Abuse victim tells her story so others see hope

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Child abuse, sexual abuse, family violence - Danyya Ateera has gone through all of that. But she chose to step out and encourage others by writing a book about the trauma she went through and her journey to recovery. All sales proceeds of the book go to VWOs helping family violence survivors.
Ms Danyya, a victim of sexual abuse and family violence, has written a book for others "suffering in silence".
Ms Danyya, a victim of sexual abuse and family violence, has written a book for others "suffering in silence". PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Sexual abuse, family violence, child abuse - she went through all of that even before she turned 10.

Ms Danyya Ateera, now 24, chose to go public about her story this year, by publishing a book about her plight and her rocky road to recovery.

She told The Straits Times: "I understood that if I'm a victim myself, I would want to read stories written by other survivors, so I can be comforted to know that I'm not alone. The book was written for people suffering in silence, so they are empowered to know that they can end that vicious circle."

The book, titled Even In Silence, was launched in August. It costs $10. All sales proceeds go to selected charities which help survivors of family violence.

Names of people in the book were changed to protect their privacy, but the book cover has her name and a childhood photo on it.

"I feel that if I don't show my face, I'm not going to send the message to victims out there that it's okay to come forward," said Ms Danyya, who volunteers at Beautiful People SG, mentoring at-risk teenage girls.

She was first sexually abused at the age of nine, when her stepfather forced her to perform oral sex on him. He later carried out more acts of sexual abuse.

Meanwhile, her mother often punished her harshly when she misbehaved, beating her with items such as a hanger or a belt.

It was only after a sexuality talk in secondary school, when a teacher answered a question that she asked anonymously - "Is it normal for our daddy to punish us using his penis?" - that she told close friends her story. Teachers later learnt about it as well, and she lodged a police report when she was 14.

As the report was made years after the abuse, her body had healed and there was not enough medical evidence to prove it. Her stepfather was never arrested.

When she was 14, she cut herself on her wrists and arms for about two years, so much so that she was sometimes "running out of space to cut". This self-harm was a key factor that led help professionals to decide to send her to a girls' home. She said: "There was so much pain inside that the only way for me was to let it out by cutting."

She was released from the home within a month, but only after she promised not to cut herself again.

She later lived with her aunt, but that was a tough time too. Her mother accused her aunt of "stealing" her and teaching her to be rude, and her aunt started to have migraine.

After her child protection order expired on her 18th birthday, her aunt decided not to offer her shelter as she could not tolerate the accusations from her mother.

So Ms Danyya lived alone in her polytechnic's hostel and, after graduating, she spent three months in Bali, where she started writing. She said: "It was painful to recall the details, but I just needed to be away from all the distractions."

At the age of 21, more than a decade after she was sexually abused by her stepfather, she forgave him, even though he never apologised. She said: "Forgiving was something that I did for myself; it was never for him. I don't think I could have forgiven someone who sinned so much against me if I depended on my own strength. It was really by God's grace that I forgave him."

She has also since moved back to live with him and her mother - the two people who had abused her.

"I know some people would ask: 'Why are you so stupid to stay with them?' But if you have worked through your issues, you feel empowered to change and protect yourself... I know that if anything happens, I can just walk out."

Some who read her book have e-mailed her to thank her for sharing her story, and have shared their own stories. She said: "I don't have all the answers. What worked for me may not work for them. But they can have the comfort of knowing that there are people who suffered like them and have made it. Having a life after abuse is not impossible, it really does happen."

• To buy a copy of the book, e-mail

Danyya Ateera speaks out about her abuse

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 08, 2015, with the headline Abuse victim tells her story so others see hope. Subscribe