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She Was Sexually Abused As A Child, Now She Can’t Bond With Men

As a child, Catherine said she was too scared to share her sexual harassment experience with her mother and even as an adult, “I'm still scared of talking about it with her.” 

At just eight years old, a commercial motorcyclist hired to take Catherine to school sexually assaulted her on many occasions. The motorcyclist would place her in front and put her brother and another boy in the back seat while conveying them to school somewhere in Adamawa, North East Nigeria. 

It was in that way he was able to assault her. Once, she wore a pair of pants to school as underwear, and the bike man rebuked her as it protected her in some way from the situation.

“He threatened me not to tell anyone about it,” she remembers.

The abuse was a relentless nightmare that happened for over a year until the motorcyclist stopped conveying them to school. At the time, she was too young to fully comprehend the horror she was enduring. But now, as a grown woman, the traumatic memories linger, refusing to be silenced.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) put weight behind Catherine’s harrowing account with a startling revelation: six in ten Nigerian children have suffered sexual abuse, with one in four girls and 10 per cent of boys falling prey to sexual violence.

As a child, Catherine said she was too scared to share her sexual harassment experience with her mother and even as an adult, “I’m still scared of talking about it with her.” One childhood incident particularly turned her against sharing such a horrible experience with her parents. 

Her mother had flogged her mercilessly when a neighbour claimed to have seen Catherine holding a naked boy’s scrotum outside. She argued they were just kids playing, but the neighbour exaggerated the matter, which caused her an unforgettable beating from her mother. 

“The experience contributed to why I could not tell her what was going on with the bike man,” she said.

A report by The Cece Yara Foundation, a child advocacy organisation, corroborates her struggle,  highlighting that fear and shame often silence victims of child sexual abuse. The foundation revealed that “70.5 per cent of victimised girls experience multiple incidents of sexual abuse.”

Catherine’s lack of parental guidance and support fueled her curiosity about sex. “At the age of ten, a close family member assaulted me mentally. He made me watch pornography carelessly and regularly, and the more I saw, the more I wanted to see,” she recalled.

Her exposure to pornography became an addiction and lasted for years until she was caught watching it one day. She was just a junior secondary student at the time. The beating she got from her mother made her more scared of her. 

As she grew older, she realised that the incident with the commercial motorcyclist was a sexual assault case. She then began to feel unsafe around men, but unfortunately, she would face more sexual harassment even after becoming a university graduate.

“During my service year, there’s this officer that would hold my neck or twist my arm ‘playfully’ until he finally asked if I had a boyfriend,” she said. 

She had been posted to a military barracks for her compulsory one-year National Youths Service Corp (NYSC) programme. The military officer who made unwanted advances, asked if she was a lesbian when she declined a relationship. Several other military officers at the barracks also harassed her, she said, making her stay in Abia state for her service hellish.

Now 27 and a graduate, Catherine still grapples with the trauma from her first experience with the motorcyclist. Her experience makes her avoid men generally, most times dressing like a boy.

“I don’t have triggers, but when a man is upfront about sex, I cancel him immediately,” she added. “I believe all those experiences from the bike man to the exposure to pornography by my family member contributed to why I’m hesitant about starting any relationship.”

She blamed her mother for not guiding her properly, especially when she was caught watching a porn movie. Catherine believes her mother should have corrected her instead of the “brutal beating”. She added that her mother had banned her from having male friends while growing up.

“Maybe I would have had genuine friends back then who might have helped me correct my perspective on men generally,” she pondered.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network suggests in a report that children are prone to post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety when they are sexually abused.

“Sadly, when children do not disclose sexual abuse and or do not receive effective counselling, they can suffer difficulties long into the future,” the report added.

Aishat Jibril, a clinical psychologist at HumAngle Sanctuary, suggested that Catherine might be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which has led to an unwillingness to get involved in sexual activity and avoiding any touch or communication that might lead to sexual involvement with men.

The psychologist noted that distress and feelings of sadness about the event have pushed the lady to have a negative perception of men as a result of her experience.

“Her risk factors were lack of social support, inability to share her experiences or confide in anyone and fact that her mum was not supportive,” she said. “She avoids potential triggers such as people or situations that remind her of the event, hence avoiding close relationships with men.”

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