By Victory Oduneye
Very few people can understand the devastating impact of rape on the victims. In the case of Melissa Jossy, who suffered two rape attacks, the psychological effect was so severe that she decided to end her life.
In this revealing interview with TheNewsBeam, the television presenter, entrepreneur, and an advocate against sexual molestation and abuse, narrated her experience, how it impact her, and it eventually inspired her media career.
My name is Melissa Queen Jossy, I’m from Benue State, I studied History and International Studies, I am a presenter with Beryl Entertainment, I’m the CEO of the fashion house, Mel’s and Mo’s. I’m into fashion designing and anything that has to do with fabric. I’m single, single and not searching in anyway. I’m also an advocate for the girl-child, even the male-child, any form of sexual molestation and domestic violence.
What prompted your Media Career?
I never knew I would get into media because I was timid and not outspoken as a child. I am someone who went through a lot of abuse and because of that, it affected my self esteem. I was so timid to the extent that in primary and secondary school they called me mute because I don’t talk, I always keep to myself, some people even thought I was dumb or something, but it was due to the so much stress I was going through.
It was during this process I knew I had a lot to say, but I couldn’t say, so I started writing, I noticed I was reaching out to people, but I wanted people to hear me more. I needed a platform for people to get to know what I have been through and how I was able by the grace of God to come out of it. So the media was a platform for me to be able to help people because I saw the need.
I thought I was the only one going through such, until I started hearing people’s stories, then I knew we needed a voice to speak up. The need to help people come out to speak was what got me into the media. And thanks to mentors who knew I have the voice and charisma, and supported me into achieving this vision.
What is Source of your Passion?
Ok, my first experience with abuse, because it happened to me twice, the second time actually broke me totally. The first time it happened I was nine (9) years old, under the confinement of my parents. I was in a safe place, I was just a child. And there was this man, if I have to do my calculations well, I think he was in his mid-thirties then, he was our neighbor.
My parents brought me up in a way that an adult cannot send you on an errand and you refuse, you just have to go, as a sign of respect for that adult.
So, I was home alone that day in the afternoon, my parents were working class, mum was into business, dad was in the Navy. So I came back from school and this man told me to help him get a bottle of coke, so I ran to get it, and when I got back, this man practically pinned me down, as small as I was, I was traumatized.
There was this threat from him, he brought out something that looked like a charm and said, if I told anyone I was going to die. So up to five years ago my parents just knew about it because of the threat. I want parents to know that your children are not safe with anyone, even relatives except you.
So the passion for the girl-child is as a result of what I went through. I don’t want it to repeat itself.
This experience birthed so much hatred for the opposite sex. I didn’t want them close to me. As a result, there was this thing that happened to me, in 400 level, there was this guy that fell in love with me, but deep down in my heart, I just wanted to hurt him for no reason, so I led him on and I left.
But when I started my healing process, I think I started getting help after my 400 level, it was when I started this process I had to call this guy and apologized, because I was turning into something negative.
During This First Experience Didn’t Anyone Notice Anything, Especially Your Parents?
First of all this is to all parents, in as much as you are chasing career, your children should be paramount, I know especially in Africa, parents have to work so hard to make ends meet, but please not at the expense of your children. I love my mom so much, in fact I owe everything I am today to her. When she found out, she was more broken than I expected.
But when the first rape experience happened she wasn’t aware because, my mum goes to Cotonu to get stuffs, and sometimes she would get home around 2 a.m. and by 5 a.m. she is out. Sometimes we don’t get to see her till weekend, she just leaves instructions with my elder brothers because I have three elder brothers, we are six children in my family.
So I didn’t know how to wake up in the middle of the night to report to her. I couldn’t even do that or report to anyone because I was scared of dying, despite the pain I was feeling. I didn’t say anything till it happened the second time.
When it happened the second time I was already a teenager. After the experience, I ran away from the house, I went to my uncle’s place. They asked me why I left the house, I just told them I wanted to leave, I didn’t tell them anything, but the experience kept hunting me for years.
When Did You Get The Strength to Start Speaking up and What Encouraged You?
Ok, I had to seek for help because in my first year in the University I became depressed. My secondary school was a struggle, I wasn’t concentrating, I was always absent minded and I was very obedient. Infact I was giving an award as the most ‘Peaceful Student’ in school.
There was this time after the second experience that I was sick, it affected my body, so I had to go to the hospital, the doctor was like this girl is feeling something, she has to talk. So my mum had to ask what was happening, I told her nothing, because then I had developed hatred for her.
I was like she wasn’t there when I was going through what I went through. I didn’t want to talk to her, I didn’t want to see her, to me she was the cause of everything, because I felt if she was around she would have had a clue. I didn’t understand why she wasn’t aware, it was later I started accepting the truth that I don’t have to blame her for anything.
So in University, 100 level, I was depressed, I drank Jik (the bleaching agent for whitening clothes and washing toilets), miraculously, I was saved by God through a neighbor.
I don’t come out of my room because I stayed off campus. This guy who was my neighbor was always disturbing me because I don’t usually come out. So after taking the Jik, this guy came out to disturb me to come out of the room as usual that day, I struggled to walk to the door to open for him because I could feel myself leaving my body, it was a terrible experience.
I always tell people that the people that commit sucide are very strong-hearted people, because it’s actually a terrible experience, there is a tiny line between life and death.
When he got in I was already foaming, he rushed me to the hospital, I didn’t know what happened until 2 hours later when I opened my eyes.
The doctor had to refer me and told me to take leave of absence from school, which I did .They wanted to contact my parents, I refused them. So I left school to my aunt’s, I didn’t go home, then from my aunt’s to my friends place.
Fortunately, the mother of this my friend is a therapist and her father a pastor, so my healing process started from there. Initially, my refusal to talk because of fear wasn’t helping matters, the parents of my friend noticed I had alot of things to say, but was bottling.
The father of my friend started praying for me and said, “Don’t worry about the fear that is preventing you from talking, after you spend few days, you will be able to talk”. And that is what eventually happened.
So the first time I spoke about it was to the pastor. God bless him wherever he is. I discovered that I didn’t die after talking about it. So the next day I was able to speak with the therapist, but she noticed I needed extra help, because what I was going through was a lot. I had to take antidepressants for a long time.
My recovery process was gradual, I wouldn’t say I am perfectly fine, but to an extent when I talk about it, there is no hate in me. There is this joy that I am going to help someone that is actually going through something like this, the joy that someone wouldn’t have to go through this because I have gone through it.
The process is long, but the first thing I had to do was to accept it, because I was living in denial, after I accepted it, I had to seek for professional help.
Because at a point I was asking questions like where was God when I was going through what I went through because my parents are pastors. There are nights I will cry myself to sleep even till now, but I would have to talk to myself and encourage myself with the Word of God. I had to start talking to people.
But all these didn’t stop the psychological effect of the experience. Despite the therapy and all, I had to bring myself to my knees to start talking to God, calling on Him to help me everyday. That was how the process started. I am not there yet because sometimes I get relapses, but it’s a process.
Have this Experience Affected Your Romantic Relationships in Any Way?
Yes, I have had series of replases when it comes to relationships because to me, I am scared of getting involved. I got engaged recently and I had to call it off because I discovered I wasn’t ready mentally. I thank God for His Grace, it’s a process and I believe it will get better.
How Do You Now Handle Relationship with the Males?
I had to develop what we call a coping mechanism, I knew I was scared of guys so my therapist had to advise me to get close to guys, make them my friends, and get to feel safe around them. In fact she had to refer me to a male therapist, because if I had continued with her, I wouldn’t feel safe around guys.
The first session with the male therapist was war. I was panicked, got agitated. He had to calm me and make me understand that not all men will do this to me. I don’t have to feel attacked all the time, in as much I have to be safety conscious, not all men will rape me. So he gave me the coping mechanism.
In Some Segment of the Society, It is believed that All Rape is Caused By Indecent Dressing? Do you Agree with this? And if not, How would you help change this mindset?
The first thing I ask people who say such is that, what is attractive about a 4-year-old child?.Or what attracts you to a child? Most of these people (man or woman) have psychological issues, they cannot just control their sexual appetite.
For example, when I was raped the second time, I was on Jean trousers and a big polo shirt, fully covered, what is attractive about that? Even if a lady is dressed Indecently, it doesn’t give any man the right or license to any lady’s body without her consent. But please ladies cover your body properly, it is your body, your property and not for the world to see.
To the society I will say, because a lady is dressed improperly doesn’t mean she is advertising herself for any man to feast on. Sometimes some people don’t have that consciousness of dressing properly, not every lady that exposes herself is a prostitute. Some have low self-esteem and they feel, going with the trend in the world will help them fit in.
Also, to the society I will say, No is No, Consent is key, if she doesn’t want you to touch her, don’t touch her.
The society have to be educated that we have sick people out there who can’t control their sexual appetite.
Have You Been Exposed to Other Sexual Vices After Your Rape Experience?
No, in fact it’s a tug of war because the time I kissed my fiancé, after that kiss I started running for no reason. He had to hold me down, it was really funny. After that experience, it made me realize that I still haven’t felt safe with anything related to sex, and I have to get to a point where I can feel safe with it, because I would get married.
I knew I had to be mentally okay before I go into any relationship, and that was one of the reasons I had to call off my engagement. He was willing to wait, but I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. But for now, God is helping me.
When You Started Sharing Your Story Did You Get Stigmatised At Any Point?
Yes, several times. The last one that happened became public. Everyone in school knew I was raped, because I was unconscious when it happened, I was stabbed, the person wanted to kill me, but couldn’t because people were coming around, so he ran, it happened on the road. People knew, so it was hard going to class. Whenever I pass, I hear whispers, ‘That is the girl that was raped’, ‘probably it’s her boyfriend that she refused to sleep with that raped her’. Some people even said I had attractive face, that my face compel guys to fall in love.
When I started talking about my experience to people, some people were like, ‘didn’t I enjoy it’. Because of this I stopped talking about my experience and I decided to produce a movie out of it. So I’m working on the movie about my story.
However, the time the stigmatization started, I had already started getting better, so it was easy to let go. But sometimes it still hunts me, I feel scared, scared about what people will say.
Now That You Have The Wherewithal To Deal with Him, Did You Go After Him?
Hmmmm, I just remembered something, during my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) days I was going through my Facebook page when I saw a friend request from this man, Immediately I saw it, I dropped my phone and started running, it was a panic attack.
When I saw the request, everything started coming back, thank God for the person I was with who went after me, and I had to look for a way to calm down.
After the request, he sent a message to apologise, but till now I haven’t responded to that message because I don’t know how to respond. One thing I have learnt is that in situations like this you have to learn to forgive every day, I have to delibrately forgive him everyday, even right now, I have to say it consciously that I forgive him.
Government have established centers for victims of rape to report and probably get treatment. How effective would you say this has been and did you make use of the facilities?
No, I used NGO’s (Non Government Organizations), because I know that everything about the government is politicised. But there was a time I took the case of a lady who was brutally raped, beaten by her boyfriend to one of the government centers, they didn’t do anything about it.
So I stopped and I had to transfer the matter to NGO, and they were really helpful, they helped the lady go through the experience.
However, government should work more on these establishments and they should staff them with people who are capable of handling these issues.
Advice To People In Order To Avoid Rape
Don’t walk late at night at an ungodly hour, my second rape experience happened in the night. For me, when it’s 6:00 p.m I don’t go somewhere far except it’s close by or on my street, and if I have to stay out late, I would look for somewhere close to sleep over instead of returning home that night. If you know you are going to be walking late at night make sure you have someone around you, don’t walk alone.
In as much as we cannot really stop all these insane people, you need to protect yourself.
To parents, you cannot leave your children in the hands of neighbors, nobody is to be trusted, everyone is a suspect. Parents, anything you want to do and you have children, please put them into consideration first, please do not jeopardize their lives in the process of trying to build a career for yourself.
As parents, consciously talk to your children and be available for them, so that this thing going on in the society will reduce drastically.
For those who are going through the rape experience right now, what you need to do is to speak up, speak to someone you can trust and if you don’t have anybody to speak to, walk up to NGOs around, they are really helpful.
Be careful who you talk to, but still try to speak to someone, even if your parents would shout at you. I believe parents are one of the safe persons to speak with, tell them, that was the mistake I made on my own part.
Advice to the Society on How to Curb Rape
It all starts from the family, try to build godly children, build children that are conscious of what they do to people, train your children properly.
And to the society at large, try to protect the young ones, whether you are a parent or not.
Pay attention to the younger ones around, and anyone that has been raped we should not stigmatise them, let’s help them feel loved so that they can be helped.
The society at large should be conscious of everything and everyone around them and we should start teaching the children about this and it’s effect.