Brenda Uphopho was walking up the stairs in her office when she suddenly felt someone’s hand reach underneath her skirt. It was her boss.
“I screamed, and he was shocked at my scream,” Uphopho, a festival producer from Lagos, told CNN. “And I was shocked that he was shocked.”
Speaking out about sexual assault and harassment is widely considered taboo in Nigeria, where one in four girls experience sexual violence before the age of 18. Of those who experienced sexual violence in childhood, only 38% told someone about it — and as few as 5% sought help, according to a national survey carried out in 2014.
Many victims suffer in silence, but, in the wake of the global #MeToo movement, Nigerian women are beginning to share their stories — hopeful that it will break the cycle of stigma.
Uphopho told CNN she has been assaulted three times by three different men.
The first was when she was just 5 years old, and a man who worked for her family forced her to touch him.
Uphopho said she didn’t understand how serious the situation was at that age, so she kept quiet.
When it happened again she was 18, and old enough to know she had been violated.
“During a party, I found myself alone with a stranger who wanted to force me to have sex with him. He beat me up when I refused and sexually assaulted me,” she told CNN. “I was too ashamed to tell anyone about it.”
“I just felt if I was going to tell anybody … they would ask me … ‘What did you wear? What were you doing there? How did you end up alone with this person?'” she said, adding that she came to believe it was her fault.
“I could be walking on the street and I would get my butt slapped by a bike rider. My coworkers would make unsolicited sexual comments to me and I wouldn’t think it was out of place.”
Uphoho and her husband have co-produced a play called “Shattered,” which seeks to encourage victims of sexual violence to speak up about their experiences. She decided to share her story to break the “culture of silence” around sexual abuse.