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After abuse: Dancing saved my life

Girlene, 30, from São Luís in Brazil, was abused by her father, raped by her stepfather and left to live on the streets at 13. Now, she’s found hope through dancing and is sharing her story to help ensure another generation of girls doesn’t suffer in silence.

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“My mother was abused by my father. I was so little I didn’t notice. Soon after he physically abused my mother, my sister and me. My sister’s nose was broken and my collarbone was fractured. My mother eventually left him – I was about 10.

“That’s when I started working as a maid in a house… I was fed very little and forced to sleep on the floor. After 6 months, my sister and I were totally exhausted and couldn’t take it anymore, so we returned to my mother’s house.

“By that time, my mother was living with another man. The first days were amazing, he treated us well and we went back to school. Then he started to get upset when we were there. We weren’t allowed to turn on the lights to study and when we arrived after school, he’d throw away all of the food...


“I had enrolled on a dance course at school – I loved to dance. When I arrived home after class I went to take a shower. The shower was outside and there was no door – just a shower curtain. As I was showering, my stepfather barged in and put his hands on my mouth and forced himself on me… I was 13… I was in a lot of pain and there was blood. To this day, I have flashes of that moment even though I’ve tried to erase it from my memory.

Join the global movement for girls' rights“My stepfather told me my mother wouldn’t believe me. He was right. When I tried to tell her the following day, she wouldn’t let me finish the story. She interrupted saying it was in my mind.”

“My mother’s relationship was deteriorating. At one point, she tried to send him away but the next day she went and brought him home… She said she was happy with him and she didn’t want to leave him at any cost. Then, she opened the front door and asked us to leave.

“My sister went to live with her boyfriend. I spent 2 days sleeping on the streets…

Finding my voice

 “That was when I met 2 social educators who are so important to me and my life. One of them invited me to live with her and her family. I stayed for a few years. I totally lost contact with my whole family until I was 16.

“I started to grow in confidence. I was participating in many workshops, including those run by Plan International Brazil. I learnt about sexual exploitation, my rights and youth advocacy. I used to be very shy, but they encouraged me to find my voice. In fact, after I took part in a communication project, I finally found the strength to tell one of the social educators what happened to me when I was 13.

To all the girls and women who have suffered like I have, please, speak up!

“I also found hope through dancing. Dancing is everything to me. One of my favourites is Samba de Gafieira because it is happy and uplifting. Dancing has helped me fight this big monster that’s been at my side. When I danced, I grew bigger and stronger than the monster...”

“Today I’m 30 years old. I have graduated, I have my own dance studio which I co-own with my husband and I am an educator. I’ve achieved everything I wanted because I spoke out and those who believed in me made me realise I can make a difference.

“A big part of my life has been pain, but today I’ve set myself free. When I see my past, I put my present in front of all that and I see the things I achieved from the moment I spoke up.

 “To all the girls and women who have suffered like I have, please, speak up! Don’t let anyone get away with it. Talk to someone you trust, who believes in you – and someone you know can make a difference. Let’s show society we don’t have to stay quiet.”

Read about Plan International's work to end violence against girls and women