Trauma Warning: this article contains content related to sexual violence, which could be distressing or traumatic for certain readers.
The only sound 12-year-old Esther Olatunji could hear in the pitch-black night were footsteps and the creaking of her room door. She was subconsciously trying to sleep because of what her uncle had shown her in the afternoon, even though the footsteps seemed far away.
In the afternoon, her uncle had compelled her to watch an adult film that showed two adults having sex. While at it, her uncle grabbed her expanding breasts.
It was a shameful experience for her.
He wanted to go further and have sex with her, but just before he could do it, there was a car horn, a sign of people coming into the house, and he suspended the intention, or rather, reserved it for later.
That later came in her dark room late in the night. Her bed began to dip, and when she opened her eyes, she could not totally make out what she saw. He had shown up and pushed himself on her. Not a soul heard her squeaky screams.
“He kicked my legs apart, covered my mouth, and whispered, shhhhhh.” “He asked me if I remembered the video we saw in the afternoon,” Esther Olatunji recounted.
He raped her.
“It hurt,” she said. “And I felt like my body was being torn apart.”
The afternoon incident would not have happened if Olatunji’s parents and siblings had not gone to a wedding in Ogijo, Ogun state, leaving her alone at home with her uncle, Dede, who was 20.
While her eyes were sorrowful, she did not harbour hatred.
“I don’t hate him or myself anymore; I keep getting better every day,” she shrugged. “I am Scarred but Strong, I am healing.”
Olatunji found help
Little Olatunji confided in her elder sister, who caught her crying one afternoon.
The 17-year-old took her to their female Sunday school teacher. Apparently, she, Rejoice Olatunji, also had faced a near-rape situation and is finding solace in this teacher.
The sisters weren’t the only girls; this woman was helping.
“Mrs Agatha would pray and comfort us. Her favourite verse was Psalm 34:5- she would tell us that we were not alone and that Christ loves us,”
“Every Sunday, she would meet with us. God bless her heart… she gave me a letter for my parents. It was an invitation. She met with them and told them.
My parents were devastated… he was sent away,”
The initiator of the meeting, Mrs Agatha, believed it was her duty to assist kids who had been sexually abused get better.
“It was a lovely experience. She helped me and the other girls regain our lives, then departed. Her family moved out of Ogun state where we were.”
Though the five girls who made up the team felt undone when Mrs Agatha departed, they were determined to keep helping each other.
“We chose to have a purposeful meeting and designated ourselves as leaders. I am the Secretary. We made it into a group, called Scarred but Strong.”
Scarred but Strong.
Scared but strong, it was pioneered by the handiwork of a female Sunday school teacher who devoted the staple part of her life to nurturing abused girls privately.
Their meetings, which currently hold every Thursday, are said to be a meeting of prayers, private discussions and growth.
“Our group, or fellowship as we call it, went from friendship to siblingship. We meet to pray, share knowledge and talk about sensitive sexual matters.” Olatunji said, “my sisters have helped me not to hate him. I wouldn’t say that I don’t get sad when I think about it rather I feel lighter compared to before. I am now very conscious that it wasn’t my fault, and in scaling through this, I know that I am a strong woman…”
When asked about the group’s challenges, Olatunji claimed distance was a significant issue.
According to her, their pursuit of academic excellence affected their physical meeting. Nonetheless, they can communicate and hold virtual meetings thanks to technology.
At the moment, Scarred but Strong has seven members.
Upon being questioned about the community’s lack of attention, Olatunji responded, “That was a decision we made. Even though it’s a wonderful community, and we should welcome tens of thousands of members, we’re not yet ready to disclose our identity and share our tale in person. Perhaps at a later time.”
Olatunji is a supporter of fellowships. She argues that a group of people who have gone through similar things can give survivors a sense of community.
Support groups and fellowships are essential for the psychological recovery of victims of sexual harassment. They act as lifelines, encouraging, validating, lowering stigma, fostering hope, and imparting useful coping mechanisms.