My name is Nea*. Where I come from it is tradition that if you are a girl, your family arrange your marriage. When I was 15, my father died and my mother was left on her own with me and my four siblings. I was told that I would have to be married instead of finishing school. I was horrified that my uncle had arranged for me to marry a man who was at least 50 years old – I expected a boy of my own age. I begged my mother to stop the marriage but she could not stand up to my uncle.
There was a woman, Irene, who used to come to my village to help girls travel to Europe. They would go to be educated and get jobs. Some girls would return home to visit and bring presents to their family. I wished I could be like them. Because this woman was powerful and rich, I asked her to help me escape instead of getting married. She agreed to help and arranged it with my uncle. I was told that I would live with a family in Spain, and would learn to speak Spanish and go to school there.
I was surprised that when I got to Europe, I was in a country called Ireland. I was brought to a house in Dublin. There was a woman called Una who welcomed me but then told me that I owed her lots of money. I didn’t understand. In the house I was shown to a bedroom and told to wait there. After an hour, three men came in and raped me, one after the other. They were talking, smiling and laughing. The more I cried and screamed in pain, they more they laughed. I was left sore and bleeding.
Una told me that I would have to pay her back the money I owed her by sleeping with men. The next day more men came to the house, but this time it was one man at a time. At the end of the day I was given €50. I felt sick and could not eat. My body hurt from all the rapes and from crying. This went on for days. I knew I had to run away, even though I had no idea where I would go once I did.
I got an opportunity one day when I heard Una going out. Even though I was really frightened I ran. I stopped a woman on the street who helped me and rang Ruhama. Everyone in Ruhama was really nice to me and supported me with reporting to the police, getting a place to live and my education.
They told me they were sorry about the bad things that had happened to me. I blamed myself and felt stupid for believing in Irene, but they said it wasn’t my fault. That was important to me.
“I stopped a woman on the street who helped me and rang Ruhama. Everyone in Ruhama was really nice to me and supported me with reporting to the police, getting a place to live and my education.”
Even so, all these good things didn’t fully take my mind off the bad things that had happened to me. Those things were always there, swimming in my mind – like black sharks. I had nightmares and woke screaming. The best thing I ever did in Ruhama was counselling. When my caseworker told me about counselling, at first I said ‘no’, because I was afraid doing it would mean I was ‘mad’. But I wasn’t, and it was really good. My counsellor is this very special person who I can say anything to. My counsellor sees the ‘real’ me and encourages me and listens. When I finish a session I feel lighter, like a weight has been lifted from me, and the sharks stop swimming.
*Name and some details have been changed to protect confidentiality of woman