by Annabelle Nakabiri Ssebakijje
It is not very common for me to be silent for 3 hours while having a conversation with another person. The staff I serve with always have to remind me of time when we have a meeting. It even gets more challenging when I am talking with girls – I think it comes from a place of wanting to pour my heart out into every conversation.
As I continue to interact and serve survivors of sexual abuse and young women that come through our doors; I have learnt to BE QUIET and LISTEN!
(Shared with permission)
A couple of days ago I met this young lady I will call Pat. She got my contact off Facebook and sent me a long message. She needed help. After a couple of chats I realized I needed to urgently meet with her in person. For the first time, she had found someone willing to listen. She had found a place she can let it all out. I am not sure I was prepared for the 3 hours of deep sighs and tears as I listened to a spirit of a beautiful girl – so crushed and feeling completely helpless.
This young lady comes from a polygamous family. She lost her father at age 13 and this meant she couldn’t continue with school. The step sisters quickly threw her and her mom out of the house. They had to struggle through life to find a place to stay and afford a meal. Left with “not so many options,” she found herself a young sweet love who promised her a life of big dreams. When she shared the news about their pregnancy, the young man offered her money to have an abortion. She took the money but decided to keep her child. The prince of her dreams was not ready to be responsible – so he left.
Now there was a child to care for. There was no family support. There was no baby-daddy and no love. She lost the right to be just a young girl. She had someone calling her “maama” (Luganda word meaning mom) and to society – she was the wasted teenager. This was not the future she had imagined. All her dreams were “crushed.”
One of the most common things that happens to people that have suffered abuse and painful losses is they learn to settle for anything – because they have to get by – they need to SURVIVE. I fail to count the number of times I have heard the statement “I had no other option” during counselling sessions. The pain we experience serval times makes us so vulnerable and desperate – and as a result, there is repeated abuse.
For Pat, she was forced to learn the art of sex trade early. Sleeping with at least 5 men a day. Some paid for her services. Some did not. Some required that they do not use protection. More than 3 times, she got pregnant and felt her only option was to abort. Each time she had to go through this cycle of pain alone. She would remind herself – “I have no option.”
A couple of years later – the “way of survival” was not bringing in as much as she needed to meet the needs of her growing child. Someone introduced her to what sounded like an exciting opportunity. She was to be an escort. Escort is a common term used in the sex trafficking industry. This meant she was expected to walk around with guests that came to Uganda through a tour company, and they needed girls for sexual pleasure. The offer was that for every girl who pleases the “white” clients, they get a pay close to 1m per month, a business set up for them and travel opportunities. Well, this sounded exciting – until she learnt that to qualify for the juicy slot – one needed to go through series of preparation and practice. Her and a group of other younger girls (16 – 25yrs) were always expected to have their nude pictures taken and recorded sex sessions with young men during “rehearsals.” The madam running the business called this – training. No one expected to be paid for the training sessions. There was no food benefit. No explanations why the sessions were recorded. The pictures were to be sent to potential company clients to choose which girl they want as an escort when they arrive in the country.
One day, as Pat walked out of the training session; she felt a rare deep pain. Whatever her life was is NOT anything she really dreamt of or even wanted. But she felt so trapped and didn’t know how to get out. She kept on convincing herself she needed to do this for her dear child – but she wasn’t sure she would live long enough to raise him.
By the time she was done pouring her pain out; I asked the Holy Spirit – How does one recover from all these layers of pain and abuse?
What Does “Abuse” Mean?
Abuse is defined as “to be misused, used improperly or to be wasted; to use in such a way as to cause harm or damage; to be treated cruelly.” Any time we are misused or used for a purpose other than what God intended, it’s damaging. And I realize many people can relate to this. For some of you reading this article, I’m just telling your story. You know what it’s like to live with a terrible, shameful secret that is eating you alive.
I see me. I see Pat. I see hundreds of girls we serve through our ministry. I see the many texts I receive after television shows and from social media; from parents, youth, older women and men reaching out to seek for help. I read of the thousands of girls trafficked every day and how some human is profiting from that as a trade. The thousands trapped in the red light districts; living off drugs to help them forget the sorrow of the day. I read of the hundreds dying; some committing suicide, many murdered for saying it’s enough – I want out. I see children born without Fatherhood identity – there is just no way their moms can identify who was really responsible. I see daughters that have known perversion as a form of love. They are ashamed of themselves and ashamed of the people that abused them. Constantly afraid and with such a low esteem. Pretending to live a normal life but feeling so lonely all the time and different from everyone else.
I may never imagine the extent of this damage. How many destinies have been crushed? How many more shall it take until we see change?
Even after years of dealing with these experiences almost on a daily basis – I never get used to the pain. I have learnt to allow myself to feel all the emotions. And I encourage you to do the same. It is ok to ask questions. It is ok to cry. It is ok to feel bitterness. It is ok to lash out. It is ok not to have answers. It is ok not to know what to say.
There is a reason why we have the book of Lamentations in the Bible. I want to believe God understands that we experience human pains – that is what makes us human. Sometimes we completely lose it – and ONLY GOD knows how to raise us up!
As I prayed through the session with Pat – I heard the Holy Spirit whisper Ezekiel 37:3 – child of mine (Son of Man), can these dry bones live again?
I find comfort in knowing that there is a God who is able to re-write stories of death – into stories of Life and significance.
Annabelle Nakabiri Ssebakijje
Founder and Executive Director
The Remnant Generation (www.theremnantgeneration.org)
Annabelle is a survivor of sexual abuse and child marriage. She has dedicated her life to rescuing lives of teen moms that have survived sexual abuse in Uganda.