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A woman who was sexually assaulted by her own father has bravely opened up about the ordeal in hopes it will help others.
Aicha Dounia, 21, is a student living in Dublin with her partner and their six-month-old baby – and her life is worlds away from where it was just a few years ago.
In 2018 her father was jailed for 15 years for repeated rape after previously telling gardaí he considered her a “partner by night”.
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He pleaded guilty at the Central Criminal Court to 21 sample charges, including rape, attempted rape, anal rape and sexual assaults in Dublin and Leinster on dates ranging from January 2006 to December 2017.
He also pleaded guilty to three counts of assault causing harm to his daughter on dates from June 2016 to December 2017.
Speaking exclusively to Daily Star Aicha said: “My earliest recollection of the abuse was somewhere around the age of three or four. It’s hard to say when you're that young, hard to pinpoint a timeline.
“Yet in saying this, the first time it happened has always stuck in my mind. I will never forget that invasive feeling, the confusion and feeling absolutely disturbed to my core.
“As a very outspoken, confident and witty child, being shushed and sworn to some bribed secrecy at that age is haunting.
“Now looking back on it, the power he could hold over such a young child and the ability to keep them quiet is terrifying.”
Aicha was abused over a 12-year period and from the age of 14 onwards, it was a nightly occurrence where his actions only progressively became more violent. Her abuser even gave her two black eyes on one occasion.
The court heard that during one summer when she thought she was pregnant this caused “temporary respite” for a month. When it transpired she was not pregnant, the abuse resumed.
She added: “It got to a point where I was constantly consumed by the fear that he was going to end up killing me.”
Like many survivors of abuse, Aicha says her relationship with her father was “tricky”.
“I don’t know if I loved my father. To this day I still question the emotions,” she explained.
“Of course, as with any situation that a child has an abusive parent … you're always going to love them. Most people with abusive parents don’t really know what love is anyway, because we aren't taught it properly.
“I thought you were supposed to show love through being overly protective to the point of controlling them, hurting them even for ‘their own good’ or to ‘protect them from the outside world’.
“So, in that way, I did love him at times. We got on well a lot of the time. In hindsight, it was because he had me under a spell, believing that we were soulmates, that we were the only ones in the world who understood each other. It was a cult in every sense of the world.”
Aicha says that his word was law, so when he told her he loved her “more than anything in the world”, she believed him.
She couldn’t have a hateful relationship with him because, if she did, she’d be punished for it.
This resulted in her pretending to be happy wherever possible, which would make him “nicer” in the daytime.
“Once night fell and everyone was asleep, it wasn’t just him sneaking around, it was me too. I was terrified of anyone finding out,” she shared.
“He had ingrained in my mind that we were both culprits in an affair and if I played the ‘rape card’, as he would call it, no one would believe me because I wouldn’t have proof.”
Her father managed to hide the abuse from the rest of the family by isolating them from others.
He moved them away from Aicha’s mother’s family, who weren’t happy with the relationship between Aicha's mother and father, and no one ever visited.
Aicha’s father didn’t sleep with her mother or even share the same room, instead choosing to sleep in the living room.
He would force the young girl to act like she loved sitting with him in the evenings watching movies. Or if this didn’t happen, he would wake her in the middle of the night to come downstairs.
Her father would ensure that she never made a sound and he had Aicha believing that she was just as much a criminal as he was.
Due to his manipulation, she believed that she was going to hell because of both their actions.
“For a long time, it made me bitter. I was sad and angry and confused. I’d grown up quite religious and the hope of God's greater plan often got me through those long nights,” Aicha said.
The abuse finally came to light when Aicha was in her fifth year at secondary school and she had a girlfriend at the time.
Her father had told her she wasn’t allowed to have a boyfriend but she was desperate to have someone in her life she felt close to. This was her way around his strict rule.
“It turned out that I did fall in love with her and I trusted her more than I had trusted anyone in my life. She was the type of person you wanted to tell absolutely everything and anything about,” she said.
“So, one night, I had been under the influence of alcohol as my father used to make me drink before most incidents, and I texted her.
“The next day in school she told me I had to tell my mam, that she would help me write a letter to her if I couldn’t say it out loud. But she also told me if I wasn’t ready, she wouldn’t pressure me.”
Knowing that she wasn’t going to tell anyone without her consent gave Aicha a sense of ease.
So, in the following days, they wrote that letter together for her mother. After she gave her the letter they fled their home one morning and went to the police station.
Aicha added: “I will forever be grateful to that girl.”
The court process took an emotional toll on the 21-year-old, as she says it was “tough, long and extremely dragged out”.
In the early stages when it was in a small-town court, it was the first time she had seen her father since his arrest.
“It was lengthy, oftentimes court hearings being cancelled minutes before they were meant to start which put months on the final hearing.”
The only silver lining for Aicha was being able to make her victim impact speech, it was the closest she had gotten to closure.
While her abuser received 15 years, she was told that he will likely get out earlier due to good behaviour and because he is doing a course for sex offenders.
She continued: “I think it’s a terrifying thought that I might see him on the street one day. That my daughter could walk by him.
“No one who ever harms a child the way he did should ever see the light of day again. He is a monster, he has no humanity whatsoever.
“But apparently, 15 years is a ‘life’ sentence, so riddle me that. I likely won't stay in this country. Once I have gotten my degree, myself, my boyfriend and our daughter are gone.”
While his sentencing brought Aicha some relief, this wasn't the end of her torment.
She recalled: “When the dust settled and the initial euphoria of him being imprisoned went away, I was questioning everything. If there was a God, why would he put me through something that I can't even cope with, even though it was done?”
Some may think that after her father was sentenced, Aicha would have finally felt free, but this wasn’t the case. She says that the next morning when she woke up, she felt “ruined” and she couldn’t stand the sight of herself.
Eventually, body dysmorphia and eating disorders set in as she wanted to have a different body that felt untouched by her father.
“It's like grief, it comes in stages – and that first year was rough. You have to completely take yourself apart and learn to love each individual part all over again,” the young mother explained.
“You have to nourish yourself, treat your body like a temple and remove yourself from your own mind at times.
“And it wasn’t easy, years and years of being someone's puppet and then suddenly being within your own skin and owning it. It takes time, but you can heal. And you cannot depend on any other person to heal you for you."
She added: “It's been a journey of four years and I am still not where I want to be yet, but I have come a long way. Acceptance and talking about it and helping others with my experience have been my saviours. It’s the only way I can move on in a healthy manner.”
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Since his arrest, Aicha has had no contact with her father.
While he has tried to send her letters and sends her birthday cards every year, she doesn’t open them.
The 21-year-old added: “As far as I’m concerned, he’s long dead.”
Aicha is waiving her right to anonymity in hopes that it helps others who may be going through something similar.
She says that when she was being abused she'd search the internet to see if there were other girls who had been raped by their fathers, but she couldn’t find anything.
The student was left leaving like she was the only one at the time going through this but turns out, she was wrong.
Aicha has since had a variety of other women reach out to her who have been abused by fathers, uncles and grandfathers but who feel like they can’t talk about it.
“There is a lot of victim-blaming around these cases … We, as women, cannot keep taking the blame for what men do to us. We shouldn’t be the ones left quiet. We shouldn’t be the ones holding our heads down or shying away,” she said.
“I want to live in an Ireland where this is so widely spoken about without fear of judgement that men will fear the repercussions of their actions, knowing that they aren't the ones with all the power.
“In times like these where awful situations of sexual abuse and assault are so frequent and common, we need to have each other and the freedom to speak without judgement.
“There is always strength in unity. Women in these horrible times need to feel like they're not alone because I can assure you, they’re not."
If you or somebody you know has been affected by this story, contact Victim Support for free, confidential advice on 08 08 16 89 111 or visit their website, www.victimsupport.org.uk.
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