Last year, when the Me Too movement began to gain momentum – a beacon of hope for all those who had nothing except mental scars as some form of proof of what they’d been through – I remember thinking, “One day I’ll share my story.”
I did, of course, share it, but I didn’t put my name on it. What if my parents read it? What if my siblings came across it? What if my friends saw it and sent it back to me, asking questions? What would I say or do in that situation?
The shame and guilt associated with being sexually assaulted, between the ages of 8 and 23, has not dissipated today, at 24.
I find myself choking on my own words when I have to admit what happened. I brush the nightmarish flashbacks out of my mind, because, if I’m being honest – what can I do? It’s not like I have proof. And when you’re a woman in Pakistan, possessing proof is all that matters (though, at times, even that doesn’t hold a candle, if you’re not the “right kind of woman”).
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Women have always been told to let go of things, to leave it be, that nothing can be done. But the truth is, there is so much to be done. So many women deal with sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and are silent about it. This is my way of taking a stand and showing women they aren’t alone.
This need for proof – this unwavering belief that my words mean nothing without solid evidence, is so ingrained in my mind that I choose, often, to try to forget about what happened.
I fear to say it out loud – that makes it too real. I fear to talk to my therapist about it because that would mean unpacking things I’ve tried to lay to rest for years. I fear to acknowledge it at times because then, the memories come flooding back.
In the realm of my mind, I fight a battle, with my own self torn apart on both sides. Thus far, neither side has won.
Sometimes, I think about all the ways I can potentially be blamed. It’s safer to be prepared for the onslaught of attacks, should I choose to share my story, instead of being taken by surprise.
What was I wearing? Was I alone? Was I asking for it? Because instead of dealing with my pain, instead of receiving empathy or support, these are the questions I will have to answer. It will be I, not my assailant, who will be held on trial repeatedly, trying to prove my innocence.
At other times, I think about how things would have been different if I knew that what was happening at the time was wrong. How would my life be better if my panic, confusion and lack of consent hadn’t fallen on deaf ears?
Most days, I yearn for some sort of restart button to drop from the sky, but, even then, would my story have been any different?
According to Zia Ahmed Awan, the founder of Madadgar National Helpline 1098 and the national commissioner for children, 70% of Pakistani women will have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime in close quarters, whereas 93% of Pakistani women will have experienced some form of sexual violence in public spaces.
Every year, Pakistan makes it to some list or the other that boasts about how it’s one of the worst places for women to reside in. Every day, we read about the plight of women in this country, which is the only home many of us will ever have.
Yet, we stomp on the neck of this movement, choosing to believe anyone and everyone but the victim. We believe what we want. We believe that harassment, assault, and rape are the victim’s fault. We only care when the victim is dead. Sometimes, not even then.
Before a survivor comes forward with their harrowing tale, a mob of naysayers will have already gathered to break their spirit. We believe perpetrators of these acts because they’re from among us – people we know, live with, have broken bread with, and have confided in. We all know the stories – we just never empathize with the victim’s trauma.
Because, what if we did show a shred of empathy?
What if a perpetrator suffers? What if it sets an example for all those who have been continuously trying to wiggle out of their wrongdoings through technicalities, false narratives and the power they possess? What if a victim actually gets justice? How, then, will perpetrators hide behind their contacts and positions of authority, knowing that they may be next?
What if we disturb the status quo?
More often than not, I see people maligning the movement. We can lie to ourselves and say that the movement has found its footing, but that’s not the general sentiment, is it?
A friend once mentioned that we all exist in echo chambers, where our narrative and our belief system is the one that’s resoundingly loud. But if this echo chamber exists for the left, it also exists for the right.
Within that chamber, every man is innocent until proven guilty. Within that chamber, it is believed that women lie for attention. Within that chamber, the countless reported incidents of the assault and murder of men, women and trans individuals mean nothing – all that matters is that one incident which can be utilized to bring down the entire movement.
It’s harrowing how a man’s death, too, instead of being mourned, is being used as a tool to put down a movement that has barely taken flight. While the conversation around false accusations is important and must absolutely take place, it can’t trample upon the movement, which is still struggling to find its feet.
Yet, the attacks continue, because those chambers continue to exist. It seems like a war is on the horizon, perhaps limited to social media, perhaps trickling into the physical world in the form of marches – but it seems inevitable. Perpetrators have been waging this war long enough. Now, survivors are gearing up to fight back.
Anger and frustration are raging inside survivors. Who do we turn to? The legal system won’t be of any aid, and we’ve seen that time and again. Our social circles can offer comfort, but from where do we seek out justice?
How do I conjure up proof, when it only resides at the back of my mind, playing over and over again each night I try to fall asleep, like a haunting lullaby? It’s at times like these when I want to yell from rooftops.
Me too, at 8, when I was practicing recitation. Me too, at 12, when I lay asleep on my bed while we had visitors, not knowing that you can’t be safe within your own home. Me too, at 15, when I interned at a reputable organization, only to be incessantly harassed by men who were much older. Me too, at 18, when I was with my father at an event, where he turned his back for a mere five minutes. Me too, at 23, repeatedly, when I was with “friends.”
But, without proof, does anyone care?
I Suffered Sexual Abuse Since I Was 6, I Couldn’t Speak Up Earlier Because I Was Told It Was My Fault
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