A Life Transformed - Yashilda's story
A lot of things happened inside that prison in Sri Lanka, and it has taken me years to overcome the trauma. I want people to know what happened to me and I don’t want it to happen to another girl.
Back home in Sri Lanka, I used to own my own business. My staff and I specialised in hair and beauty, and all I ever wanted to do was to make people feel good about themselves.
I’ve been in the UK for almost a decade. I originally left Sri Lanka and sold my business because I wanted to be with my husband as he was studying here.
Over many months, as we both worked various jobs, we saved enough money so that we could afford to fly back to Sri Lanka to see our friends and family again.
What should have been a happy reunion descended into a nightmare. On my second day of being at home, it was at night, around 10 o’clock. We had just finished dinner with my mum, dad and everybody, and two people arrived at the door. They didn’t have uniforms on, they just had normal clothes and they showed their badges.
The two men asked me my name and identified themselves as the police. They said they wanted to ask me some questions. Despite the protests of my husband and my family, the policemen demanded that I go with them for questioning. “You have to come with us,” they said.
Alone, in the police car late at night, I was terrified. I couldn’t understand why they wanted to speak to me. I had only been in the country for two days, what had I done wrong?
The police took me to a building and started questioning me. They showed me the photo of a girl who used to work in my business and she is a Tamil. In the photo she was wearing an anti-government rebel uniform.
The police asked me how I knew the woman. They asked what happened to her, to which I could only respond truthfully, “I don’t know because I sold the business and I went to the UK, that’s all I know.”
They refused to believe that what I was saying was true. They asked how we met, why she was employed, and they accused me of helping the rebel group. When I said I wanted to speak to my husband and my lawyer, they refused.
The “investigation” lasted for almost a month, during which time I was held by these men in a cell. There was no celebration with friends and family.
One day, not long after I was taken, two people came to my cell. It was dark, I could tell they had been drinking. I could smell it on their breath and hear it in their voice.
They came to me and they said ‘we can help you, tell me the truth.’ I said ‘no, I didn’t do anything. Will you please let me go?’ then they said ‘we can help you, don’t worry’ and then they started touching me. I pushed one guy, I pushed him. Then the guy hit me and started raping me, both of them. I was alone.
After weeks, I was released when the police received a bribe. They threatened to kill me, my husband and my family if I ever told anyone. Immediately, my husband and I flew to the UK. I didn’t tell anybody what had happened to me in that cell.
At the time of my torture at the hands of the policemen, I didn’t know it, but I was pregnant. Luckily, the baby growing inside of me survived the assaults and later that year, my son was born.
Then I received news that my father had died, but I couldn’t go to the funeral. The police in Sri Lanka were still visiting my mother, going to the house and threatening her.
After what happened to me, I am really scared to go back again - I just feel they’re going to kill me, or they’re going to hurt my son or my husband.
For almost five years, I was alone trying to cope with the trauma I had been through. The depression crippled me and I had nightmares constantly. I tried going to the GP. I tried appointments at the hospital. But nobody could help me.
I was so silent and I was depressed. My family was struggling because they wanted us to be together, but I was always saying ‘I want to be alone’. My young son would constantly ask ‘what has happened to Mummy? Why is she not coming to play with me?’
In 2018, I finally found the help I needed at Freedom from Torture.
At first, I was scared to talk to my therapist because of what happened to me and because he was a man. But my therapist was kind and caring, and I began to trust him and eventually became comfortable enough to share everything with him.
Before I had therapy I felt like I was inside a dark room. It was only me inside. It was like a jail. I didn’t want anybody to come to me, even my husband. I wanted to stay alone all the time.
Sometimes I went to therapy alone, sometimes my husband would come as well. Therapy is very helpful for both of us. My therapist always told me to concentrate on nice memories before I left the room, the good memories I have with my husband, my childhood, my brothers, and sisters.
I am very thankful for my therapist and Freedom from Torture. Anything I can do to help this organisation I am going to do because this place, it is everything.
Because we were not legally allowed to work, we struggled for money. We were forced to live in a spare room of a friend of my husband’s. Sometimes we had to go without food. Sometimes the tea and biscuits that we ate in Freedom from Torture’s reception were all we had.
One day, before Christmas, my son just kept asking ‘Mummy, I need presents, I need a Christmas tree with the toys and everything’ and I just cried. I was just crying with my therapist. I couldn’t do anything and my husband was crying at home because we didn’t have money. My son was asking ‘where is Santa?’
That Christmas, thanks to the supporters of Freedom from Torture, my son got a present. A Christmas Care Box. He was so happy, he said ‘Santa gave it to me’.
“I would like to help other people, anybody in this world who may have experienced what happened to me and knows my situation, I know I would like to help.”
I now work in a restaurant and am getting a promotion to become a manager soon. Each month I volunteer with local charities and help local Sri Lankans prepare for their weddings, offering my services for free.
I still miss my family tremendously, but I like it in the UK. As a woman, I feel safe. In Sri Lanka, everything is under the control of the men and the police. It is not like that here, so I like being here. There is more freedom.
My family has status now and are safe in the UK. At least until we have to re-apply. My husband and I are working and raising our son. We are a family, but I hope for another child. I want a daughter, not for me, but for my son. He needs a sister. He keeps asking.