At just 13, Lola was trapped with an abusive partner until a school nurse intervened and helped her escape. Now 18, this remarkable young woman helps other vulnerable people as a Youth MP
If you ask people to describe me, the overall consensus would be along the lines of a strong-willed, gutsy, confident, sociable girl who can make any situation fun. But those people are unaware of my past trauma, that causes me to mask my feelings.
In 2012, when I was just 13, I entered into a relationship with an older man. As many of these stories go, everything was fine to begin with and it was a happy, healthy relationship – albeit with an age gap. This all changed a couple of months in, when I was beaten for the first time.
Today, I am still able to recall exactly what that first punch felt like and how shocked I felt. When he grabbed my neck and held me to the wall, I thought he would genuinely kill me. When I left, I was relieved to be alive but knew that this was just the start.
As time went on, the physical abuse worsened. In addition to this, I was also sexually abused and raped on a regular basis. Whenever he was assaulting me, I’d always sing songs in my head to manage the pain and help speed up the time. Now, I can’t listen to those songs.
He was very clever and never bruised me in the places people would see. My bruises were mostly on my waist, stomach and thighs. In one photo I have, the whole of my right hip is browny-purple; you can’t see my normal skin.
One time I went home with a hickey on my neck (that I didn’t want but had no option) and I got in such trouble with my parents who thought it was disgusting. Little did they know I thought it was disgusting too. It was a reminder of how I’d been violated.
Until this point, I’d had a normal childhood with such a loving family, but I couldn’t even begin to think of asking my parents for help. I was a young girl who desperately needed saving from such an awful situation, but couldn’t ask. Instead, I acted up at school and home, making life for my mum and dad so difficult without even realising.
The person who ended up saving me was my school nurse. I wouldn’t have got out of that relationship had it not been for her. I spent a lot of time with her, as we had a strong connection and she was the only person I trusted. During the relationship, I was suicidal and she was the person who noticed and asked me what was happening. In the end, I didn’t have to tell her – she guessed.
It turns out the man responsible for everything had been emailing her and telling her how much he loved me and couldn’t survive without me. She replied, telling him to fuck off. She told me what I needed to do, what my options were, and for the first time I felt safe and courageous because I knew she’d be there.
The first time I tried to leave was unsuccessful. I left but the guy threatened to come after my older sister, so I went back – and suffered more. The second time I tried to leave, I succeeded. I got a new phone so he had no way of contacting me and blocked him on everything. I also made sure to be with people when I was going somewhere so he couldn’t get to me. Leaving is not as straightforward as it seems though. After more than a year, I was finally liberated from a twisted, sick man whose power complex led me to being violated.
There are good days where I feel unstoppable, like a normal 18-year-old girl, which is amazing
It should’ve been the beginning of the rest of my life, but the aftermath has been so detrimental to me that it seems like it never finished. I didn’t tell anyone else about what had happened until a year or so after, when I had to go to the NHS’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services because my mental health was deteriorating fast. I had attempted to take my own life several times.
Unfortunately, counselling didn’t work for me. When your counsellor says, “OK, today we’re going to talk about the first time you were raped,” you’re not exactly buzzing to be at a session. In the end, I would travel to my counselling session, get to the building, turn around and go home again.
I was under the care of a paediatrician in the hospital who diagnosed me with PTSD. For me, PTSD means severe flashbacks that occur daily; night terrors where I hallucinate and can see and touch someone trying to kill me; and anxiety in social situations. I tried to fight against the flashbacks. I’d cry and scream and hurt myself. When they happen, my eyes are shut and I’m back reliving a scenario where he’s hurting me. The common ones are the “first times” – when he hit me and raped me.
When I stopped fighting my mental illness, life began to be more manageable because I adapted to fit it. There are still days and weeks where I can’t cope – I can’t deal with people asking me what’s going on and trying to help me. All I want to do is lock myself in a room and cry because I have no coping mechanisms. But there are good days where I feel unstoppable, and like a normal 18-year-old girl, which is amazing.
In 2015, I decided I wanted to help other young people in vulnerable circumstances, so I ran to be the Youth MP for Westminster. My campaign focused on getting young people a curriculum for life, which would include better sex education, especially on areas surrounding consent and guidance on healthy relationships, so that if they experience what I did they would know where to go for advice and options. I was successfully elected and spent my term working on projects that helped victims of domestic violence and youth crime. I also spoke at sex and relationships events to raise awareness of abusive relationships.
In 2016, I was elected Chair of Westminster’s Safer Neighbourhood Board – the youngest Chair to be elected. The board held police accountable and demanded explanations for increases in certain crimes during specific time periods, such as when rape increased by 50%. We then choose to fund projects that tackle these crimes, and we work together to reduce them.
I’ve done all this partly out of guilt.
It made me feel better trying to help people, because I never prosecuted the man who had done that to me and I knew he could be doing it to other girls. While I’ve rebuilt my life, and try to live normally, I hope that one day he comes to terms with his actions. I’m no longer letting him control my life. I’m not letting him win. I accept my PTSD and all the stuff that comes with it, and I won’t let it stop me doing what I want to do in life.
Lola’s shocking story brings home the terrible cost of abuse for young people. It’s humbling to hear how her school nurse was able to help her break free, and to hear how Lola is transcending her trauma and re-building her sense of self. I wish her very well in her ongoing recovery.