Uncle from hell!
Raped, abused and infected with HIV by my father's brother
Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
WESTERN BUREAU:For more than three years, starting when she was just passed 12 years old, Ashley was raped by her uncle every night except when she was menstruating.
Her abuse continued until she turned 16. By age 21, Ashley, who has become known as the 'Diary Girl', was diagnosed as HIV-positive, harbouring thoughts of suicide too often to mention.
Ashley's memoir has been chronicled in a book titled I am Free Now - Diaries of a Survivor of Child Rape and Sexual Abuse, released yesterday by Eve for Life, a non-governmental organisation supporting women and children living with HIV.
"I considered suicide several times, but decided I couldn't give up," Ashley told The Sunday Gleaner as she relived a nightmare that saw her being burnt with cigarette butts between her legs whenever she refused to open them.
Although now free from her uncle, the questions in her eyes are apparent, obviously asking whether she would ever be free. After all, her punishment for being born was a death sentence given by an unconstitutional 'court', presided over by an uncle, "who would burn my legs to get inside me".
Twelve years after her first ordeal, she still has sleepless nights.
Given away by a disabled mother and a father who thought he was helping out a situation, at age 12, Ashley started living with her grandmother, two uncles and her grandmother's boyfriend in a one-bedroom house in St James.
Three beds in one room, her bed became her uncle's sex nest.
"I felt like the whole of me was coming out the first time my uncle had sex with me. It hurt badly," she penned in one of 12 diaries. Whenever she tried to refuse his advances, she was beaten.
Penning her ordeal in her diaries became an escape route, where she recorded her thoughts and feelings as a means of coping with the violation and pain she was experiencing daily.
"I often asked God why He never sent someone to help me," she said.
When her grandmother woke up one night and saw her son on top of Ashley, the young girl was convinced she would now receive some help, but that was wishful thinking on her part.
"My grandmother did nothing about it, even after promising to report the incident to the police," said Ashley.
Instead, she was told by her grandmother to wear shorts when going to bed. "When I did, my uncle would use a pair of scissors to cut them off," remembered Ashley.
At times during the interview, the young victim seemed uncomfortable, sometimes lost, once actually admitting that when she first went to Eve for Life and told her story, she felt sorry she had done it.
"I had gone to Family Court before and became frustrated and had stopped going. I had gone to Victim Support at Overton Plaza (Montego Bay), and each time I went there, I would have to repeat my story over and over again to the same officer I had told it to three months before," lamented Ashley.
After a while, she became disheartened and hopeless. It was not until she went to Eve for Life that her life changed, she said.
Victim Support was not the only place she sought help. While attending primary school, Ashley confided in a guidance counsellor, who reported the abuse to an agency with responsibility for looking into sexual abuse of minors.
After going to court month after month, she said somehow the case was dropped because the case worker moved to another parish.
"I really had no support. My school friends are the ones who went to court with me, and after a while I, too, gave up."
She kept her pain bottled up inside until a session at Eve for Life.
"I was there listening to the other people telling their stories and decided to reveal mine. I had really given up, and was not ever going to tell my story again. I had left it in the hands of God."
Looking back, Ashley said she remained her uncle's sex slave for more than three years. The experience became so painful that night-time became her enemy.
"Falling asleep was very hard. At times, I got terrible nightmares that made me jump out of bed and cry uncontrollably."
In order to find solace, she would tell herself that her uncle may have invaded her personal space like no one ever did; took her body without respecting the word 'no'; changed her whole life, but she was not broken.
"I have come to understand that a part of me died at age 12. The events caused a permanent loss in my life."
Each time she takes a shower, she sees her uncle taking the shower with her.
"The burns are still on my body as well."
Ashley was eventually removed from the house of abuse by a cousin at age 16.
Two years ago, she did a blood test out of curiosity and found out she was HIV-positive. She spent three months living in denial. This was the ultimate. Raped, abused and given a death sentence as a reward.
"I was in dis-belief. The rape and abuse left such a scar on my life. I never had sex with another man," she told The Sunday Gleaner, stating that up to the time of the test results, the only man to penetrate her was her uncle.
"It took me months to return to the doctor to do a second test because I was in disbelief."
Of course, the second test was positive; "having gone through so much already, I felt it was now time to go".
The suicide thoughts were stronger than ever, but she said the doctor who dealt with her gave her hope.
However, reaching home and getting into her room was another matter.
"I stayed locked in for three days, hardly eating any food as I thought about my fate."
It took her three months to accept the fact, and shortly after, she went on medication.
Throughout her life, Ashley wanted to be a nurse; having HIV has placed a spoke in those wheels. She is now a social worker, who says she is now focusing on "me".
Speaking about her personal hell, she says, has helped others. "I want to let them know how to face these challenges when they come and that they should not be afraid to tell somebody."
Today, she seems to have forgiven her grandmother, who she says was defending her son, an abuser she feels suffers mental illness.
Asked if she would go back to the authorities to have them place her uncle and grandmother in jail, her response was: "I would really have to think about it. I kinda forget about him. I am focusing on myself and what I want to do and what I want to offer others through my diaries."
She still receives counselling. When she gets nightmares, her uncle is always having sex with her.
Neither Ashley's father nor mother know of the abuse she went through.
"I can't tell my father because he would probably kill his brother and his young child is five years old. I couldn't bear to see him go to prison."
She said in the case of her mother, it is even worse.
"My mother is crippled from the waist down. There is nothing she could do to help me."
Ashley is one of 13 young women featured by Eve for Life as it tries to sensitise the nation on the struggles that young adults are subjected to.