Imagine being committed to remaining a virgin until you are married, only to find yourself seriously sexually assaulted and injured indefinitely by a rapist—who was determined to be your husband.
Sounds like a storyline from your favourite soap opera, but it isn’t. It is the nightmare which has haunted Raziya Swan for years, as she still struggles to cope with her violent sexual assault at the hands of her then-boyfriend.
The 40-something-year-old Bermudian, shares her story exclusively with SheHub.
“In 2011, I was in a relationship with a man who I’d been dating on and off for almost three years. While initially, I was looking forward to moving into marriage with him, eventually in my heart, I knew it was not working out. Then he asked me to marry him.”
He didn’t propose traditionally, Raziya shares. She says one day after returning home from work, he approached her with a marriage licence that he wanted her to sign. She refused and almost instantaneously, she says, the abuse began.
“I knew that he really wanted to marry me, but I knew I didn’t want to marry him. Plus, I suspected that he was cheating on me.”
She continues: “He was very angry; he said that I hurt him by rejecting his marriage proposal. In a matter of days, he changed, and the abuse started. He kept asking me why I wouldn’t marry him. He started to force himself on me and violate me sexually. Our relationship was not sexual, and he knew that I was saving that for marriage. I wanted a relationship based on friendship. Not sex. He was trying to use sexuality to trap me into get me to marry him. I was a virgin and was literally saving myself for marriage because of my strong Christian beliefs. There was no consent to his violent actions.”
Without going into any detail, she recalls his actions as “going off on me”, saying she was becoming increasingly traumatised and distressed: “I couldn’t understand why he was doing this to me.
I could not understand how someone who knew my stand would do this.”
Despite being traumatised, Raziya says she pretended that they were in a happy relationship, and experienced internal conflict.
“I wanted to kill him, but I was very emotionally attached to him and he came back with apology after apology. I did not know what to say and who to tell. We were pretending to be a happy couple.”
And, she adds, they continued to attend church together: “He would go up to the altar. He appeared to be someone who was turning himself around.”
While Raziya initially said nothing to her family about the abuse she was enduring, her boyfriend’s mother would brush off her son’s actions.
“She played a role in the manipulation. She knew that I was a good woman and she wanted our relationship to work. Eventually one day she told me ‘that is what men do… even in a marriage, men have a problem with the word no’.”
He had no remorse and the abuse was getting worse. He once grabbed me by my feet and dragged me toward him on the floor of his apartment. In another sexual assault he held my thin wrists together with his left hand so that I could not get away.”
Raziya stands just over five feet tall and weighs 100 pounds while her now ex-boyfriend is about 6’3 and is double her weight.
“I felt like I was in a cycle of abuse. By the third sexual assault I knew I needed to get help, but even then, I could not detach. It was just like any other relationship. I could not just back off. Yes, you want to jump ship, but it’s not easy. I had not fully accepted what happened. It took me months to completely detach.”
One day, Raziya gathered the strength to tell her parents and her sister what was going on: “My sister said she had noticed that something was wrong with me. She thought that I was going to commit suicide and she was right about something being very wrong. A month after the last assault I broke down and told her what was going on. My mom was very surprised and as a social worker she was able to recognise the signs of the PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) I was displaying.”
The long-time educator says in reflection, she was not her usual self. She was stressed out and extremely overwhelmed. One time, she did not show up for work without calling, and when she did go to work, she struggled to focus. She was suffering in silence both emotionally and physically until one day she broke down and told her boss what she had been going through, which resulted in her being referred to the Employee Assistance Programme.
In fall of 2012, Raziya told her ex-boyfriend that she’d reported everything to Police: “He admitted to me that he sexually assaulted me but that it was my fault because I would not marry him. He also said that if I even told the police he would leave Bermuda. And eventually he did.”
Raziya continually suffered. It hurts for her sit down and she still suffers excruciating pain in her pelvic floor. She sought medical treatment, and to add insult to injury, her ex-boyfriend advised she get tested for STDs as well as he had a sexually-transmitted disease.
In December 2014, she finally received a diagnosis after seeing multiple specialists.
“I have a very damaged pelvic floor, which has left me devastated. I was left with trauma from abuse and physical injury and suffer from hypertonic pelvic floor muscle dysfunction. I have joined a support group online for women who suffer from the same medical condition; most of the women in group cannot have sexual intercourse. It is too painful.”
Her condition has also caused her to seek treatment overseas eight times so far, and while she does have insurance, she has spent over $200,000 out of her pocket to cover additional medical expenses and loss of wages from taking time off from work.
Because of her ongoing pain, after an extended medical leave as a teacher, she resigned and in 2017, re-entered the school system as a substitute teacher. She hopes to join teaching again full time in the near future.
Seven years after the assaults, Raziya says that she is in a much better space emotionally.
“I’m not crying while talking to you so…” she says with a smile.
But Raziya admits that she still has questions about why this happened to her.
“I have spent years trying to figure out how it got to this. I wanted to understand everything. How could I not see that he was abusive? I even spoke to one of his exes who admitted that he sexually assaulted her too. I also took online courses on sexual abuse and domestic violence. I needed answers.”
Raziya is now a 24-hour hotline counsellor with the Centre Against Abuse.
But where is her ex-boyfriend now?
“He moved to the UK, got married and had a baby. He walked away and started his life over, while I’m still suffering years later. But I am no longer angry all the time, although I was in denial at first. I just find it ironic that the one thing he claimed he adored about me, he made every effort to destroy, but I am trying to get my life back on track.
“He finally got the wife he wanted for so long ,” she laments.
And does Raziya see herself in another relationship one day in the future?
“I am in so much pain every day that I can’t even entertain the idea of entering a relationship. It is just not even a consideration right now. My focus is on serving God, managing chronic pain, healing and surviving in this very cold and often too cruel, world.”
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