Documentary shows how rape victims can be helped and gives a lesson from Africa

RWANDA has had plenty of bad press in recent months over the government’s controversial plan to deport hundreds of new arrivals in the UK to the East African country — but it can teach us a lot about helping victims of rape.

So says CSE survivor and campaigner Sammy Woodhouse, who visited the genocide-scarred nation to learn how sexual assault victims and children born from rape are cared for by the charity Foundation Rwanda and help to build happy, productive lives.

Sammy (37) flew out to Africa during the two-year filming process for her new documentary, Out of the Shadows: Born from Rape, which is now available on BBC iPlayer.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

She visited a support centre for victims of the 1994 genocide — and was inspired by what she found.

“For me to go to Rwanda was just incredible, an experience I will never forget for the rest of my life,” she said.

I loved the support service they have there; it’s a safe place for people to be.

“You can see how difficult their lives have been but they come away singing and dancing and being happy. It’s just lovely to see that and be part of it.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"I’ve never walked into a support centre and seen dancing and singing.

“There were heart-breaking moments but beautiful moments, too.

“We had travelled to see what they were doing there and it’s clear what we’re doing in our country is not good enough.

“Everyone was lovely to see and the country was just stunning but they told us the stories of how horrific everything was there.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“They offered me the chance to go back again and I would love to.”

Sammy, who had a son by grooming gang ringleader Arshid Hussain, spent two years working with a production team on the half-hour documentary, during which she spoke to Tasnim, Eva and Neil, children born from rape, as well as Mandy, who was raped by her father, made pregnant and went on to give birth.

One of the most moving moments in the programme is when Sammy tells Mandy: “It’s not your fault” — and an encounter the interviewer said had left its mark on her, too.

“I get so emotional just thinking about that moment,” she said.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“It was such a powerful moment and I’m glad it made the documentary as it was just so sad that no-one had ever told her that.

“In my case, I didn’t recognise myself as a victim until I was in my 20s but I was sitting down with a professional who said: ‘Something really bad has happened to you.’

“It makes a really big difference when someone says something like that, and I have to remind myself of this as just how powerful speaking to others can be.

“At the time, I was in such a dark place and tried to take my own life and was feeling suicidal.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I blamed myself and felt really guilty, that my own life had been a lie.

“I was in a complete hell and couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.

The Editor's pick of the news

Hide Ad
Hide Ad


“I wish I had known then what I know now — that’s why it’s important for me to do what I have.”

Sammy has campaigned for Sammy’s Law — which would formally pardon and quash the convictions of grooming victims coerced into committing crimes — and wants to see children born from rape given similar status to sexual abuse and rape victims.

“I want the CICA (Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority) to recognise children born from rape for criminal injuries compensation,” she said.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“And I want this to be seen as a hate crime, as a lot of people born from rape go on to suffer all kinds of hate.”

Sammy said she wanted decision-makers to watch the show and take action to provide real support.

The determined campaigner said there was room for optimism, adding: “It is important we are talking about this issue now.

“When you think about it, ten years ago, no-one knew what a grooming gang was and no-one wanted to talk about it.

“It took myself and other survivors to make that happen.

“We’ve achieved a lot over the past ten years.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I think things have changed. Let’s face it, things could not have got any worse, but there’s still a long way to go.

“A lot of work still needs to be done, as Mandy and Ava (who was born after her mum was raped) talk about in the documentary — and I’m glad they both agreed to take part in the film.

“I hope it will start some important conversations.”

Sammy, whose evidence helped to send Hussain to prison for 35 years, said it had made a welcome change for her to be asking the questions rather than recounting her own story.

“I’ve spoken about this issue for ten years but never gone into other people’s stories,” she said.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“This documentary is the first of its kind and it’s long overdue.

“I really enjoyed making it, although of course it was difficult.

“I got to meet some incredible people and it’s helped give me an insight hearing from other mums who have gone through what I have and helped me see things from my son’s point of view.”

Sammy said it had been important to her for her two sons, who are aged 21 and 16, to know there were others in a similar position.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Of her elder son, she said: “It has been difficult to know how much to say to him.

“I have to let him make his own decisions but I have suggested he watches it.

“It’s important for him and people like him because there are others out there who are going through the same.

“My younger son has been affected as well. He said he would like to watch it and it will be good for him, too.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Sammy said she had said “Yes” straight away when approached with the idea of the show, adding: “I have done a lot of work around child criminal exploitation but when you put all these stories together it can be so much more powerful.

“For some of these people, it’s the first time they have gone into any detail.

“There are so many people who need to have their voices heard, so I thought it was a great idea.

“Emma (the producer) has put so much time and effort into speaking to people so she needs to take the credit for that.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I’ve had people contacting me and saying: ‘Thank you for speaking out’.

“They’ve been sharing their own experiences and helping give them a voice.

“It is important we are talking about this.

“For all the decision makers, I’ve listed what I want them to do around ensuring all survivors are offered the support they need.

“And I hope people who have been through this can see they are no longer alone and can start to shift the shame that goes with it.

“This can really be a game changer for our country.”

Related topics: