Sandra Greenland thought her teenage years would be filled with joy and memorable moments, but instead she endured various types of abuse which triggered periods of homelessness and low self-esteem.
But the 43-year-old said her life started to improve after seeking help from the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL) in 2018.
Greenland was among several survivors of gender-based violence who were present at the JASL silent protest held in recognition of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women last Friday.
"In 2018 I was in Half-Way-Tree selling household items and I realised JASL was having an event and I was very curious and began asking questions. When I met with them and started sharing my problems, they introduced me to their counselling sessions and other interventions," she told the Jamaica Observer during the protest held at the nearby transport centre.
She said at age 13 she started to experience physical abuse from her mother and sexual abuse from the brother of her mother's partner.
"That's when the running away started and I was homeless for a while too. I tried to find my father who was living in Kitson Town, St Catherine, but he refused me and my mom came for me and took me back home. Then the abuse got worse," she said, noting that she later understood that the brother of her mother's partner was suffering from mental issues. "It started affecting me mentally and emotionally and so I became this violent, promiscuous, and disobedient child," she said.
Greenland recalled a tough experience in which she had to run away from her former partner's home as he started to abuse her physically after living with him in Homestead, Spanish Town.
"I was heavily used, violated, and I was afraid to reach out due to fear. I can remember an incident when I had my second son, living in Homestead at the time doing my vending and being an exotic dancer and I met this guy from March Pen Road. At first he was a nice, sweet guy, and I wanted to leave the situation at Homestead so he invited me to come and live with him, which I did. But it was my worst nightmare," she said.
"It started from little pinches, to little punches, then big pinches and big punches. I couldn't go out, couldn't speak up because I was being threatened, and then I realised that if I have to go to the shop or anything, I was being watched. So I became his personal puppet. In order to escape that I had to run away again," she added.
"He would even beat me every chance he gets. Even at one point I was beaten until I was unconscious. I couldn't take it anymore."
The mother of seven said, even though she has survived the different instances of abuse, she is not "100 per cent okay, but steadily on her journey to recovery".
"After realising the reality of what abuse is and what violence is, I started doing my research, especially after meeting the team at JASL, and I started to understand what it meant, and now I get to realise that most of these persons who had sexually abused me, violated me, are also victims themselves," she said.
Now attending Distinction College where she studies food preparation while vending to make ends meet, Greenland is encouraging survivors of gender-based violence to reach out for help.
"It doesn't matter who you are, where you are from, what you are going through, Jehovah is alive and there is help out there, and in same way I got help, you can also get help, don't be afraid. I know it is hard sometime but just reach out," she advised.