Lagos, Nigeria — 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.”
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 is one of five Nigerian women who have told CNN about their experiences of rape, sexual abuse and harassment in recent weeks and months. Many of the women were speaking out for the first time.
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.
Eurel Nwafor, 22, told CNN she was raped in August 2017 after some opposition union members stormed her former place of work.
“There was a lot of chaos outside the office,” said Nwafor, who was working as a personal assistant at a market in Lagos at the time. “On opening the door to see what was happening, I received a slap from a man and before I could recover, he dragged me outside.”
Nwafor said that the same man ripped her clothes off and forced himself on her.
“He didn’t listen, though I begged him to stop,” she told CNN.
Nwafor has been fighting to bring charges against the man she says raped her, despite her family’s disapproval.
“My mom wants me to leave everything in God’s hands, likewise … other family members, but I refuse to suffer in silence.”
She took to Instagram, sharing a video pleading for help. It went viral and caught the attention of support group Stand To End Rape, which offered her counseling and legal advice.
“I cannot wake up every morning, knowing that the person that did this to me is out there going about his daily activities like nothing happened,” Nwafor said.