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Soneni Ndlovu was only 17 years old and enjoying her life, like any young person – she felt like she had everything she dreamed of in store for her until her life was turned upside down.  She was raped in the bushes while fetching firewood with her friend.

“My life changed the day I was raped. I felt like something had been taken away from me,” she says sadly.

“We had gone into the bushes with my friend to look for firewood, this was not the first time – it was something that we did often. I still do not know where the stranger appeared from, my friend managed to run away when she saw a naked stranger. I fell to the ground and the stranger hit me on my back before he threatened and proceeded to rape me.”

Her friend who had escaped the attack ran back home to ask for help but it was already too late.

Soneni Ndlovu says she thought her life had ended. While her mother was supportive, she says the people in her community blamed her for the violation that she had experienced.

“I thought I had lost everything and I wanted to kill myself. Soon after the incident, people called me all sorts of names and said I had invited it upon myself because of the manner in which I dressed. It hurt me a lot,” she says.

“When we reported the case to the police, we were told about a safe shelter that was a temporary home for Gender Based Violence (GBV) survivors. My mother took me there immediately.”

At the safe shelter, Soneni says the shelter Matron straightaway arranged for her to be taken to the hospital to receive medication to prevent her from contracting HIV and to prevent her from falling pregnant. She says her three week stay at the Safe Shelter changed her outlook on the impact of the rape on her life.

“I stayed at the shelter for three weeks receiving counselling. It was the counselling that I received that saved my life. I had given up but the matron told me that life goes on,” Soneni says. “I realised that I could lead a normal life and it was up to me to pick myself up and continue.”

Shelter matron, Sarah Mashingaidze says Soneni looks and sounds much better than when she first arrived at the shelter.

“When she first came here, she was devastated but I am glad to see she has reintegrated into society and is leading a healthy and normal life,” the matron says.

Matron says availability of and access to services for GBV survivors has improved over the years giving a life line to survivors compared to years back when women would suffer silently as there were no facilities like safe shelters to accommodate them and offer various services. UNFPA Zimbabwe has been working over the year to ensure survivors of GBV has access to these essential services. –Jesilyn Dendere