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Oluwatobi Raji: It took 22 years to open up on my sexual abuse

By Esther Ijewere
18 September 2021   |   4:14 am
Growing up wasn’t really fun, though I had a pleasant time with myself as a child. I grew up in a family of five, with a father whose religion was love for all.

Raji

Like a phoenix, Oluwatobi Raji is rising from the ashes of adversity and inspiring others to do so through her story. She is a Gender Based Violence (GBV) Advocate with focus on child safety, and has over six years work experience in the humanitarian field. She founded Every Child Initiative in 2019, a nonprofit that educates the public on preventive measures to child sexual abuse and rape of minors using social media and grassroot advocacy as a tool to disseminate her message.

Oluwatobi was raped at age eight by her maternal uncle and survived multiple counts of rape ten times by ten different persons between ages of 13-19 years. She as well ensures safe space for vulnerable children living on the street via her partnership with one to two orphanage homes spread across 36 states in Nigeria.

The bachelor’s degree holder in International Relations and Diplomacy from Iscom University, Cotonou, Benin Republic, also earned a Professional Higher Diploma in Aviation Management from Lagos Aviation and Maritime Business School, Lagos, Nigeria and graduated with distinction. Oluwatobi worked as a Survivor Advocate/Field Officer with Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT), Ministry of Justice, Lagos, with successful effective arrest of domestic and sexual violence offenders in Lagos State, Nigeria.

She currently work as a Volunteer Project Manager at School On The Street Initiative; a nonprofit that provides access to quality education for orphans and underprivileged children with an establishment of a free tuition school at Iyana-Ilogbo, a rural community situated at Ifo Local Government, Ogun State, Nigeria.

She has impacted over 3000 parents, teachers, guardians and over 5000 children via her house-to-house sensitisation, rural rugged campaign, community sensitisation programme and face-to-face counselling. She has taken child safety advocacy to over 5000 households and 20 communities. She volunteers with over seven local and international non-governmental organisations and this has added to her wide wealth of knowledge in the humanitarian field. She also works as an on-call Professional Caregiver with Flying Doctors Nigeria (FDN), to specifically care for COVID-19 patients. She shares her inspiring story in this interview.

Childhood Influence
Growing up wasn’t really fun, though I had a pleasant time with myself as a child. I grew up in a family of five, with a father whose religion was love for all. I am the first child of my family, but my experiences as a child are the passion for in depth love to serve humanity. I grew up having a father, whose only language was love. As a child, the only language I grew up to understand is humanity, while my religion is love.

After my father’s death, life became hard and miserable with nothing and no one to lean on. We were left in the hands of close friends, who only gave their best as they could to assist us. My childhood experiences made me vow to ensure adequate safety for children in my little capacity.

Inspiration Behind Every Child Initiative
Every Child Initiative is a non-profit founded in January 2019 and advocates against child sexual abuse and rape of minors. The initiative’s primary focus is on preventive measures using social media and grassroots advocacy as a means in disseminating my message. The passion was born out of my concern on child safety and my personal experiences.

I realised that creating safe space for every child is everybody’s business, so the need to speak about child safety was very necessary. In January 2019, we carried out a house-to-house sensitisation, educating parents and children on preventing meausres to child sexual abuse and rape. Also in January 2020, I called upon some concerned individuals and advocates to join me in facilitating a Rural Rugged Campaign.

The campaign was organised in strategic local communities of seven States in Nigeria, same day and time using indigenous languages to disseminate our messages. I have also facilitated the rescue of at least 3 persons off the street to a safe place, two children with a pregnant youth inclusive between March 2019 and October 2019.

The Journey So Far
It has been quite demanding with several responsibilities, which includes mental tasks, physical energy and financial contributions. The journey so far comes with so many responsibilities, which sometimes results in self-denial of basic needs/amenities. There are moments of discouragement and loneliness, but my focus to achieve a set has indeed given me continuous push never to relent.

Being A Survivor Of Sexual Abuse, And Finding Closure
I was sexually violated (raped) at age 8 by my maternal uncle (my mother’s younger brother) and was threatened by my mother not to tell anyone, which continued till I was 14 to 15 years of age. This horrible and shameful experience opened and gave access to other perpetrators, as I was raped again by 10 different men, 10 times between the ages of 13 to 19 years.

It wasn’t easy at all for me. Each passing day at those points in my life, my only wish was death; I attempted suicide over five times as a child and same as an adult. I never received any medical or psychosocial support, which later led to post traumatic stress disorder, depression, low-self-esteem, emotional and hormonal imbalance, suicidal thoughts, aggressiveness, anger and failed relationships.

I was able to pull through when I found my voice to speak out after 22 years of silence. I got support from an ex-partner; he introduced me to his doctor, who later recommended a psychologist and a reputable medical facility to seek help. Just like others, the relationship with this fellow also went down the drain due to the above mentioned and some other contributing factors. Sincerely, I am still healing, because I lost everything in my life including family and loved ones, due to the past event in my life.

Volunteering For Several Organisation & Giving Back During The Pandemic
I currently work as a Volunteer Project Manager at School On The Street Initiative; a nongovernmental organisation with an establishment of a free tuition school for underprivileged children at Iyana-Ilogbo, a rural community close to Ifo in Ogun State. The free tuition school was set up during the COVID-19 pandemic to give back to the community. Also, during the pandemic, as a trained member of the Nigerian Red Cross Society, I volunteered to sensitise the community on preventive measures to infectious disease.

I also got relief materials of 100 cartons of Lifebuoy &Lux soap from Unilever, Lagos to give out to the community members of Abule-Iroko, as well as sensitize them on personal hygiene. I also received textbooks of about 400 from a reputable non-profit organisation, which was donated to 530 underprivileged children in the community. Again during the COVID-19, I was able to impact a life by fundraising for an underprivileged pregnant lady to get delivery items and other baby resource materials.

My Certifications, Fellowship And Momentum
I am a trained anti-corruption personnel from Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) Nigeria in conjunction with and Foreign Corrupt Practices Commission, a Global Youth Ambassador (GYA) with Their World (United Kingdom) 2018 – 2019, African Changemakers Fellow, 2018, United States Government, Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI RLC) 2017 Fellow, Accra, Ghana, African Young Leader Fellowship Program (AYLFP) 2019 Fellow, Accra, Ghana, Young World Leader For Humanity, 2018, My Body Is My Body Ambassador, Sheffield (United Kingdom), conferred Ambassadorial Honor at the International Youth Diplomacy Conference (IYDC) 2019 Accra, Ghana, Ambassador for Africa Project Against Suicide, 2020, World Literacy Foundation (WLF) Ambassador, Colombia, 2020 &am 2021, World Peace Icon Ambassador, at World Institute For Peace 2021.

I am also a member of the Nigerian Red Cross Society, Lagos State branch, an Advance First Aider by rank with successful records of emergency response. As a trained Emergency First Aid Team (EFAT) member, I’m involved in activities such as pre-hospital care, flood, fire, accident, election standby, Ebola virus, measles and the COVID-19 pandemic. I was a frontliner (Ebola Response Staff) during the Ebola epidemic in Nigeria and worked with the Federal Ministry of Health (PortHealth Services) for one year at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos. I was also a frontliner during COVID-19 outbreak and worked as a Community Search Volunteer on contact tracing with the Federal Ministry Of Health at Alimosho LGA, Lagos State.

On The Society And How To Treat Survivors Of Domestic Violence And Rape
The society has so much concentrated on what we call ‘The Blame Game’ rather than condemning the evil act of rape. About 80 per cent of the society still believes that survivors are the architect or causes of their problems. Some people even say to survivors, ‘for this to have happened to you, then you are possessed.’ This myopic reasoning has empowered perpetrators to develop growth and expand their territories.

Survivors of domestic violence and rape must be given adequate respect, regardless of whoever is involved. Domestic Violence and Rape is no longer joke and should be treated with zero tolerance. Until society takes up full responsibility for condemning the act, we won’t achieve a goal or victory.

To Young Girls Who Want To Speak Up But Scared Of Being Judged
My advice to young girls is to associate with positive minded individuals, whom they can trust well enough to discuss their issues with. They can also reach out to organisations that have existing structures and professionals who can attend to them.

Challenges Of My Work
As a child safety advocate, I advocate for both boy and girl child. This is due to my understanding that both genders are vulnerable, while the girl child has the larger percentage of vulnerability. When I started advocacy against rape, some people reached out to me to stop talking, so my chosen career won’t hinder me from getting married or make friends and family disassociate from me. This and so many sayings only fuel my energy in doing more.

I have been threatened both offline and online on social media; I have also received threats of being kidnapped, gang raped and making it public to shut me up. It has been a journey of the last breath, meaning I vowed to ensure my best is invested even if it means giving my last drop of blood. I see this to be a service to humanity, which I have never seen any man who serves humanity in vain.

Three Women Who Inspire Me To Be Better And Why
There are amazing women I encountered their stories, not in person, but online, such as Dr Helen Paul (Nigerian Comedienne) whose birth was from rape. Joyce Mayer, who was raped repeatedly by her father, and Pastor Terry Gobanga (Kenya) who was kidnapped and gang raped on her wedding day. These three amazing women stories inspired me to live above my past, impact in lives and make living worthwhile. I also decided not to dwell in the past; make lemonade out of life given lemon, which will in return produce beautiful fruits.

Being A Woman Of Rubies
Oluwatobi is a gold that has gone through the process, she is a rare gift and unique being. My calibration carries a special identity, which fosters so many happenings in my life (no regrets). I only found mercy and grace in the sight of my creator, which made me stand out despite my rough journey.

On Educating Children Early
Educate children on the identification of body parts from age three, educate children on the correct names of body parts from age three, Teach children identification of a sexual perpetrator and sexual abuse, Teach children keeping secret of any form is wrong, Educate children that, their body belongs to them, no one has a right to see or touch and same thing goes to them. Educating children early enough will not only preserve, but keep them safe from this heinous crime.