By Phidelia Imiegha

My name is Michelle and I’m a rape survivor. This is my story.

I was gang-raped by four armed robbers in the presence of my mum and younger brother when I was 17, in my home. My mum refused to take me to the hospital or tell the police about my rape. Word travels fast, she said; no one would marry a girl who had been gang-raped. She was afraid that the stigma would ruin our lives. My dad was away for work when it happened, and when he got back and was told about my rape, he resented me. He refused to touch me or talk to me. He wouldn’t even look at me. It was then I started to feel like nothing would ever be the same. I felt like damaged goods. I started to feel irritated in my own skin; I’d look in the mirror and see the four men staring back at me, laughing at me.

About four weeks after the incident, I woke up sick and threw up terribly. My mum finally gave in and took me to the hospital. The doctor was furious, demanding to know why a rape was being reported four weeks after it happened. Series of tests were carried out and my mum and I sat in the waiting room for about 50 minutes before the doctor called us into his office to drop the bombshell on us. The tests had shown that I was four weeks pregnant. My whole world came crashing on my teenage shoulders. I ran out of the hospital and just walked around the city aimlessly until nightfall.

I walked back home. My dad’s looks when I walked into the house shot arrows at me. I ignored him, I couldn’t care less. I headed straight to my bathroom, stripped naked, and started scrubbing my body furiously. I scrubbed and scrubbed and eventually started crying loudly. My mom came in and tried to stop me from tearing up my skin but I didn’t let her, so she sat there and cried too.

“I can still get it out, I can still get them out,” I repeated between sobs. I continued for the most part of an hour before passing out from exhaustion. Mother rinsed me up and put me to bed.

I woke up at 3 a.m. feeling bruised and hollow, empty and terrified. I could feel every feeling my 17 year old self could register. It was all too much. I screamed for my mum and she came and held me and cried with me. She called me her precious baby and I felt safe.

She then told me what had transpired between her and the doctors after I ran out. It was agreed while it was more advisable to abort the baby, a more ethical approach would be to keep it, and then adopt it out; and more importantly start therapy and counseling for PTSD. I stared blankly as she talked and then I fell asleep in her arms and dreamed of flying babies chasing me, catching me and jeering at me. The faces of the babies changed to those of my rapists and I woke up again crying.

Fast forward three months after I was raped, pregnancy beginning to show, therapy already begun. I hated, hated, hated it, this demon spawn growing inside of me. A constant reminder of my shame and defeat. At the countless anonymous meetings and therapy sessions and counseling sessions, I was taught how to deal with life after rape, life with unwanted pregnancy, but I wasn’t taught how to live without fear or how to not see the faces of my rapists every time I looked in the mirror.

As each day passed, I hated my dad more and more. I hated him for not being strong enough to be my pillar after it happened, I hated him for cutting me off emotionally, I hated him because even without saying it, I knew from his eyes, that he blamed me for getting raped.

I wasn’t taught how to not have nightmares every night and not wake up in tears. I had ceased to live and had become a shadow of myself. My virginity, my pride and my life were taken from me all at once and all my emotions fused and became one; hatred. My once sparkly eyes became bloodshot. Crying became routine for me. I shut all my friends out and spent my time at home ignoring my family. I don’t know what exactly I became, but I changed. I started smoking cigarettes and drinking beer because I couldn’t even care about my life. Or the baby’s.

Mum got back home one evening and gave me a slip. It read, “Dr Holmes”, and had telephone number scribbled on it. Mum said to me, “He’s a pretty good therapist. I thought I could deal with it but I can’t.”

“You’re my mother; you’re supposed to know how to deal with it!”

I kept yelling at her, ignoring her sobs. Next I went to the bathroom, threw the slip in the bin and went into the bath.

I spent my days worrying about why other girls were so pretty; why they were prettier than me. I became vain, and had an unruly spirit of relying on my flesh to bring out my beauty. In all honesty, I was rude, vulgar and arrogant just to hide my vulnerability. Days turned to 6 months and 3 out of 4 of the boys were caught and detained, and even then I wasn’t happy.

After a lot of persuasion from my mom, I started attending weekly group therapy at a St. Maria’s Foundation for Rape Victims. We all sat in a circle and took turns to speak. I listened to angry and hurt people wailing; crying and sharing stories and experiences yet I felt like none was bad as mine.

One day, my turn to talk came to speak. The therapist called out my name.

“Huh? Me?” I asked. “Yes you, sweetheart. You’ve heard everyone’s story but we barely know what you sound like,” she said with a smile.

I had finished sharing my experience. Everyone was silent, so silent that even a dropped pin could be heard. I could see their tears, their pity was tangible. I looked down; they stared at me, still saying nothing. I got up and walked out. I had in that instant decided I was going to abort the baby on my own.

A girl called Danielle came to speak to me as I lit a cigarette just outside the hall. She had brown hair, dark skin but lighter than me, mixed race I think. She was pretty and didn’t look like a victim to me. She looked more of a heart breaker. “It will kill you, you know,” she said. I shrugged, dropped it and told her I was dead already. She shook her head and told me it was bad and no man was worth me killing myself slowly over.

“I heard your story, I understand that you’re bitter. You know, you have to let go, erase it, cleanse yourself, your thoughts, your emotions, immerse yourself in the spirit of this coming Christmas and you will be fine. It’s difficult, I know. My uncle raped me, you know. I stabbed him afterwards, but he didn’t die. He got better, raped me again, and beat me badly. I have let go, I forgave him. It was difficult, but I did.”

The rage inside me never came forth anymore.

Danielle was hit by a car a week to Christmas and she died instantly. She didn’t get to receive the Christmas card I wrote for her, and she didn’t get to count down to the New Year.

What fascinated me the most is that she had the ability to forgive her own uncle. If she could, how much more strangers?

They caught him a few days to Christmas, the main offender. He pleaded insanity. I spoke to him but it wasn’t enough, I wasn’t happy. He begged, and so did his mother. I regarded them, tearful but emotionless. Danielle’s words rang in my ears and for a moment I was confused.

His old mother knelt down, and pleaded on behalf of her son. I was touched, it was Christmas after all, I decided to give her something to celebrate.

And so I decided I would let it go and forgive; for Danielle, but most importantly for me. I decided I would keep my baby. I couldn’t have made a better decision in my life. That was the best decision I’ve ever made. It was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I felt free and I felt ready for the rest of my life as a survivor. Nobody is allowed to tag me a ‘rape victim’. I am not a victim, I am a survivor. Instead of drowning in hatred and wallowing in self-pity, I chose to let go. I chose to forgive. Holding on to anger would have left me a victim, moving on was my greatest victory, not letting rape define how my life turned out, a great achievement.

I am 23 years old now; six years after my virginity was stolen by gang rape, and I got pregnant and decided to keep the baby.

My daughter is my all now. I am not ashamed to say the ugliest and most shameful experience of my life brought me the most beautiful gift I’ve ever had; my pride and joy, Danielle. I named her after my late friend.

I am proud to say I have put my past behind me and I am excelling and achieving greater heights. This was possible because I forgave. I hate to imagine how I might have turned out if I had continued living my life in rage and hatred. Forgiveness is really the best thing that ever happened to me.

Ephesians 4:31-32

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of slander. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.

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