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“I was very strong and courageous... because I was speaking the truth.”

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“I was very strong and courageous... because I was speaking the truth.”

Sarah’s parents had always taught her to live peacefully with others. So when her partner became violent towards her, she didn’t know where to turn. Thanks to IJM's legal support, Sarah bravely testified in court against her abuser, and he was sentenced.

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arah remembers her childhood fondly. She was the oldest of five children, with a deep commitment to her family. She was close to her parents, who were always loving towards her, and she never saw them fight. She was encouraged to pursue her studies, working hard while helping her parents to take care of her younger siblings. Even as a child, she was aware that her parents’ harmonious relationship was unusual.

“I noticed a difference in the way men and women were treated,” Sarah told us.

“Whenever there was a case of violence between a man and a woman, the woman would be cautioned first that she should learn how to respect her husband.”

Tragically, when she was 16, her father passed away.

Without his income, Sarah was forced to drop out of school and work so that her siblings could continue their education. She had dreamed of becoming a doctor, but she was unable to get the qualifications she needed after leaving school early.

“That’s where the dream ended,” she says.

Some time later, while working, Sarah met Komakech*, who immediately took a shine to her. They got on well, and she was encouraged by the fact that he encouraged her to continue working, and seemed able to support her in looking after her family.

He won Sarah’s affection, and the two soon began living together. When Sarah moved in with Komakech, she had high hopes that he would take good care of her family.

But she slowly became aware of his violent nature.

At first, she noticed that he didn’t get along with his neighbours, that he was often in conflict with his friends. This was alien to Sarah, whose father had always been active in fostering good relationships with family members. Within the first three months that they lived together, they had a fight in which Komakech became violent with Sarah.

One in two women within Uganda have experienced spousal abuse; and in Northern Uganda, even higher rates were reported, with two-thirds of women experiencing intimate partner violence within their lifetime.

The first time this happened, she fled to a relative’s house.

With both Sarah and Komakech’s families involved, they agreed that Komakech would stop drinking. Whenever alcohol was involved, his aunties said, it led to violence, and so if he was sober this problem would go away. Her fears assuaged by these agreements, Sarah moved back in with Komakech. And, for a while, things were good.

But a month later, Komakech began drinking again, and with the drink returned the violence.

Despite warnings from friends, relatives and even a local councilman, the assaults continued, slowly becoming more severe.

One night, Komakech assaulted Sarah again.

Except this attack was worse than the ones that had preceded it: Sarah was kicked, punched and left with a badly cut eye amongst other injuries.

That night, Komakech threatened to kill Sarah.

Terrified, Sarah fled to a relative’s house. With the support of a local councilman, she reported the attack to the police. Komakech threatened to burn Sarah’s property if she didn’t collect it, but she was too scared to return to his house. “I told him that the property was not so important,” says Sarah, “my life was most important”.

Throughout the legal process, as is very common in situations like Sarah’s, many people around her advised her not to go through with the trial. They were concerned that Komakech might respond with more violence, that it wasn’t worth the risk. But Sarah was determined to have him prosecuted.

“I was very strong and courageous,” she told us,

“I did not have any reservations or second thoughts…I wasn’t even worried [when testifying in court], because I was speaking the truth.”

Even in court, Komakech was unrepentant, claiming that he had done nothing wrong.

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In January 2019, he was sentenced to six months in prison.

With the help of IJM, Sarah was able to recover physically and emotionally from her abusive relationship, as well as the stress and trauma of the trial. “If I only had to rely on the police,” Sarah told us, “I probably would have listened to all the pressures from other people that I should let him go, and I do not know where I would be now.”

IJM supported Sarah throughout the legal process, arming her with the confidence to testify against her abuser. Sarah was not the first woman Komakech has lived with and abused, but she was the first to report him to the police. She hopes that by fighting for Komakech to face consequences for his actions, she is protecting any other women who might have fallen victim to his violent nature.

Due to IJM’s guidance, Sarah is now safer in the event of any attempted violence in the future. Her experience has even given her hope for herself and other women, and a renewed faith in the legal process. “I see a future where women are respected and women get along with their husbands and live happily within their marriages,” she told us. “I believe that’s possible because the law is there.”

With the support of IJM’s Aftercare team, Sarah chose to study a course in hairdressing.

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She loves having her own job, and being able to provide for her two boys, who are 9 and 11 years old. “I am very happy because I’m ably taking care of my children,” she says. “I am hopeful about the future.”

Sarah is also optimistic that she can prepare her sons to have healthy relationships as adults. “I will advise them to respect their wives,” she says, “and should there be a problem or disagreement, they can come to me and I’ll help guide them… because violence always leads to something worse.”

When Sarah first came into contact with the IJM team, she was running from her abuser, fearing for her safety. When we spoke to her recently in the salon where she now works, she was all smiles, quietly confident with a kindness that shines through her interactions.

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She fought hard for justice, for her own freedom and that of other women Komakech might have hurt. She found a job that allows her to support her family independently of her abusive partner, and to raise her children to be good men and good partners. Now, she has taken back control over her own life.

“...all I have is a lot of gratitude for IJM for working with me through this trying time,” Sarah said, “I don’t know where I would be hiding had he been released.

So I am so grateful for all IJM has done for me and where I am right now.”


This feature article was written by IJM Champion, Amy Hooper

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