I always said I would wait until marriage before I had sex.
After my family fled our home country because my mother suffered domestic abuse, I felt like my virginity was the one thing in my life that I could control.
Unfortunately, that was taken away from me at just 17 years old by my own partner who abused me – physically, psychologically and emotionally.
I first moved to the UK with my mum, brothers and sister as a child. I was very excited because I felt that I’d finally be able to have some peace and get my life back on track.
I had witnessed so much abuse and had myself been sexually assaulted when I was young, which meant that I had regular panic attacks.
I hoped that by getting away to another country, we could all start again and that I could make something of myself. I realise now I had so much going on inside me – I was very empty and angry.
I started school a few months after arriving in the UK. However, I quickly got in with the wrong crowd and started bunking off school. I felt my friends understood me more than teachers did.
They made me feel like I belonged and wasn’t alone in the trauma I was dealing with at the time. It was comforting but I realise now that it wasn’t healthy.
Most of them had witnessed domestic abuse at home and although we didn’t talk about it much, I felt they understood what I had been through. It didn’t help that I felt like I had no support at school – they just thought I was an angry teen.
I was getting into fights and felt very insecure but no one took the time to really try to understand what was going on for me and there was no mental health support.
By the time I was 13, I was self-harming, drinking and smoking – anything to try and escape the depression I was experiencing. I was also finding it really hard to sleep so I would stay out late with my friends and just party.
I felt suicidal and tried to take my life several times. I had very low self-esteem and I didn’t really know who I was so my mental health was just getting worse. My family had no idea because I was really good at putting up a mask that everything was fine.
Then I met a guy when I was 16 years old who seemed like he really cared.
He listened to me when I told him about my family situation and he said he understood what I’d been through so he promised to look after me. After a rough childhood, I was so happy because I just wanted to be loved and cared for.
A few months into dating, he started to change. He became very controlling. He’d take my phone and would threaten to leave me if I didn’t do what he wanted.
At that time I just craved love and support and that was a big part of why I stayed with him.
It’s not been an easy journey but over the last few years I have become stronger
Then, a couple of months later, he raped me. I felt pain, broken and ripped apart. I was so confused and frightened. I cried for three hours non-stop and my childhood trauma came flashing before my eyes. I felt so empty.
He continued to manipulate me by telling me my body was his now and that no-one else would want me. I felt worthless so I believed him. I had lost myself and was trapped.
He raped me many times, especially when I threatened to leave him. I was very scared.
Then he began beating me up regularly. I’ll never forget the first time he was violent.
We started to argue because he had cheated on me but was accusing me of cheating on him. My phone kept going off and he asked for my password so he could look at my messages. When I refused he started shouting at me.
He kept grabbing my arm and then he choked me. Eventually I gave him my password but even when he saw that I wasn’t cheating he said it was my fault that he’d hurt me.
He told me that if I had just listened and done what he said then he wouldn’t have been so angry. I was scared and upset especially when I saw the bruises later on. I felt so low and unloved.
One time, I was injured so badly that I couldn’t dance anymore – at that time it was a big part of my life – so that was devastating.
About a year into our relationship, I remember one particular incident left me feeling scared and thinking I was going to die. The thought flashed through my mind that I hadn’t even said goodbye to my family.
I was exhausted and broken. It was at this time that I decided I needed to change my life.
This incident led to my boyfriend being arrested – but not convicted – and it gave me time to realise that it wasn’t love. I was able to open my eyes and see the reality.
I had joined a local youth group and the very next day I went and asked them for support. I had an amazing mentor and over the next few months they helped me begin to heal.
With support for my mental health I started to believe that I could still become someone and achieve happiness; that just because I had a rough background, I could still become someone great. And that by changing within, I could start changing things around me.
There were a lot of people who had experienced similar things and they understood me so it finally felt like things could get better. I eventually felt able to call the domestic abuse helpline and the support worker was so kind and helpful.
I had the strength to finally end things with my boyfriend and by believing in me they helped me find my voice and hope.
It’s not been an easy journey but over the last few years I have become stronger. I became an advocate for other domestic abuse survivors and I started to speak out and tell my story so that others would know they are not alone.
I really think there needs to be more awareness in schools about how domestic abuse can affect girls at a young age. Education is knowledge and knowledge is power. I think if I had been more aware, I would have understood the emotional abuse and put a stop to it sooner.
I am a much more cautious person because of everything that has happened but I am also confident and I value myself. Over the next few years, I would be open to meeting someone and getting married but right now I’m focusing on developing my career, investing in myself and supporting young people.
My message to other young people who may be going through something similar is that recovery is possible, your life can change and the key to your freedom is in your voice – ask for help.
It’s UK SAYS NO MORE Week, when the charity Hestia raises awareness of domestic abuse. If you, or someone you know, need support, visit Bright Sky or download the app.
You can also visit your nearest Safe Space available in over 5,000 pharmacies across the UK and access specialist support.
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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