The 40-year-old, who is an orphan, was forced into marrying a man old enough to be her grandfather when she was only 14 due to her relatives wanting to absolve responsibility of her.
“He was an old man,” she tells The Independent. “He had six wives. I was the last one. He was a Muslim but I am not one. This is common in the northern parts of Nigeria.”
Aisha, who lost her mother when she was just five-years-old and her father at the age of nine, says her husband would routinely beat her while raping her.
“I have scars all over my body. Every morning when I look at myself in the mirror, I feel so bad. One day, he beat me and nearly dragged me into a toilet in the ground. I thought I was going to die. Men could beat women in public there. No one says anything. It is normal. A lot of women are suffering there”.
Aisha, who has spoken to United Nations special rapporteur about her life story, was targeted by a human trafficker in Nigeria under the false pretence she would be taken to the UK for a better life at the age of 22.
“He said ‘I can help you’,” she adds. “He said ‘Come to this place. You will get a better life: a house, a man that will take care of you and love you’. I just had to go. He raped me in Nigeria, but I knew that if I went back to my husband, that maybe I would not be alive today. He would kill me.”
She lived with the trafficker for several months in Nigeria before arriving in the UK in 2001 where she was forced to live with him for around a year in a house in east London with many other people. She says there were many men in the house smoking and drinking heavy spirits.
She was beaten by her trafficker if she complained about being raped and was effectively a prisoner in the house due to him saying her life would be at risk if she left, Aisha adds.
“I was like a slave to him,” she says. “I said ‘this is not what you said you were going to do with me. I am really suffering now’. If I complained, he threatened to send me back home to my husband.”
She eventually managed to leave him because he gave her to another man who she wound up living with for around five years. He was also sexually violent and abusive towards her, she adds, including a “vicious beating” when she was pregnant with his child.
Aisha and her child then became homeless and destitute for around a decade after escaping him and would move from various friends’ houses. Aisha says she was forced to sleep rough on several occasions – finding herself in a park in the cold with her child tied to her back, riding buses for the duration of the night and sleeping in train stations.
“Me and my child stayed with another man who tried to rape me,” she says. “I fought him and he tried to pour boiling water on me. I called the police but I was refused help. When I gave birth they wanted me to leave my child in care. I refused. That is why it is harder for women because we are destitute but we are hidden, and we are mothers and other people depend on us for their protection. I saw a legal aid housing lawyer and he promised he would help me get housing but he raped me in front of my child.”
Aisha says she did not understand what rape was until coming to the UK and speaking to a lawyer who told her that her husband’s treatment of her back home constituted rape.
Aisha put in a claim based on the birth of her child in the UK. It was carried out by a private lawyer which she says was refused in 2010 due to it being the wrong type of claim, and not including any information about the sexual violence she had been forced to endure – even though she told him about this.
She was eventually given two and a half years to remain in the UK but was refused asylum after another lawyer put in her claim.
Aisha says she went back to the Home Office last year to challenge this decision and handed back the document detailing her successful application. She is now submitting a proper application for asylum with the help of Women Against Rape – an organisation which supports rape victims to pursue their legal cases.
“I am still waiting to hear back but I am positive it will win,” she says. “I am not allowed to work at the moment and am having to live with friends. I want to use my story to help women.”
Sian Evans, who runs Women Against Rape’s Refuge from Rape and Destitution Campaign, said: “We see every day women like Aisha who are traumatised by the violence they fled. They came here with the hope of finding safety but face sexism and racism in the asylum system. Deprived of a fair hearing, many are left destitute and suffer further rape and exploitation.”
The comments come as frontline service providers told The Independent thousands of rape victims seeking sanctuary in the UK are facing stigma from the Home Office that is preventing them reporting their sexual assault.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK has a proud record of providing protection to vulnerable individuals and helping them to rebuild their lives.
“We take the wellbeing of asylum seekers extremely seriously, ensuring that victims of rape and sexual violence are given every opportunity to report these devastating crimes.
“Individuals identified as potential victims of modern slavery and human trafficking are provided with free accommodation and specialist support.”
*Aisha’s name has been changed to protect her identity