Trigger warning: sexual abuse
You never forget the scent of the man who pushes you down and forces his way inside you. The memory of you trying to scream, but being unable to because your own bile and spit choked you, is etched clearly in your mind. You never forget the way you feel – frightened and fearful when you’re cornered, numb when you’re violated and unclean when it’s over. More than anything, you never forget feeling desperate for help, but immensely helpless, all at the same time.
There are many ways in which sexual abuse leaves behind scars that do not heal and memories that are fuel for your nightmares.
One would think that the misery that rape, or any form of sexual assault brings alongside, would be contained within the walls that witnessed your wails. And it is – if you never speak up. But if you do, you leave behind a blazing trail of misery wherever you go.
“Kya pehna tha tumne?”
“Kiske saath thi?”
“Akeli ghoom rahi thi? Aisa toh hona hi tha.”
This misery stems from ridicule and humiliating questions, aimed solely at you. Even though you seek an environment in which you can begin to try to heal, all you’re left doing is trying to prove that you are not to blame.
Meher,* a 21-year- old medical student, recounts her encounter with a cousin who was “teaching her a lesson” for having a boyfriend
“I was in a relationship with a guy I had met when I was 15. We had been dating for about a year when my cousin found our conversation on my phone. He threatened to tell my parents. I panicked, because I honestly did not know how they would react. My cousin took advantage of that, pinned me down and told me that whores like me deserve to be ‘straightened out’ by men like him. I couldn’t tell anyone. What would I have said and who would have believed me? Everyone loved him. They still do. And I was the girl breaking the rules. I did the math and stayed silent.”
Sairah,* a 22-year-old medical student, thinks back to when she was sexually assaulted by her taaya
“I remember being at my aunt’s house,” she recalls, wringing her fingers nervously. “It was a pretty big house. I was watching a movie and my taaya walked in. He smelled of alcohol. I froze as he turned the TV off, tipped my head back and poured alcohol down my throat. The pungent smell of sweat mixed with alcohol nauseates me to this day. I ran to my aunt’s room afterwards and told her what happened. She said that I shouldn’t have been alone in a room and I shouldn’t have been wearing shorts. She also told me that I should never talk about it. I was 11.”
Blaming the victim, questioning the victim’s morals and convictions and asking irrelevant questions is too easy. When it comes to victims of rape, molestation or any form of harassment, our minds automatically wander to whether or not they were dressed in a way society deems decent. We start looking for ways to point out how the victim was asking for it.
Maria,* a 22-year-old business student mentions how she was dressed in a way society deems decent, but was met with the same fate on more than one occasion.
“The first time it happened, I was draped in a huge chaddar over my shalwaar kameez. We were expected to dress decently when we stayed over at other people’s houses. I was given a room to myself, where my khalu slipped in at night. He covered my mouth, told me it would only hurt for a while and left promptly once it was over. I refused to go to his place after that. So he would come visit. When my parents left me alone with him, despite my constant wailing, he forced himself on me again. I was still dressed decently. I was also only a child.
How had I been asking for it on either of those two occasions?”
These experiences negate the idea that what you wear, how you conduct yourself and who you’re with will somehow save you from sexual predators.
Evidently, what you wear does not affect the mind of a predator. Given that most cases of sexual abuse take place where the perpetrator is someone the victim knows or is related to, clearly who you’re with does not matter either. There are no safety nets when it comes to sexual abuse.
The idea that the victim is to blame in any scenario whatsoever is ridiculous. No one asks to have the most basic right to their body stripped off of them in this traumatizing manner. No one asks to be violated.
Perhaps, instead of sweeping incidents of rape, molestation and harassment under the carpet, we should name the perpetrators and start holding them responsible.
As long as we encourage the mindset where women, children and men are told to stay silent or face vilification in the face of sexual abuse, we allow sexual predators a free pass. We hand them the ability to walk away from the damage and trauma they inflict. We foster an environment where they feel untouchable and invincible. Where we tell the victims that they will bring dishonor to their names by owning up to the incident, perhaps we should should emphasize on the fact that there is no greater dishonor than when you violate someone physically and mentally. Perhaps, it’s time we stop making the victims feel like absolute filth, when the only filth that truly exists is within the minds of sexual predators and the society that enables them to carry out their heinous acts under the dark cover of silence.
*Names have been changed to protect identities of those who disclosed their encounters.
Cover image via: iol.co.za