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Josephine’s story: Learning to trust again

Josephine has been so deeply traumatised by a past so painful that the only thing that kept her from frequent thoughts of suicide is her daughter, a daughter born of rape, but a daughter who represents the family, the love and the hope that was stolen from Josephine by her tormenters.

Four years after escaping to England, and despite witnessing and experiencing suffering of an unimaginably violent scale, Josephine has slowly rebuilt trust in other people and has begun to create a new life for her and her three-year-old daughter.

Remembering the past, as she has so often been required to do in seeking refugee protection in the UK, forces her to relive a horrific series of events, which can destabilise her psychologically and send her into a long bout of fever.

Yet it is something she feels compelled to do, for she is adamant that people should understand the brutality that drives women like her into exile, and also the courage that helps them to survive.

When she was a teenager in Uganda, both of Josephine's parents were murdered in a politically motivated attack. Josephine discovered her parents' dismembered bodies where the attackers had left them outside the family home.

Josephine (not her real name) subsequently received death threats similar to those that had been sent to her parents. She fled first to another part of Uganda, and subsequently to the Democratic Republic of Congo where Josephine's partner and the father of her child, was stationed with the Ugandan army.

However, violence continued to pursue her and it was at the hands of Congolese soldiers that Josephine was subjected to a barbaric physical and mental assault.

She and her partner had been separated when a group of soldiers seized her and detained her in a military camp three months.

On Christmas day 2004, Josephine and her six month old baby were taken into the forest. The soldiers told her they were going to give her "a present". First, they raped her. Then, they took her child and made her watch as they killed and broke his fragile body. Josephine collapsed in horror. When she came to, she was alone in the forest. She managed to hastily attempt a burial for her son before escaping, in fear for her own life.

Fleeing the DRC, Josephine was brought to the UK by an agent. She was raped again, this time by the agent in whom she'd placed her trust to bring her to safety. She was then left alone to fathom a completely foreign country, language and immigration process.

Attending the Home Office, Josephine was taken into detention, and was struck with terror when she was told she had a 50-50 chance of being sent back to Africa. She was released from detention after she was referred to the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture (MF).

Through four years of psychotherapy, Josephine has slowly unravelled her past and built new relationships with other female survivors at the MF.

"I used to think I was the only person with all the problems in the world," says Josephine, now 38. "It took a long time but when I began to meet other women, slowly we would talk to each other about our pasts."

Josephine has been granted discretionary leave to remain in the UK, so that she can continue to receive therapeutic support. But the asylum process will eventually demand that she relays her testimony again in order to be considered as a refugee. She longs for the time when it will no longer be necessary for her to recount her history and when she can finally put the past behind her.

Josephine has made remarkable steps in striving to better her situation. She is studying for a degree and dreams of one day becoming a fully qualified accountant, able to earn a living and to build a stable family home: "I've changed; I go to college, I meet people, and I've made friends. I feel safe here, I can trust people, and I don't feel like anybody is going to hurt me.

"I am happy now. Of course, there are times which are hard, when I remember what happened in the past, but I'm trying to move on. I feel like I'm settling here."


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