Content warning: This story discusses sensitive subject matter about female genital mutilation.
Chanel Ayan is turning her childhood trauma into activism.
The Real Housewives of Dubai star is sharing her experience undergoing forced genital mutilation at age five in the hopes of raising awareness about the harmful practice she calls "torture and abuse."
Ayan, who is of Somali and Ethiopian descent, revealed she and her sister were both subjected to a female circumcision against their will so they would remain virgins until marriage—a practice that still happens in some parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
"I'm a survivor," Ayan told E! News exclusively after getting candid about the horrific event on the Bravo series' Aug. 17 episode. "I felt that I was utterly betrayed by my culture and my family. This is just a barbaric practice and it shouldn't be happening to young girls. It happened to me 35 years ago and I've never gotten over it."
The mutilation occurred when Ayan's aunt and grandmother brought her and her sister to a stranger's house and a man painfully "sewed" up their genitals.
"In my culture, it's done to keep women virgins," the fashion model explained. "Everybody's a virgin in my culture because of this. Because how are you going to have sex when you're sewn as a girl until you get married? It's a way to keep men satisfied."
"This is practiced in over 28 African countries, the Middle East, Syria, Yemen," she continued. "Even in America, I have cousins and family that still find ways to do it to the young girls behind the scenes, because you don't need a doctor. You just need someone who knows how to do it."
In addition to the physical pain it caused her throughout her adolescent and teenage years, the experience left long-lasting emotional scars.
"I think the trauma is something that I will live with for the rest of my life," Ayan said. "This is why I want to talk about it, because I honestly don't want this to happen to anyone because I know exactly how it feels and it's not good. A lot of girls get depressed, hormones are imbalanced, a lot of young girls die."
Ayan says this is "the first time most of my friends and family will actually see that I'm talking about" the traumatic experience.
"We don't share things like this, it's kind of kept quiet in our families," Ayan explained. "I just feel like after opening [up about] it, I was taking my power away from the people that did this to me that I trusted the most because I was five years old and I did not know what was happening to me. I didn't even know what was going on. I just want to bring awareness to it as much as possible because it's still happening 35 years later. Every 11 minutes it's happening to some little girl that is as confused as me."
The Bravo star is even starting her own makeup line, Ayan Beauty, to raise proceeds to help put an end to this harmful practice.
"As long as I use my platform to bring awareness to stop this—if I can save 20 girls, 100 girls, 500 girls, I feel like that's the purpose I have," the RHODubai star said. "It's child abuse. And a lot of girls just die for no reason."
"We're in 2022 and it's still happening now," Ayan concluded. "It's crazy. It's insane."
For more information on female genital mutilation and how to stop it, visit the World Health Organization's official website for resources.
The Real Housewives of Dubai airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Bravo.
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