Physical and sexual abuse in sports: the great Nigerian table tennis player Oshonaike leaves her reserve

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DISCLAIMER: This article contains details that some may find offensive.

“Every time I hear news of a rape, it brings me back to my past. I have been physically and sexually abused. This is my personal experience, ”says the champion.

Nigeria is a country that takes a serious interest in sexual assault and the way women are treated. And, among those who speak for the first time about their experiences, there is Funke Oshonaike, six-time Olympic table tennis champion.

Oshonaike was inspired to tell her story after the rape and murder of 22-year-old Nigerian Uwa Omozua at a church in Benin City.

Omozua was found dead, half-naked, in the church, which sparked protests across Nigeria, with many Nigerians demanding justice.

Oshonaike says Omozua's story brought to the surface memories of her own trauma of being sexually assaulted at age 19, by a man 10 years older than her.

“He was a friend - I was naïve,” she recalls.

“When he got angry, he beat me. He was using his two thumbs to press on my eyes… and he sexually abused me. I felt helpless, with blood all over me… I didn't know it was called rape. All I knew was that I felt dirty, ”testifies the athlete.

Funke Oshonaike

"He had total control"

Oshonaike started playing table tennis at the age of 14 and two years later made the Nigeria squad for the 1991 African Games.

But its first Olympics were held in Atlanta in 1996, when the abuse began.

“I was at Lagos University - I went to school with bruises all over my body and people were wondering what was wrong with me,” she says.

“But I couldn't tell anyone. I felt hypnotized. I was a slave in his hands, ”says the champion.

The abuse took place as Oshonaike was competing and winning national championships.

But despite the attention paid to her, she found herself unable to escape her ordeal. His situation was made worse by the fact that the man had complete control over his income and bank accounts.

Whenever she wanted to leave and claimed her money, she ended up being beaten and bruised.

“He told me to give him all my winnings. My bank account was in her name, ”she says.

“Every time I tried to run away, I asked for my money” - but he refused to give it to her.

“I was the Nigerian champion at the time, but I wasn't strong enough to tell anyone. I would go to my little corner and cry. Sometimes I wanted to kill myself, ”Oshonaike explains.

The response

But Oshonaike said she had found the courage to survive and knew she couldn't give up. She had to pursue her dream of becoming a table tennis star.

“I lost everything because of this man. But I fought and got back on my feet, ”she adds.

“God allowed me to continue. The stories of Oprah Winfrey and Joyce Meyer kept me going. I started my life over again, ”she says.

Funke Oshonaike

Flag bearer of the Nigeria team at the last Olympic Games, in Rio 2016, Oshonaike suffered the consequences of what happened long after she finally left her attacker.

“The trauma stayed with me for years and affected my sex life and my marriage,” she says.

“I just got my sanity back,” Oshonaike says.

The 45-year-old attributed the inability of women to speak out about their past sexual abuse to the fact that the topic remains taboo and the lack of social media.

“Back when we didn't have social media, women didn't dare speak out. I didn't understand what he was doing to me. I only recently realized it was rape, ”she said.

Oshonaike says she is now a role model for other women who are victims of sexual abuse. She is determined to ensure that women regain their power after such a traumatic experience.

“Everything I've been through has made me a mentor to others. I am able to share my stories with women who have been victimized and encourage them not to let go, ”she says.

“I hope more women will have the courage to come forward and speak out. I am a survivor, ”Oshonaike testifies.

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