“When I found out I was HIV positive, the only sex I had was with my uncle”.

The inspired story of Ashley*.

UNICEF Jamaica
© UNICEF Jamaica/2018/Volpe
UNICEF Jamaica/2018/Volpe
20 July 2018

Until age 12, I enjoyed my early years of childhood, growing up in the small community of Unity Hall in Montego Bay (Jamaica), under the care of my grandaunt. Then I had to move to another community to live with my grandmother.

Living with her changed my life completely. When I was in Unity Hall I was happy, I did things a child would do. Climbing trees, playing with marbles. I had a good childhood. Moving from there everything shut away.

There I had to share one big room with three beds with other family members, including my uncle who raped me more than once. Sometimes I had a bed to myself, sometimes I had to share it with my uncles. There wasn't any privacy. Even if I went outside, he [uncle] would be there too.

In the beginning, I didn't even realize what would happen. At first, he was a nice person, he was kind to me. Anything I wanted he gave it to me. When I did something, and grandma beat me, he picked up for me. I didn't know he had the intention of doing what he did.

On a Sunday, kids always want ice cream. When I went to grandma and she had no money, my uncle would give me money. He would sit with me and eat ice cream. He would touch me gently at dinner, ask if I was alright.

But then it just changed. One day things turned upside down when I realized he wanted sex. I remember the first time it happened. If I refused to give him, he would beat me or burn me with cigarettes on my legs. I was beaten and forced to have sex so many times I lost count.

While I still had a connection with my grand aunt and cousin, and I discovered how obsessive he was. One night I was up late talking to my cousin. I heard “pow!” in my face. He said “which man are you talking to?” I told him it was my cousin. He was upset because it was late.

I told my grandma many times, she didn’t believe me. Even when she saw it herself. I remember one night wearing shorts to bed. I was so tired, I was lying on my back and she saw her son over me with a machete. The only thing she did was wake me up to say, “how many times have I told you not to wear shorts to bed?” At the end of the day, I got all the blame. It was as if her son was saying I pushed myself on him. She would say to him “you know how many times I’ve told you to behave yourself? I’m going to report you to the police.” But she never did.

I had a nosy neighbor who knew what was happening. She came to the school and that’s when everything came out. That’s when the police and the CDA (Child Development Agency) got involved. In 2012, I found out that I was HIV positive. The only sex I had was with my uncle.

I was referred then to the UNICEF-supported EVE “I am Alive” programme shortly after my HIV diagnosis.

When I was at EVE is when I learned about grooming and looking back I realized some of the signs. I have been working through my abuse and the knowledge of my HIV status with a trained and caring counsellor. I now have hope and a future to look forward to. I am now able to love myself. This is why I want to speak up about my abuse.

My family is unaware of my status, except for my father. When I told him, we cried together. I wanted to tell him for a long time. My dad is very supportive. If anything happens I can talk to him. When he found, not a day passed without him calling to check on me. He was worrying. He still calls to check up.

I'm not quick to open up to people. I am about 60 percent ready [to tell about her condition]. There are things I need to work on. I need to prepare myself for the backlash. People would say 'she’s bad' without knowing the story. People can be negative. I am working through it. But, by going public I am not doing it for myself. I am doing it for others. For girls who think they cannot get over this.

© UNICEF Jamaica/2018/Volpe
UNICEF Jamaica/2018/Volpe

UNICEF Jamaica and EVE for life empower survivors of sexual violence

Ashley* chronicled the experience of her abuse in a series of diaries and excerpts were published under the title “Now I am free” in 2015. She also became a “mentor mom” in EVE for life. The Mentor Mom programme is one of EVE’s key strategies, providing peer-to-peer long-term support for HIV-positive teen mothers, empowering them through the provision of comprehensive information and training in sexual and reproductive health and rights, life skills training, counselling and psychosocial support and testing services.

UNICEF Jamaica supports EVE programmes in seven parishes with the highest prevalence of HIV: St. Ann, St. Mary, Trelawney, St. James, Westmoreland, Hanover and St. Elizabeth.

 

*The name was changed to protect her identity.

 


Last update: 20 july 2018.