I had run through the streets of the Old City of Yemen's capital. Fla' />

Eight people drowned in slums on the outskirts of Sana'a the day I met her.

I had run through the streets of the Old City of Yemen's capital. Flashes of lightning lit up the mud-brick buildings, looming eight stories and higher above the narrow, winding streets.

I reached the hotel and hurried to meet Safa: a 25-year-old Yemeni woman and survivor of childhood sexual abuse. We waited for the horrendous rain to pass and then left to walk through the Old City.

As a Westerner walking alone in the Old City, the darker aspects of Yemeni society are invisible. However, as Safa and I walked, the facade vanished. Men stared at her through narrowed eyes. Others told her she was not a Muslim. One man stood in front of her and told her she had brought shame to her family.

A group of men lounging on the side of the street, cheeks bloated with the mild narcotic leaf qat, asked Safa why she liked bedding a foreigner: they were proper Yemenis, she could have them instead.

As we walked, Safa talked about her former employer. He had asked her to have sex with him the previous week, saying they could get married secretly if it made her more comfortable. She had walked out of the office and he had since refused to pay her.

We arrived at a different hotel and took the elevator to the rooftop cafe.

Safa had told me several days earlier that she had been raped as a child. I had persuaded her to talk to me, on condition of anonymity, after we discussed the case of a woman who had found her brother-in-law undressing her 7-year-old daughter.

We sat above the city, veiled women walking in the streets below, and Safa began talking.

When she was 6 years old, her cousin had watched her playing with her younger cousins at the family's house. She said that she remembered feeling his eyes on her, that he had looked at her in a "very bad way". The call to prayer started and her mother asked her cousin to help Safa get ready.

He took her to her bedroom. He pushed her on to her bed and stuffed clothes into her mouth. Safa said she tried to scream but no one could hear her. He pulled her dress up and sexually assaulted her.

"He tied clothes around my mouth. I could feel his fingers doing things to me. When he finished, he told me to go to pray."

The cousin raped Safa from age 6 to when she was 14. His brother began sexually assaulting her a few weeks after the first assault. Her uncle, aged 33, twice raped her in her bedroom.

For a period of eight years, Safa was sexually assaulted up to three times each week by family members.

"Maybe one month ago, I told my aunt that they had done these things to me. She told me that was very bad so I should tell my father." However, one of her cousins was "a very good person", so she was only allowed to tell her father about the other.

"It hurts me so much because they don't care about me, but they care about the person who did it."

In Yemen, men wield total power in government and society. In a 2009 report, Amnesty International argued that Yemeni women faced widespread discrimination. The report addressed restrictions placed on women's movements, domestic violence, forced and early marriage - including the case of a girl married at the age of 8, honour killings and laws relating to zina (immoral behaviour) in which, predominantly, male enforcement bodies decided what constituted an immoral act.

Amnesty International argued that Article 232 of the Penal Code reinforced a woman's inferior status: If a husband caught his wife committing adultery and killed her - an honour killing - he would receive a maximum prison sentence of one year, or a fine.

Likewise, attempts to legislate against early marriage have met fierce resistance. In a landmark case, 8-year-old Nojoud Nasser was married to a 30-year-old man by her father. Nasser took herself off to a judge and argued for divorce. She succeeded in having the marriage annulled despite it having been (forcibly) consummated.

The hardline attitudes are why Safa said she was afraid to approach any government organisations and she would not report the assaults to the police.

"I am not virgin. If I go to the police they will see me as a woman they can have sex with. It's the same with the organisations."

According to an unpublished 2008 study, overseen by Unicef, of university students at four Yemeni universities, 30 per cent of students had been physically sexually abused as minors while more than half had been sexually abused in some way.

Overwhelmingly, sexual abuse took place in victims' homes: 37 per cent of the incidents occurred in the home while 18 per cent of assaults took place in neighbours' homes.

A week after I interviewed Safa, National Security gave me 72 hours to leave Yemen.

Safa came to my apartment to say goodbye. She brought a cake. We were eating it when we heard the first screams from the street. I looked out the window and knew the situation was bad. There were about 50 men gathered below, holding stones or sticks.

I ran downstairs and opened the large gate. Some local boys had seen Safa enter my apartment and had informed the neighbours. The assumption was that she was having sex and making pornography.

I told the crowd that she was a friend who had come to say goodbye as I was leaving Yemen. One man began screaming at me to bring her out. Her actions were "haram" - she had violated Quranic imperatives. He said that the police were coming. I ran upstairs. Safa was shaking and saying "no" over and over. "They will kill me," she said.

We went downstairs. The landlord was waiting. He told us that we had to get to a taxi. He opened the gate and let us out. I took her hand and told her to stay close to me. We pushed out into the crowd.

Safa began crying. Two men grabbed her arms and started pulling her away through the crowd. They were yelling: "Sharmoota" (bitch: used to refer to a woman who has had sex outside of marriage).

Teenage boys began throwing rubbish. Men were pulling at her hijab and veil. But suddenly it stopped. They let us walk through.

By now, everyone on the street had come out to see what was happening. Safa walked past the veiled women glaring at her. Past the storekeepers shaking their heads. Past the men standing, watching silently with their children.

A child ran up to Safa and yelled, "f*** you", his face twisted by a hate which he did not understand.

Safa wept as she walked, her head hung in shame.

Glen Johnson is a New Zealand freelance journalist. At the time of publication Safa (a pseudonym) was safe.