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Thursday 30 November 2023 Dublin: 5°C
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Opinion 'I'm not a victim, I am a survivor ... I don’t flinch when someone touches me'

Aicha Dounia was abused by her biological father from the age of four but she refuses to live a life ‘consumed by hatred’.

In November 2018 we reported on the serious sexual violence perpetrated against Aicha Dounia by her father over a period of 12 years. 

She contacted us because she wants to tell her story, to provide hope and encouragement to other survivors who may wish to come forward. 

CHILDHOOD IS SUPPOSED to be something we look back on and smile at the many memories we shared with friends and family.

For me, my childhood lacks the bright tones of that innocent bliss. Instead, it was filled with fear and darkness.

From as young as age four, I was sexually abused by my biological father. As a small child, the abuse wasn’t as constant as it became in my teen years – but the threat of it hung over me my whole life. 

It was during those traumatic years, from age 13 to 16, when the abuse reached its apex. I was sexually abused by my father, in every way on a weekly basis. In the holidays, the attacks were daily. But I don’t want to focus on the horror of the abuse itself.

The question I am most frequently asked when it comes to my story or my survival of it is: ‘How were you so brave?’

The short answer is, I wasn’t. I was never brave. Nothing about what I went through required bravery.

To survive the abuse, I acquired a brilliant talent. I indulged myself in books in an extreme manner. In my head I turned myself into one of the characters – I created a fictional barrier around myself. 

I tried to become the characters to distract myself from my own reality. I even made my father into a character, allowing myself to feel sympathy for him.

I clung onto a promise that my father made to me when I was nine years old, that one day, it would all be over.

I allowed myself to believe that enduring my suffering, could preserve and save my family. I had deluded myself beyond any sort of logic. These stories that I was engrossed in, became me.

Eventually, I was lying to all my friends as well, to excuse myself from all social events. The truth was that I wasn’t allowed to leave the house under any circumstances.

The worst part of it all was that the lies I told were completely irrational and so they resulted in the loss of most of my friends.

I was convinced they were true though – I had to pretend to myself, that my fictional version of my life was real. That was survival, not bravery.

It took one great love, and a year of building trust, for me to confide in my girlfriend, and I can say it was the best decision I have ever, ever made.

On 9 December 2017 aged 16, I left my family home and I was free.

“It was difficult to confide in someone, but once I had done so and got away from my father – I found that going to the Gardaí was easy.

It was a relief, it felt like the whole world had been lifted from my shoulders.

After I had told the Gardaí what happened, I felt so much better. My partner Danielle even took me to my first ever concert that night – I was so excited to be able to start living my life. 

The trial was hard though, it was exhausting and the dates kept changing.

In the beginning, I wanted my father to get the longest possible sentence but as time went on and I came to terms with his crimes, the length of the sentence didn’t matter.

I just wanted it all to be over. 

When I finally got the verdict though, it wasn’t the happy moment I had expected it to be. Rather, it was like somebody had died in that courtroom. It was a surreal moment, it still plays in slow motion in my mind. 

I had served a life sentence of injustice so isn’t it ironic that I am left feeling sympathy and sorrow for the man who caused all my pain? He never felt an ounce of that for me?
Even now I find myself incapable of even slight hatred. Life isn’t always easy, it’s a struggle at times but I have come a long way and time is healing.
Every wound heals, but some wounds that cut deeper, leave scars.

I need society to recognise that survivors of sexual violence are not victims. I’m not a victim, I am a survivor. 

What I went through does not define me, not in the slightest. I don’t flinch when someone touches me, I don’t sit in the shower for hours trying to wash away the invisible dirt.

I look in the mirror and I see someone who has suffered a great deal, but she’s smiling.

I’ve suffered due to the actions of a very complex, confused and damaged man but I won’t live my life consumed by hatred. 

I am an open book now with my own words written on the pages and I’m deciding the endings to my chapters.

Two years ago I would never have thought I’d get to where I am today.

Back then, I would have really appreciated reading something like this, from an actual survivor. 

I am not completely healed, the whole thing is still raw and new but I hope to one day become an inspiration to young people who have experienced similar situations.

I’d like to believe that nobody is condemned. I found my voice and I hope that anyone else in a domestically violent environment can find theirs too.

After I finish school I hope to study psychology or journalism. 

I intend on changing my last name to something new – something far away from the roots that tried to drag me into the ground. 

Aicha Dounia is a Leaving Cert student who plans to go to university next year.

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