The story of Sameena: from running for sexual violence, to ultra running champion.
We met with power lady Sameena van der Mijden, Dutch ultra run champion on the 100km (2018), to learn more about her life, how she was forced into prostitution, but who never let her past define her future. (Trigger warning: sexual violence)
Who are you?
My name is Sameena van der Mijden. I work as a nurse and recently started my own consulting business. But the most important thing in my life is my sport: ultrarunning. I train hard every day, to get the best out of myself. In daily life and in the sport.
You have had an experience with sexual violence. Do you want to share what happened?
At the time I was 18 years old I experienced some hard times in my life. There was a lot of violence at home. My brother and mother were fighting every day. At that time I didn’t want to be at home. One day my mom was arrested by the police and was secured at the police station for two days. My younger brother was brought to foster care but I couldn’t because at the age of 18 I was considered an adult. So I left home for a couple of months. I slept on the streets, or stayed at my friends’ places. It were turbulent times.
In that period of my life I was desperately looking for ‘a normal life’. At work I met someone and we started dating. However, he had very different intentions with me. He tried to control my life. He wanted to know where and with whom I spent my time. He told me he was 23 years old but later I found out he was actually 32. Even though he treated me badly, he provided me with a place where I could live and some sort of stability in my life. After two months he became more aggressive. He became more physical and started hitting me, but always made up. It was hard for me to stand up at him. With the arrest of my mother for domestic violence and without having a father figure, it felt like I had no other place to go to.
One night he invited two of his friends. I was raped by him and his friends while they filmed me. Afterwards, he used that video to blackmail me. He threatened to put the video online whenever I did not follow his instructions. That is how he forced me into prostitution for two years.
“He wrote his name on my body with a knife.”
How did you escape this horrible situation?
My safety was really at stake. He even used a knife to write his name on my body. He said: “so now others can see that you are mine.” It was really scary and I knew I had to get away. I was thinking what do I need most and concluded that I needed a safe house. So I went looking and found a student house. In the end, it was the best choice I’ve ever made.
In the student house I was just Sameena. Nobody knew my story as a survivor of sexual violence. I had people around me living a structured life: going to their jobs, school, meeting with friends. After a while I was like: so this is normal. I want this for myself.
“I had no money, only a backpack with some clothes. One day I just started running“
What was the impact on your life and how did you move on?
I had to take care of myself from an early age and expressing my feelings was just something I never did, or learned. But of course I was dealing with my emotions about everything that happened. All that anger and fear. I needed a way to get rid of that. I had no money. Only one backpack with clothes. One day I just started running.
I guess I was looking for a way to heal. To become a stronger person than I was. At the time, my body was weak because of all of the violence, the abuse and drugs. I neglected my body for years and my condition was really bad. I started running every day. Same time. Same routine. Each day I became a little better. I started feeling stronger. It gave me confidence and made me take better care of myself.
Eventually you became Dutch ultra run champion in 2018. Was that achievements important to you?
I think the most beautiful thing in sports is the fact that it brings people together. Of course I am proud of my achievements, but honestly, titles are not that important. I learned more from the journey of becoming a better version of myself. Humble, kind and with an open mind. That is the best thing life can give you.
What do you want to say to other survivors who read this?
You’re not alone! You have nothing to be ashamed about! Your story does not determine your life. Find someone to talk to and do things where you can express your emotions. By playing sport, or painting, or just whatever works for you.
How can we support survivors?
Just like me, many survivors of sexual violence feel ashamed of what happened and therefore hardly ever share their story. However, I can tell from experience that sharing is very important. It helps you to deal with your emotions and eventually to move on. So ask yourself: what would you need if it happened to you? One important thing: never judge or blame. Just listen and give them the feeling it’s not their own fault.
Also come back to the topic sometimes. Ask how he/she is doing now or refer to the conversation you had earlier. As a survivor you don’t always want to take the initiative because you are afraid to bother others with your issues. When a friend comes back to it, it really shows that he/she cares about you.
“We must keep sharing our stories about sexual violence, so we can better prevent it in the future.”
You raised an incredible €42.131 for survivors during a 100km ultrarun for Serious Request. What was your motivation?
I am touched by people who have less, who are considered ‘lost’ by society. You know, life can be unforgiving. By letting these people know: I see you, I hear you, I hope it can light a spark so they can fight their own demons.
It was really great to be part of the Serious Request team and together we raised a total of 1.4 million Euros for survivors of human trafficking. However, in the end it’s not about the money. It is about sharing stories and making people aware that sexual violence and human trafficking still happens in today’s world. I believe it will help us in finding ways to prevent it in the future.
You also started your own business and work as a consultant on human trafficking right?
When I escaped my world of forced prostitution I was looking for information and people who had been through the same. But there was so little available.
I started meeting with other professionals who deal with human trafficking, like police officers, judges, lawyers, and counselors. With my perspective I bring something valuable to the table. I am now enrolled in an additional education program ‘Combating Human Trafficking’ (post-HBO), so I combine my personal experiences with theoretical knowledge.
Nice new tattoo. What does it mean?
Thanks! It’s one of my latest tattoos and it stands for Human Rights. People are tattooed worldwide with one letter from the declaration of Human Rights. I have the letter P in my neck. The first letter of the word protection.
Do you wear the invi bracelet also for protection?
Yes I do. It’s a strong product and it gives me just that little bit extra confidence. Especially when I run in the forest or work night shifts.
Besides the functionalities, it’s a wonderful product to start the conversation about sexual violence.
What is your next big thing?
The ultimate ultra: the Spartathlon of 246 km in 36 hours. I know it is crazy, but I believe you can do everything with the right mindset.
Regarding my work, I try to develop myself as much I can. Hopefully this allows me to make life a little easier for people who went through a similar experience like I did.