I was just ten years old when I was cut.
I had no idea what was happening and no one was there to help me, not even my mother. I was taken to a house with other girls; some looked like they were only about three years old.
I desperately wanted to protect them, but I couldn’t. I didn’t know what to do, how to help, how to stop what was happening. I was stuck.
It was my turn to be cut. I was blindfolded and pinned down, with a man sat on each arm so that I couldn’t move. I couldn’t escape. I couldn’t even scream. A rag cloth was shoved into my mouth.
My legs were forced open, and all I remember after that was scorching, unbearable pain.
When they had finished, the other girls and I were told to sit in a row. We were kept there, in that house, for three weeks. We were beaten, told to sing for the men, forced to do whatever it was that they wanted us to do.
After those three weeks, I never spoke about it again.
When I was in my thirties, my uncle offered to bring me to the UK. I wanted to finally be able to go to school, and he said he could make this happen. He said he’d pay for my education and help me get the job I wanted.
My father had kept me at home and didn’t let me go to school, so I was overjoyed by my uncle’s offer. What I didn’t know was that my father had sold me to my uncle.
When I landed in the UK, I was taken to a house. It was in this house that I was kept for a few months, imprisoned. I was told that I had to have sex with men I didn’t know, as a way of repaying my uncle.
Time didn’t matter anymore. Everything blurred into one long nightmare.
I knew then that it had all been a lie. I wasn’t going to school or getting an education My dream was completely shattered.
I was terrified. If I didn’t do what they said, I was beaten. If I tried to escape, the police would find me and kill me, or take me back to my abusive family, they said.
My uncle and the people around him had brainwashed me into believing everything they said. I had no idea that police in the UK could help, that they were kind people who wouldn’t kill me.
One day, I managed to escape. One of my ‘clients’ helped me run away. I remember just running and running, as fast and as far as I could. Eventually, a local hairdresser helped me.
It wasn’t until a few years after I escaped that I first heard about ‘modern slavery’, when I started being supported by Ella from Hestia’s Modern Slavery Response team.
It was during one of my chats with Ella that I told her I used Dettol to keep myself clean. She asked why I was using such a harmful chemical on my body, and that was when I broke down. That was when I told her everything. That was when I told her about the FGM.
She advised me to go to a specialist clinic. It had taken months for me to tell her, but I’m glad I did. She helped me to rebuild my life when I didn’t think it was possible. It took me a year and a half to build up the courage to go – I was just terrified at the thought of it. She went with me on the day to the clinic and without her, I wouldn’t have had the courage to go to seek help.
I remember being sat there in the doctor’s room, physically shaking and crying. I had never, ever received medical attention and was truly terrified at what the results would say.
It was confirmed that I had type three FGM. Thankfully, the doctor told me that there was no immediate risk. I felt really respected by the doctor who made sure I had as much privacy as possible.
I walked around for over thirty years with that weight on my shoulders, knowing what had happened on that awful day when I was ten years old.
Now, I feel like I have a purpose. I feel my dream of helping people is a real possibility. I’m currently attending college as well as volunteering at a local women’s centre, helping other women like myself who have experienced trauma.
I just want other women in my situation to know that help is out there. There really are people out there who are willing to listen and willing to help like Hestia. Please, speak up and speak out. You can get help. Things can change.
Hestia is a London charity supporting victims of modern slavery, for more information please visit their website.
If you are concerned about someone, please call The Salvation Army’s confidential Referral Helpline on 0300 3038151. It is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for anyone who feels they might be a victim of modern slavery and in need of assistance, or if you encounter someone you suspect may be a victim of modern slavery.