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She hopes to heal what used to hurt: A sexual assault survivor uses her voice with hopes of empowering others

Life changed in an instant for Sarah (not her real name), as a result of choosing to face her fear and break a painful silence.

She was 15 then when she became a victim of sexual abuse. The alleged perpetrator is no stranger to her. He was even part of her second family where she used to stay in to render some housekeeping services in the province of Zamboanga del Sur.

Sarah who spent her childhood in a municipality in the said province recounted how she and her family were so contented and happy with their life before the horrible incident. But since it was only her elder sister supporting them financially, she had to at least earn a little to make ends meet for their family.

In 2011, she was sent to her aunt’s house to help in the household chores. But in attempt of helping her family, Sarah turned out to be the one who needed help. The husband of her aunt allegedly attempted to rape her. A day that Sarah recounted she thought would be her last.

“Buti na lang nakatakbo agad ako. Tinutukan nya pa ako ng baril. Binantaan nya ako. Kahit na hindi nya man ako nagalaw, na-trauma talaga ako.” Sarah shared.

Because of the fear that it might happen again, or worse, that he will succeed in his intention the next time, Sarah decisively told her teachers and sought their help. She was immediately brought to DSWD for necessary intervention and to take appropriate steps.

A case on Act of lasciviousness was eventually filed against the alleged suspect. Sarah, on the other hand was brought to Home for Girls to undergo psychosocial assistance while the case was ongoing. Not long after, she was transferred to Balay Dangpanan sa Kabataan in Polanco, Zamboanga del Norte, a center managed by DSWD, due to persistent threats coming from her perpetrator.

Wala ku narealize gyud katung mga threats. Pero nahadluk ku katung naa na ku sa center kay abi naku gi preso na ku. Kasi maraming guard, room, bata. May mga rules nga gi sunod. Sigi ku’g hilak.” Sarah opened up.

However, the counseling, and regular meeting with their house parents in the center helped her calm down and adjust to her surroundings.

Despite the pressure and the hurdles that she was going through at that time, Sarah didn’t stop schooling. After graduating in high school, her transfer to Zamboanga City was immediately facilitated by DSWD so she can continue her education without being distracted by the threats that she has been constantly receiving.

In 2012, she was enrolled in one of the colleges in Zamboanga City and took up course in education. On top of the adjustments that she had to go through again, she was also faced with rejection.

“May mga friends ako dati, pero nung nalaman nila yung sitwasyon ko, umiwas sila kasi natakot silang madamay. Kaya feeling ko noon kakaiba ako sa mga ibang studyante.” Sarah disclosed, saying that she was fastidiously selective on people whom to share her story with.

Her decision to keep her story unknown from the people in school also became a challenge for her to seek permission from her teachers to absent herself whenever she had to attend the hearing in Pagadian, Zamboanga del Sur.

“Ang hirap talagang magpaalam sa teachers. Na kailangan ko mag-absent ng ilang araw para pumunta sa hearing. Tapos, kailangan pang magtago kapag pumupunta dun para umiwas sa kalaban.” Sarah narrated in tears.

And the years went by filled with fear and pain for Sarah, but hope never left her heart. Somehow, her studies contributed in her recovery little by little. That instead of thinking about her fear and pain, she became busy complying with her school projects and other academic requirements.

Yung negative experiences ko, nakakalimutan ko na. Mas naiisip ko yung mga projects, mga ikokomply sa skul. Kaya sobrang nagpapasalamat ako sa DSWD kasi hindi lang bahay, pamilya at pag-alalaga yung binigay nila sa akin. Yung suporta na binigay nila sakin sa pag-aaral, malaking tulong yun.” Sarah said while fending off her tears.

SarahSarah in no time finished her college education. Just last April 8, 2016, she was conferred with a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education, a milestone in her life that her family couldn’t just miss.

In that day, her mom who came all the way from Manila where she’s working as a house maid, her father from Davao who used to work as a gravedigger and her younger brother who traveled all the way from Bohol just to witness her sister’s graduation.

For a day, it was like a dream come true for Sarah who was able to make her family come together after several years of being away from each other, as a result of her situation. She added that part of her motivation and determination comes from her desire to build a house for her family where they can stay together.

“Pangarap ko to na magkita-kita kami ulit, magkasama. Kaya kailangan ko talagang makatapos para makahanap ng maayos na trabaho. Priority ko talaga ang magkabahay para maipon ko na yung pamilya ko at di na kame magkawatak-watak.” Sarah added.

At this point in time of Sarah’s life, she is still able to see the pinprick of hope that someday she will get by and survive these challenges. While scared and ashamed at first, it eventually became such a relief for her to be able to get a step closer to realize her dreams for her family. She is also able to slowly realize that she doesn’t deserve to carry the shame any longer and would like to begin to use her voice to encourage the other survivors who are scared to break their silence and try to forget them themselves.

“Kung may ginawang masama sa kanila, wag matakot magsumbong. Kung binabastos sila hindi sila dapat mahiyang magsabi, kasi baka walang tutulong, kung di nila kasalanan wag sila matakot.”

With courage and faith in God, Sarah believes that her life is bigger than what happened to her in that one fateful day. She acknowledges that she has still got a lot of healing to do, but nevertheless she also got a wonderful life in front of her.### Lei Mohammad, DSWD-9

This post was written by:

- who has written 105 posts on DSWD Field Office IX Official Website.

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