Life After Abuse: a foundation that wants to end sexual and domestic violence for all in Nigeria

Life After Abuse: a foundation that wants to end sexual and domestic violence for all in Nigeria

My name is Halima Layeni, I am 25 years old, I come from Nigeria, Africa, and I am an incandescent advocate against sexual violence. I myself am a relentless survivor of sexual violence. Starting from my very own personal experience, I founded an NGO called "Life After Abuse", a platform committed to raising awareness on sexual violence and post-traumatic recovery, that provides psychological and legal support to marginalized adolescent survivors.

Photo credit: Halima Layeni

Photo credit: Halima Layeni

I am also the author of "My Life After Abuse": a memoir which represents the voice of many wounded hearts, bound by the chains of fear and pain. In the memoir, I recounted my experiences of sexual violence: my own pain, struggles, failures and ultimately, my healing process.

During my service year as a National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member in Nigeria, I served as the Vice-President of a Community Development Service group, where I introduced and implemented a project geared towards raising awareness on sexual violence, domestic violence and consent culture. I successfully drove a progressive conversation on "consent" with over 1,300 shares on Facebook.

I trained as a Social Welfare Officer at Lagos State Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviations under the Domestic Violence unit, an office of the State Government Sector in Lagos, Nigeria, which has reported over 1,000 cases of domestic violence every year. I witnessed 6 professionals interventions in over 176 cases of domestic violence.

During my time as a trainee in the State Ministry, I was finally able to put my advocacy skills to good use by holding a local school principal accountable for refusing to allow access to medical, psychosocial and legal support for 37 survivors of child sexual abuse.

I also co-founded a Carrington Youth Fellowship Initiative project on Male Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) called "Boys Under Protection," a project geared towards raising awareness on the existence, prevention, effects and treatment of Male Child Sexual Abuse among parents and caregivers in Lagos, Nigeria; the very first of its kind in Africa. The project allowed me to be awarded with an F. John Bray United States Consul General Award, based on my commitment, passion, teamwork and creativity, during the Fellowship Program year.

I am highly curious, committed to results, sensitive to people from different backgrounds, fearless in giving and receiving feedback and I love to stay up at night to dream with my eyes open.

I look forward to a world where every child, regardless of social upbringing, race or gender can be free from fear and violence.

In 2015, the United Nations took a giant step by creating an initiative  called “The Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children” specifically meant to protect the rights of every child. They got world leaders to make commitments to end all forms of violence against the world's most precious assets, children, by the year 2030.

Unarguably, the effects of child sexual abuse are more prevalent than most people are aware of. The number of sex offenders, school dropouts, drug addicts, misplaced youths, abusive parents and failed marriages are increasing drastically because the cycle of sexual violence keeps going on, cutting deeper into every generation that passes. And while most people tend to avoid and overlook the matter, it is a fact that many people in the categories aforementioned have experienced one form or another of sexual abuse during their earlier years.

A study led by the National Population Commission with support from UNICEF and the US centres for disease control and prevention on “Nigeria Violence Against Children” revealed that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 10 boys in Nigeria experience sexual violence and that less than 5 percent of them receive support.

In Nigeria, the marginalized groups are the most vulnerable. They live in environments that expose them to all forms of abuse, especially sexual. Most of them live in constant fear and are ignorant of the laws protecting them, because of lack of access to basic needs. Most of them, especially young girls, live in constant daily anxiety.

Therefore, Life After Abuse Foundation (LAAF) was founded to bring the issues of abuse into the spotlight and push the authorities to take action providing medical, psychological and legal support to marginalized adolescent survivors.

In almost two years, LAAF has empowered over 1,300 youths, exposed 128 cases of sexual abuse and offered psychological support to over 60 survivors. LAAF has published 2 editions of Life After Abuse Magazine and has distributed over 300 free copies to students and authorities. LAAF launched an online campaign in 2017 which got over 70 young people from across Nigeria to participate by acting as carriers of the message: "There is life after abuse."  

At the end of the day, the Life After Abuse Awareness Program aims at providing a practical mean of healing and recovery to the people who have been, or are being, harmed by abuse, providing them with close support, with the intention of infusing in them positive life attitudes, healthy self-recognition and personal confidence, and accelerating their return to wholeness.

We also want to educate and give the survivors of abuse the strength to break the silence and lead a fulfilling life, by giving them access to free medical, psychological and legal support, access to free mentorship and guidance and access to vocational facilities that provide skills’ advancement.

Ultimately, we want to foster progressive conversation on this issue and provide relevant education, supported by experience and studies, engaging parents, governments, world leaders, religious leaders and the educational system to be more vigilant and join in the fight against sexual abuse. This will help change society's attitude, knowledge and practices.

Only a wholesome person can be a leader and make a difference. There is only so little a shattered soul can achieve in life. Oftentimes, the memory of abuse holds people back from leading a purposeful life. Therefore, The Life After Abuse Foundation has been founded as a contributory endeavour to help sexual abuse survivors piece their lives back together, by owning their pain and telling their stories.

Specifically, LAAF is helping to give marginalized girls, who live in fear and violence, a voice by making sure they are rescued from abusive situations and taken to a safe shelter where they are protected and empowered.

So, if I were to be given the prize money, I would use it to sponsor the LAAF project with communication materials and merchandise such as flyers, T-shirts and banners; I would invest it in digital marketing campaigns and social media promotions for the cause.

Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV

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