DAY TEN: ‘My pain became my beautiful testimony’: breaking the silence on the sexual abuse of girls

“There is great power in our voice.”
Nigerian author and activist Fatima Ishiaku turned her traumatic past into a memoir – and a beacon of hope for young girls like her.

Fatima Ishiaku

In our society, a lot of youthful and defenseless adolescents are victims of malicious rape. 

These streaks of sexual brutality affect them substantially, physically, psychologically and otherwise.

Such acts of violence and sexual harm turns into a route that contributes to so many other social vices and often a path to the self-destruction of these unprotected young girls if they don’t find help.

If these acts of brutality don’t get nipped in the bud, it will shatter the fabric of our society and the world at large.

Often, victims are forced and intimidated to stay mute in the face of a vicious series of violent rape. 

These threats and coercion makes it a struggle for victims to open up to anyone about such issues. And when victims finally open up, they get bullied by the people they confide in to tell their stories, an act that renders them psychologically and emotionally traumatized.

These adolescents end up getting impregnated by their rapists, a condition they find themselves unprepared for, bearing a child at an early age. Some of opt for abortion and often die in the process.

For those that survive, it becomes a psychological disorder that makes these youthful and defenseless girls find comfort in alcohol, drugs, and other social vices. Some of them even end up as school dropouts due the effect of rape and the consequences become endless.

Victims most times are very vulnerable, rude, disrespectful, and aggressive. Because of what they’ve been through their lives becomes miserable. They live in fear, hardly trusting anyone and often becoming wild. 

Look around you today – there are so many vulnerable children on our streets, many of them are drug addicts and a substantial number of them are victims of sexual abuse. As humans, we need to understand that the abused child is fighting a battle caused by a terrible experience.

Therefore, I believe “they need love not hate, help not bully and a confidant they can trust.” We need to help them discover their inner strength and God-given talent, because the event of rape makes them regard themselves as weak, useless and vulnerable. These helpless girls need the inner strength to help them fight their fears and weaknesses.

My story is a precedent of what defenseless young girls go through.

As a victim of sexual abuse, I was molested from the age of seven till I was fourteen. This is the most awful experience of my life. 

I grew up with a man I thought was my dad, not knowing he wasn’t. And he took advantage of my innocence at a very tender age.

He made my mum despise me so much that we became enemies. To him, that was the only way to make my mum not to listen to me whenever I tried telling her what I was going through.

My mum hated me so much that she had broken my head with a rod so many times, cut my vagina, and put hot chili pepper on the cuts.

She didn’t find out why a calm child like me became so stubborn or why I started running away from home from the age of 10. Whenever I returned home, she would beat me and put hot chili pepper in my eyes and on my private parts.

She only believed what her husband told her. 

When I turned 14 years old, she found out that I had been sexually assaulted by her husband. Around this time, I found out that her husband wasn’t my dad. Two years after my mum discovered her husband molested me, she couldn’t deal with it. She died, and the rape continued.

I remember trying to commit suicide so many times. 

I dropped out of school and most of the men that got to know my story called off our engagement. Whenever these men find out about my story, they say they “can’t be with a lady like me”, that I’m a “cursed child.”

This is a cross I still carry till today.

In the year 2016, in the United States of America, an American Professor heard my story and advised me to write a book about my life. 

It wasn’t a straightforward thing to do, but finally I had the courage to publish my book, which I entitled “I Called Him Dad” by Fatima Ishiaku – a book that was published in the United States.

I had to tell my painful story in my book so that society will see what abused girls go through in our society, mostly In Nigeria. 

My book is about saving the girl child and breaking the silence. It’s a very educational book based on my true-life story. “I Called Him Dad” is my painful story.

The best part is me using my painful story to help victims like myself.

There’s light at the end of the dark tunnel. 

My pain became my beautiful testimony.

Today I run a registered non-governmental organization “House of Fatima for Abused Girls Foundation”. This foundation caters to the needs of sexually abuse girls and boys in our society. I finally went back to school and now I am a graduate of Sociology from one of the best Universities in Nigeria. 

I’m using my story to help victims, to educate mothers on how they can protect their children from sexual abuse and help parents identify the signs to look out for. I emphasise the need for parents to listen to their children whenever they want to talk to them. To read the complete version of my story you can pick up my book on Amazon. Use this link:

As I conclude, everyone, both old and young needs to understand that there is power in their voice and that they should never allow anybody to silence them. Speaking out will make a difference. It will expose the intent of rapists and bring to justice those that are into these acts.

  • “We say No to any kind of abuse.”
  • “We stand against gender-based violence.” 
  • “We stand against child marriage.”

Every girl child deserves an education and it is her fundamental right to be happy.

There is great power in our voice. 

You can visit our social media for more information:


Instagram: @houseoffatima_ng

Twitter: @houseoffatimang

Facebook: House of Fatima for Sexually Abused Girls

DAY SIX: Young Survivors of Gender Based Violence: Innovation and Impact

We stay on the theme of child survivors of domestic violence today. Read about the innovative and creative projects young survivors in Scotland have organised to reach out to others experiencing domestic violence while mobilising support for domestic violence survivors.

Picture above: Artwork above from the Everyday Heroes arts collaboration with students. Reproduced by permission

Ruth Friskney and Claire Houghton

Young survivors of gender-based violence are at the forefront of innovative responses to Gender Based Violence in Scotland. National young people’s participation projects like Voice Against Violence, Power Up Power Down, and Everyday Heroes have transformed Scotland’s understanding of gender based violence through young people’s perspectives. The projects’ creative, relationship-building approaches are rooted in the skills of support workers in empowering children to speak about abuse. Young survivors themselves innovate in speaking directly to people in power and reaching out to other children and young people experiencing GBV, including during Covid-19.

Voice Against Violence led this campaign, co-produced with Government, about young people’s experience of living with domestic abuse alongside their mothers.

Young survivors have worked to see children and young people recognised as victim-survivors of all forms of gender-based violence. A Voice Against Violence film was used by young survivors to critique the lack of recognition of children in legislation about domestic abuse.  A key step forward was achieved in the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 to finally recognise that the perpetrators’ ongoing psychological, physical, sexual and financial abuse adversely affects children as well as women.

Super Listener, designed by the children involved in Power Up, Power down, to set out what children want from the adults who work with them. Now available in nine languages through Improving Justice in Child Contact. Slide the arrows left and right for English (left) and German (right).

Key messages  are consistent across projects: young people don’t know how to seek support, support is inadequate, training is needed and specialist workers are invaluable. Young survivors have taken action on this, using fabulous innovative and creative methods: websites by young sexual violence survivors for support and information, training videos and resources like Super Listener for professionals and a national online platform currently being co-developed (That’s Not OK) to take forward survivor’s recommendations to Government.

Still from You are not alone!, an animation designed by young people affected by domestic abuse for young people affected by domestic abuse. Watch different language versions from the Improving Justice in Child Contact media channel.

When COVID-19 hit, and evidence began to build about the ways in which the pandemic helped perpetrators of domestic abuse to harm women and children, Yello! a group of young advisers to Improving Justice in Child Contact (IJCC),  felt that

we had to do at least something small to help out – or at least let someone out there know that they’re not alone and what they’re going through will pass. [1]

What it was like to make the animations, from Yello’s blog: We knew we had to help

Yello! wanted to make sure that children and young people knew that there was help and how they could get to it. They worked on two animations (“You are not alone” and “If home is not safe”) and supported partners across the five countries of IJCC to tailor animations for their own languages and contexts.

Locally, young experts from AWARE, Angus Women’s Aid’s Young Expert group, created their own film about what young people affected by domestic abuse might be feeling and the questions they would be asking during COVID. The film signposts sources of help, to make sure that young people affected by domestic abuse – in their own relationships or alongside their mother – know, even in COVID, that “You are not alone”.

Artwork from the Everyday Heroes arts collaboration with students

A key message from all these projects is that the justice response to young survivors needs improvement – in particular for children and young people’s views to be given due weight and for the perpetrator, not the woman or child survivor, to be held accountable. Everyday Heroes’ call for action expressed through displays in Parliament and creative dialogue with key decision-makers resulted in a pledge for collaborative action by Ministers.

Child contact remains a key area of concern – one being considered by the Improving Justice in Child Contact project including Yello!, its young advisers. Evidence from young survivors indicates that domestic abuse continues even if a mother and child are able to separate from a perpetrator. Child[1]  contact can be defined as communication, such as phone calls or spending time, with a parent that the child does not usually live with, and its type and frequency can often be set by the Courts. Child contact is often used by perpetrators to continue to harm mothers and children. COVID-19 has provided perpetrators with additional opportunities to enhance their abuse.[2]

“Don’t dismiss us – we experienced it, and we know what we’re talking about.”

From Yello!’s evidence to the Justice Committee

In Scotland, Yello! have been instrumental in the development of the Children (Scotland) Act 2020, meeting with the Minister, submitting written evidence, and taking part in person in a session with the Justice Committee. One young woman worked with Scottish Women’s Aid to write a case study of her experience of the child contact system – with the aim of giving decision-makers a glimpse of what it is like for a young person not to be listened to, and to be told to spend time with someone she feels unsafe with.

Yello!, the young advisers to Improving Justice in Child Contact, dressed up as ghosts to meet the Scottish Minister for Community Safety in Parliament. Their key message was that young people affected by domestic abuse feel invisible in court processes that decide child contact.

Internationally, IJCC have inspired partner organisations and the young people they work with to reach out creatively to share their experiences and to meet directly with people in power. For example, young people working with the IJCC partners in Portugal have been invited to meet directly with judiciary and other key stakeholders. Maria, a young person working with the IJCC partner in Romania, has written a blog, including poetry, about her experiences:

It was only one wish I have had,

I asked not to see him again

And it is such a sombre thing

You demand that I must visit him.

I read and a tear slipped my face

Because in danger you have put me

You told me I need to stay with him

As if it was a little thing.

Note to my judge
‘Maria’, 13 years old, working with the Romanian partner in the IJCC project, writing about the experience of reading the child contact court order

Young survivors of abuse have transformed policy and practice responses in Scotland through participation – and are inspiring young people internationally with what progress is possible. Such innovation needs resources and the support of competent adults to fully harness the wonderful power, talent, expertise and passion of young survivors.

“I think projects like ours are important because not that many children and young people have a say in their lives, because people think we are too young to know better.”

Yello!, on the experience of taking part in participation work

[1] There is a large academic literature on the impact of domestic abuse on children and the particular issues around child contact such as: Katz, E. (2016). Beyond the Physical Incident Model: How Children Living with Domestic Violence are Harmed by and Resist Regimes of Coercive Control. Child Abuse Review 25(1), 46–59. Callaghan, J., Alexander J., Sixsmith, J and Fellin, L. (2018). Beyond “Witnessing”: Children’s Experiences of Coercive Control in Domestic Violence and Abuse. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 33(10), 1551–1581 Holt, S. (2017). Domestic Violence and the Paradox of Post-Separation Mothering. British Journal of Social Work 47 (7), 2049–2067; Mackay, K. (2018). The approach in Scotland to child contact disputes involving allegations of domestic abuse. Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 40(4), 477-495. Morrison, F, Tisdall, E.K.M., and Callaghan, J., (2020), Manipulation and Domestic Abuse in Contested Contact – Threats to Children’s Participation Rights. Family Court Review, 58 (2), 403-416.

[2] You can read Improving Justice in Child Contact’s response on COVID-19 to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women

This blog was written by Dr Ruth Friskney and Dr Claire Houghton from the University of Edinburgh. Ruth is a Research Fellow on the Improving Justice in Child Contact project (funded through the European Union’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme 2014-2020), working to improve participation in child contact processes for children affected by domestic abuse. Claire is a Lecturer in Social Policy and Qualitative Research working to improve young people’s impact on gender equality and gender-based violence policy, through Voice Against Violence (ESRC/Scottish Government funded), Everyday Heroes (Scottish Government) and the new ESRC UK project CAFADA. In writing this blog Claire and Ruth have drawn on the inspirational and creative work of the young people leading and taking part in the projects described in this blog, as well as the organisational partners: with thanks to them all.

Their twitter handle is @CYSRG1

DAY FIVE: I will not let your shadow hang over me

Singer/composer Jack Colwell’s new work The Sound of Music addresses the childhood trauma of domestic abuse: It is: “a dialogue between three people: myself at 28, myself as a child and the idea of my father.”

Photo: Kylie Coutts reproduced by permission

Jack Colwell

When I was a child, I lived in the hallway between my bedroom and the kitchen at the back of our house in the sleepy Sydney suburb of Collaroy Plateau. The hallway was painted lime green, and a print of Monet’s “Water Lilies” hung framed on the wall next to a towering bookshelf (at least, it seemed to be towering when I was six years old). 

I remember the hallway in our old home so vividly because it is where I often hid during outbursts of domestic violence. There was no set time or circumstance that brought these moments on. It could happen at any time, really.

My dad taught at our local primary school and, on occasion, these acts of violence would happen in the morning before we left the house; my mother screaming for me to run to the neighbours and call the police, as my Dad smashed plates around her before picking me up and carting me off to class. At home he could be a monster, but at school he was the most popular teacher on the playground: Mr. C. Before we got in the car to leave for school I would sneak into my room and grab some handkerchiefs to put down my school shorts to soak up the piss from soiling myself in fear.

The violence was terrifying. Growing up in that environment left me with incredibly low self-esteem, and I’ve struggled as an adult to form healthy bonds with intimate partners; what my psychologist described as “insecure attachment”. These are side effects I’ve never fully grown out of. 

It actually wasn’t until a few years ago that I realised the toll these actions had taken on me – which feels almost absurd to write, but I think when you grow up in a hostile environment you become accustomed to it; it somehow becomes your normal. Since coming to terms with this realisation, I have started my own journey of working through this pain and figuring out how best to express it. That’s when the song came.

“The Sound of Music” felt like an important story to tell, and one that I couldn’t contain. During the writing process for my debut album, SWANDREAM, I looked inside myself at my own childhood trauma, and used it to construct narrative songs. 

I believed – and still do – that the stories on the album, and the sharing of my experience, could help others. I remember towards the tail end of the writing period I had been going over these memories each night in my sleep, like an old worn VHS in my mind. I was restless, and low. It felt like a heavy burden to carry inside of my chest – an albatross around my neck.

When I sat down at the piano, the song appeared, as it rarely does, almost fully formed. I had been thinking of “Dido’s Lament”, from Purcell’s famous opera. At the beginning of “Dido’s Lament” there is a small musical moment – a recitative – where Dido announces to the chorus that she will lay herself in the earth, almost as though she is breaking the fourth wall. I used a similar structure in “The Sound of Music”. 

After months of turning the idea over in my mind, it seemed that the song was actually a dialogue between three people: myself at 28, myself as a child and the idea of my father.

The song opens:

“I will not let your shadow hang over me,

For I have grown into a cherry blossom tree…”

It’s a sentiment that is peaceful in tone, but strong in nature –and what could be more powerful and beautiful than nature itself, overcoming all obstacles? Once the recitative is spoken, the song descends into the night, tying together key events of my childhood. It’s mostly set around birthdays, important holidays and the like – all occasions when instances of domestic violence are statistically more likely to take place. These are the events that destroyed the innocence of my childhood and drained the sense of fantasy and wonder from my youth – including one Christmas Eve when my father introduced himself as “the real Santa” while drunk, moments after beating my mother. I consider my work both personal and political.

While this story is painful to share, its message and the conversation I hope it creates overshadows my shame and humiliation. We talk a lot about how victims should not be defined by what befalls them, but I think that what you fall victim to can shape you in a way that does define your identity and existence. It’s what you do with that experience that is important.

Directed by Matt Sav using archive footage of Jack Colwell 

Jack Colwell is an Australian singer/composer whose debut album, SWANDREAM, was recorded in Sydney and produced by renowned singer Sarah Blasko. SWANDREAM paints a picture of a young queer man contending with identity, heartbreak and historical abuse. The songs are informed by Colwell’s classical training at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, his love of confessional singer-songwriters, and his infatuation with fairytales and myths. In 2015, his debut EP spawned the sleeper hit “Don’t Cry Those Tears”, which attracted significant radio play and led to a remix by US noise-rockers HEALTH. Extensive domestic touring and LGBT advocacy followed, and Jack soon became one of Australia’s most prominent independent artists. @jackcolwell_