note: Halima Layeni submitted her following personal story to Global Young Voices. You too can submit yours to us here.
My name is Halima Layeni, 24, born and raised in Nigeria. I hold a Bsc in Actuarial Science and lead a Foundation called Life After Abuse Foundation. The Foundation is committed to bringing issues of abuse to the spotlight, and galvanising society to respond promptly with requisite medical, psychological and legal support to survivors. Within the short spate of a year, embarking on the aforesaid vision, we have been able to reach out to over a thousand girls.
I am currently a serving National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member with the Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviations, Lagos State, and a Fellow at the Carrington Youth Fellowship Initiative.
Transitioning from Secondary school to University was one of the toughest phases of my life because of my history of abuse. My experience of sexual abuse started when I was about six years old and continued until I was about eleven. Most of the culprits were friends and family members who were meant to protect me; in all, I have been abused by six people – five men and one woman.
My first subjection to abuse was the longest and nastiest. The perpetrator was a son of a close family friend, who molested me for over four years. He would invite me to his room, take off my clothes and underwear and start touching my genitals. If he wasn't getting the satisfaction he desired, he would strip himself and attempt penetration.
At the age of eleven, I had become exposed and experienced enough to say “NO.” A relative of mine had a son who always tried to touch me sexually and initially I gave in to him because of my history of sexual abuse but eventually got absolutely fed up over time. I was in fact particularly irritated by his advances because we were related.
That was the breaking point for me. The obsession of my own relative had become the unexpected catalyst for a liberation of self from the grip of sexual abuse. I came to realise that every touch and kiss I ever got or gave was wrong. I suddenly realised that up to that moment, people had merely taken advantage of me. I suddenly realized that in all my life so far, people had merely been taking undue advantage of me and then I decided resolutely never to permit anyone to use me as a tool for sexual gratification. I made up my mind to stop anyone from ever abusing me again.
After the abuse stopped all I had left were tormenting memories, I wanted so bad to wash off every touch and just erase all the memories. My life was in total chaos. I remember nights I would go to bed in so much pain with my pillow soaked from crying, hoping the pain would be gone by morning only to wake up to an even deeper pain. I remember mornings I'd struggle to wash my genitals and cry all by myself from the pain from the abuse of the day before, yet come out of the bathroom and pretend everything was fine.
I had to struggle with depression, rejection, anger, hate, and an unforgiving state of mind. For a very long time, I did not want to be alive. I tried to take my life twice because the pain would not just go away. It was a battle of the mind; a battle I felt I just couldn't win. I felt like I was cursed. I felt like I didn't matter - like I was worthless.
I have taken some wrong turns in my life; done and said things I am not proud of. I have made myself pay for things the abusers put me through. I have acted based on my past pain and hurt simply because I didn't know better- but everything changed one day.
My healing came with so much power. I don't remember the morning but I remember the feeling. I woke up feeling absolutely no pain; it was gone – forever! I woke up that day with a voice, with a zeal to change the world, to save people and let them know that there is absolutely nothing we go through in life that we cannot completely recover from.
It took me fourteen years to finally realise that it was never my fault, that the power to heal completely was in my hands, that I was worth something - everything, that I mattered and there was a promising life after, in spite of abuse, but only if I was willing to rise above my pain. It took me fourteen years to finally realise that regardless of my past, God has a purpose for my life - a purpose greater than I.
The long-term impact of abuse is far-reaching; sometimes, without the right support, the effects of abuse can last a lifetime. There's a great deal of loss to be suffered when a girl-child goes in the wrong direction; she either becomes promiscuous, suicidal, resentful, violent, or end up with a marital dysfunction. If however she decides on the right path, with the right medical and psychological support, she will heal completely.
There are a lot of campaigns all over the world against abuse and more often than not, the attention is always mostly on the abusers and not the survivors. It is not uncommon to see placards like 'End Sexual Abuse' 'Don't Rape,’ etc. Raising awareness on a problem is good but it is more important to focus on the solutions. By doing so, you're empowering a girl-child to be moved to action thereby creating an atmosphere that makes it completely okay for her to speak up, rise above her pain, lead a fulfilling life and be a voice. Only then can we reduce the cycle of abuse.
It is my hope that my affiliation with the Youth Assembly will give me a respected voice with which I could reach out to a wider audience, advocating for girls who have been or are currently victims of abuse. This programme will also avail me the opportunity to meet with experts who would help me develop my skills in line with my vision, train with seasoned mentors and give the privilege of meeting with exceptional and like-minded youths from around the world.
Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV
Photos credit: Halima Layeni