Trigger warning: sexual abuse, violence, suicidal ideation.
My stepfather and I were never close. He was reserved, always smoking and drinking. But as one of the few men in my childhood, he defined love for me.
A few months before I turned nine, I heard my mum and him arguing. I checked on him after she had left for work, and I asked him if he was OK. He grinned sheepishly and asked me to come into the room and sit on his lap.
"You are very pretty for your age," he said.
That was the first time anyone had ever told me I was beautiful.
Then he touched my breast. I froze uncomfortably. He grinned again.
"I'm going to teach you some stuff," he continued. "Don't scream. Don't tell anyone. It's our secret?"
I nodded in fear. He undressed, touched and violated me. I twisted and turned in pain. He held me down and said, "Stay still, I'll go easy on you." The pain was unbearable.
I lay there, my mind traveling back and forth to my Grandma in Sierra Leone, how I did not want to leave her to move to London, how I was always cold, how I hated school in London and felt incompetent, how no one at school wanted to be my friend as I was the African kid with a foreign accent.
I froze. I remembered that I had been here before; I was five, he was a close family relative, and it had gone on for months.
My stepfather stopped. He got up, cleaned himself, and told me sit on the edge of the bed.
"You're a big girl now," he said. "Remember, don't tell anyone."
He took out another cigarette to smoke. I nodded in fear. I pulled down my pajama top and walked to my room. I lay in bed and fell asleep crying.
I wish I could say that an event like that never happened again. However, for the next eight years I found myself engulfed in the same cycle. I dreaded nighttime, as my mum would work night shifts and I was left with him. As the years progressed, this nightmare turned into afternoons and afternoons into mornings.
My mum and I fought. He'd put words into her ears. He shamed me in front of friends and relatives with every opportunity that presented itself. He broke into my diary and shared my thoughts, fears and desires. He stole my valuables, trying to get my mum to deem me "useless." My relationship with her became strained.
I started speaking only when spoken to. Fear overcame me. Isolation engulfed me. Paranoia became my first language. As the years passed, I gave up on God — he had forsaken me. Hate, anger, and bitterness developed.
One day, after one of many episodes, he spoke softly to me, whispering, planting more deceitful seeds, and stated boldly: "I love you."
Those three words haunted me. At such a young age, love was described in the most distorted of ways.
Love was selfish and desired only to take. Love was abusive and inflicted only pain. Love was deceitful and imposed fear.
I decided then and there that I would never love; I would never fall in love nor bear the brunt of someone else's love.
This level of mental, emotional and physical abuse continued until I was almost 16.
Finally, I was woken up at 4 a.m. by a tall, dark figure that loomed over my bed. My stepfather stated that my mum was upset that I had left the washing outside without bringing it in before going to bed. Without looking at his face, I stormed downstairs and mumbled to myself, irritated by the whole task. I walked past the living room and entered the kitchen.
As I stood in the kitchen hallway, I saw that the kitchen knives had been taken out from their shelf and scattered.
I felt a shadow looming over me, and as I turned around, I saw him standing there with a knife in hand. He grabbed my mouth and dragged me through the conservatory, past the garden, and into the garage.
With the knife in his hand, he lunged towards me. I fought and screamed for my life, begging and pleading with all my might. Finally, I found myself on the floor with him on top of me and the knife over my chest. When I was no longer able to hold the crown of the knife, I held the tip with an effort to stop him from stabbing me in the heart.
I began to bleed profusely, I could no longer hold on. I finally let go of the knife and shut my eyes, awaiting death.
But there was a knock.
"Aminata! Are you OK? What's going on?" my mum asked through the door.
He jumped up, turned around, looked me in the eyes and told me to hush. I was unable to control my body; I shook and sobbed bitterly. My mum tried to open the door, but met him pushing it back with great force.
"Open the door or I'll call the police," she said with a shaky voice.
He threw the knife to the side, opened the door, and walked out with a smile on his face. He asked her, "What's all the fuss about?"
I remember the garden was covered in snow. I walked out slowly, crying, my hand bleeding. My mum looked confused. I told her he tried to kill me, and she beckoned for my siblings and me to run upstairs.
The rest of that day and how my mum failed me became a bitter memory. For many months, I suffered the aftermath of that incident. Even though he was eventually deported, I feared something similar would happen, and for a while, I slept with a knife under my bed, anticipating the worst. I became squeamish at the sight of shadows and feared being left home alone.
As I grew and the years passed, I ran away from love. Many attempted and tried to break into the walls I had created; they failed miserably. I lived a very loveless life — a life that didn't allow me to get too close to anyone. I knew how to like; I cared passionately for many, but love was an alien concept to me. Love brought me the greatest sense of fear and hate.
After suicide attempts, stints of depression, failed relationships, and promiscuity filled my life, I finally broke down. I found myself in a church on a Sunday answering an altar call (an invitation from the pulpit) about leaving the broken pieces of our past behind.
I cried profusely. I told God that I felt abandoned by him all those years. I told him that my innocence, my childhood, the very essence of who I truly was had been stripped from me. I told him that I was tired, I no longer wanted to be angry, I no longer wanted to harbour hate in my heart; I only wanted to experience his love and start afresh.
I wish I could say that encounter fully healed me; however, it offered me the opportunity to open the door to a healing process, accepting what had happened, and having the courage to forgive.
My journey from that point has been one of dealing with the aftermath of abuse, learning to reacquaint myself with a new narrative of love, and relearning to trust. Another phase of my healing journey is my plan to start an outreach programme that partners with schools to educate young girls about rape and sexual abuse and liaising with agencies that can provide support to victims.
Being subjected to sexual abuse by someone who should have loved and protected you is horrendous; even more unbearable beyond words is struggling to make anyone, particularly the people close to you, believe that you are the victim.