Ijeoma Ndukwe is the founder of Share Anonymous Initiative. In this interview with MAKINDE OLUWAROTIMI, she speaks on the various ways by which victims and survivors of sexual violence can be helped and supported among other things
Share Anonymous is a unique NGO. Why did you decide to start this kind of organisation?
We started Share Anonymous with a simple idea: victims and survivors know what it’s like to live with the effects of sexual violence, and they can teach us more than we can teach them. We also knew that if victims and survivors had the tools to track their progress and compare themselves to others who have gone through the same things, they could learn more about how to improve their outcomes. Our goal is to make as much data as possible openly accessible to researchers, parents, school administrators, journalists, policy makers and all citizens, so that everyone can better understand what is going on out there and how it affects the victims. We have been in existence since 2016.
Tell us about your organisation?
Share Anonymous is an ongoing project dedicated to curating data, which would show stats and trends on sexual violence in Nigeria, and Africa. We hope to end the loneliness, silence and secrecy that often surround the experience of sexual violence by inviting all victims and survivors to reclaim their voices and share their stories anonymously in a safe space. We also provide a safe and open community (The Share Anonymous Discussion Forum) where victims and survivors can find solidarity and support in their recovery journey. In the forum, they can ask questions, provide support, and share helpful information and tips with other survivors. Non-survivors are also welcome to join the forum to gain a better understanding of the dynamics of sexual victimisation and trauma so that they can better help and support their loved ones who have experienced sexual violence. In addition, we provide free legal and psychological support to survivors.
It’s quite difficult for victims of sexual violence to come out and tell their stories or experiences. How do you gain their confidence and encourage them to do so?
It’s an ongoing process. First, victims and survivors aren’t obligated to speak out and share their stories, they are heroes whether they share their stories or not. However, speaking out and talking to someone about the incident – whether in writing or in person, with a therapist or a trusted loved one, is the first step in the healing process because it helps to reconstruct repressed memory, mourn loss, and master helplessness, which is trauma’s essential insult. And, since recovery can only take place within the context of a relationship and not in isolation; trying to reconstruct the ability to cultivate wholesome relationships, sharing publicly helps survivors restore basic trust in a just world and overcome feelings of isolation.
But the talking cure is predicated on the existence of a community willing to bear witness, and this where we come in. We are engaged in creating a survivor culture that would help eradicate rape culture. A culture of kindness, compassion, understanding and empathy; where we can all go from asking, “what is wrong with you?” “Why did you go there?” “Why did you wear that?” “Why not get over it and move on?” to asking, “what happened to you?” “How can we help you?” “What do you need?” It is in this culture, this space and community where survivors are heard, believed and supported that they can feel safe enough to speak out about their experiences. Also, we insist on anonymity because we believe that speaking out anonymously would help survivors protect their privacy and also help protect them from further harm.
In what ways have you been able to give them support?
We provide free legal and psychological support to all victims and survivors. We always encourage each survivor who sends in his or her story or who reaches out to us to speak with our in-house therapist. Sexual violence disrupts a victim’s life because it is the ultimate theft of self-control and autonomy, it often leads to a breakdown in the victim’s sense of self-worth. Some victims would often tell us about the struggle to gain back that sense of agency and control over their lives and emotions, and so what we do in addition to therapy is share some of our reading resources which address what it is they are going through because we understand that language gives us the power to change ourselves and others by communicating our experiences better, helping us to define what we know and what our struggle is, and finding a common sense of meaning.
In other words, the traumatised person is often relieved simply to learn the true name of his or her condition. By understanding it, they begin the process of mastery. They discover that there is a language for their experience, that they are not alone; others have suffered in similar ways. They also discover that they are not crazy, the traumatic symptoms are normal human responses to extreme circumstances. And finally, they discover that they are not doomed to suffer this issue indefinitely; they can expect to recover, as others have recovered. Education is important. Having the courage to seek help and committing to the healing process makes a world of difference.
In some cases, have you tried arresting the offenders?
We haven’t yet gone as far as arresting an offender because the families of the victims usually withdraw the case and decide to handle it quietly under a misguided concern for the victims’ “virtue.” We offer legal advice and offer support through the reporting and legal process, but no, we haven’t gotten to the arresting stage yet.
How many people (victims) have benefited from your organisation?
We have supported about 12 victims directly. In addition to that, we also organise educational programs in schools where we teach parents, teachers and students on sexuality education which comprises child sexual abuse, body safety, safe and unsafe touches, boundaries, healthy and unhealthy relationships, etc. and we have taught about 152. Social media is also an important way we reach survivors and non-survivors and we reach about 4, 372 people on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram daily.
How have you been able to access funds to run your organisation?
It is presently self-funded. However, we are hoping for external funding and resources, partnerships with corporate organisations and philanthropic investments from benevolent individuals, so that we can continue to work hard at achieving our goals.
Tell us about some of the challenges you have faced personally and as an organisation in the process of helping and supporting these victims?
When survivors of childhood abuse, rape and other victimisations seek assistance from victim service providers and community institutions, they often have a complex array of needs. Some need mental health and substance abuse treatment; others may require help with complicated legal matters. Still others may need help advocating within the family for their right to treatment. Responding to these needs challenge service providers like us, to think in new ways about organisations and community collaborations, staff and volunteer engagements/training, etc. and we haven’t been in operation for long. What we have is more of a “way forward” than “challenges,” we need volunteers, partnerships with the right organisations, sponsorships, institutional and governmental support, etc.
Have you had any government support?
No, we haven’t had any governmental support. We need support in the form of grant funding, partnerships with key agencies and we need the government to commit to ensuring that the social, health, justice and education systems respond effectively to sexual violence and harassment.
What advice do you have for victims out there?
I would say there’s no shame in getting help. There’s no shame in struggling and admitting it. There’s no shame in being a victim or survivor. There’s no shame in being a work in progress. Everyone has an innate capacity to bounce back from adversity, reconnect with his or her passion for life and work, do their best and thrive no matter how dire external (or maybe internal) circumstances may seem. Say yes to yourself and continue to say it every day.
What about non-victims, what advice do you have for them?
Sexual assault is a terrifying experience, there’s more to the victimisation than the actual “incident.” Every survivor has the right to be treated with dignity and respect and not be discriminated against based on gender, age, ethnicity, ability, status or religion. Victims and survivors need calm, reassuring, unconditional support.
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