When I was about 7 or 8, my cousin’s uncle walked into a room full of kids, shoving alcohol down our throats forcefully. I remember thinking that my will to not drink at that point in time was so strong that it could fight off a grown, drunk man.
I was wrong.
In his drunken stupor, he got angry, and continued to pour more alcohol down my throat than anyone else had received. The rest remains a blur. The next thing I remember is being outside, uncomfortably getting into the car, as this man “playfully” smacked my rear, laughing while doing so.
I didn’t think it was my fault then. But no one saw how it was his fault either.
At age 9, I woke up to my male cousin trying to undress me as I lay asleep. At 15, it was an engaged co-worker who kept touching me inappropriately, asking me all sorts of perverted questions. We had a ten year age difference. At 18, it was my father’s friend at a public event – his wife just a little distance away – who paired each drunken “MashAllah” he uttered with several unwanted kisses.
I want to take a break here from the brief recollection – simply to separate these instances from the ones that are about to follow. Up to this point, I thoroughly believed it wasn’t my fault. I thoroughly believed I wasn’t “asking for it.” I was a kid, minding my own damn business. And for that, I will always be bitter towards the men who did what they did.
At 22, I started drinking and smoking after the death of a loved one.
It wasn’t a way to cope. It was just something I had waved off long enough. Bad shit would happen regardless, right? And I was good at holding my liquor. However, I wasn’t happy with the way things were. Perhaps, it was my mother’s voice in my head, and her moral compass, that would steer me away from indulging way too often. At 23, I wish I had listened.
Three instances of sexual assault occurred – two of which involved me drinking, but not being drunk. I say that because it’s just a bit too easy to blame me for this; to say that I asked for it because I wasn’t in control. I was. 2 out of 3 times, I was.
It didn’t matter. For the longest time, I blamed myself anyway. I made a list of everything I did wrong. It went something like this:
You stupid slut, you drank
- Wore tight jeans
- Passed out one time
Who the fuck passes out, why weren’t you careful?
- Gave the wrong people the benefit of the doubt
I blamed myself for what happened. For a good 3-4 months, I continued to blame myself. It HAD to be my fault, right? Look at the evidence. I was drinking, which, unfortunately, in our society, equates to having a loose character. I was wearing tight clothes, which, again, in our society, equates to being morally lax. I was with men, which is basically a hazard anyway, so what the fuck was I thinking, right?
And with this constantly racing through my mind, I rambled abuses in all my therapy sessions. I cursed myself for not knowing better, for letting myself down, for letting my body be violated.
See, it’s different when you read about cases where women get raped and assaulted. You sympathize with them, you show them more empathy than you could to yourself, because you never think you’ll be in that position. You laud them for their bravery, applaud them for raising their voices, but you never come to terms with the fact that if it was you in that spot, you could perhaps never do the same.
I didn’t extend any sympathy or empathy to myself. I just felt angry. There was this sense of “what now?” What was I to do with all that information, all those memories?
Slowly, my therapist made me see that I wasn’t to blame. I wasn’t “asking for it”
Not really. I was drinking, yes. But I wasn’t asking for favors, for attention, for anything. I was wearing clothes that our society would frown upon. But I wasn’t wearing a neon sign that asked for some asshole I barely knew to come take advantage of my body.
I was not to blame. And it still takes time on some really terrible days for this to sink in, but I did not ask for it.
Do I expect people to understand? Fuck no. It took me a while to understand – I was hell bent on victim-blaming myself. And trust me, that’s out of the ordinary, because I do consider myself to be a feminist and I’m ALL about empowerment. But if it took me months to come to terms with that, I don’t expect others to get it straight off the bat. And I’m not making a case for myself here. I’m just trying to make a point.
I didn’t ask for it at 7. I didn’t ask for it throughout ages 9 to 18. And I sure as hell didn’t ask for it at 23. Time passed, the nature of the assault changed, but what remained the same was that it was assault and I am not to blame for any of it.
I smoke, I drink, I wear clothes that would have the moral police at my throat and I cuss like a sailor – but I do not, at any point, ask for my body to be violated. It’s easy to blame the girl. Hell, it’s the cowards way out. Let’s wrap it up, label the girl a whore and call it a day. Why debate?
Fine, I’ll bite. But what about 93% of Pakistan’s female population that experiences sexual violence?
Will you lump them into the same category as me? Because I constitute a very, very small minority within Pakistan. So what’s your explanation for the rest?
Sexual violence has no if’s, and’s or but’s. It is what it is. A victim is a victim.
Why then, have we cultivated this toxic mindset where we encourage victims to be blamed, shunning them into shadows of silence? And why do our victims have to look a certain way, act a certain way and have core moral values that align with society’s extremely messed up perspective?
How is the woman in a mini-skirt any less of a victim than a woman in a shalwar kurta?
How is a prostitute in a brothel, taken advantage of without her consent, any less of a victim than, say, a renowned, respectable female doctor who everyone believes is the beacon of righteousness?
I’m not here to give you a lecture on how important #MeToo is. In fact, I’m not here to preach anything. I’m here for the girls, the women, the children who are still blaming themselves for what happened to them. You did nothing wrong. You are not to blame. And, most importantly, you are more than your suffering, more than your assault. It’ll take you time to come around to this idea. Lord knows there are still days when I beat myself up over what happened. And it’s on those days where you have to hold yourself tight and remind yourself that you’re the victim – nay, the survivor – who is much, much more than what you’ve been through.
I understand how it’ll take time for the scars to fade. It’s only been a couple of months, and the anger has not subsided. However, this anger fuels my need to be there for anyone going through the same. I may quiver while raising my voice for myself right now, but I hope to get to a point where I am not only fiercely vocal, but am also able to hold every survivor’s hand as I walk them through the cloud of confusion and chaos that kept me in darkness for the longest time.
It may not be today. It may not be tomorrow. But I’ll get there. And when you – whoever you are, reading this, feeling the same way I did – need someone to get you through this, I hope there is some way I can be there as your strength, turning to you as I hold your hand to say, “Me too, but I promise: their time’s up.”
This Australian Woman Came To Find Love In Pakistan, But Was Sexually Assaulted And Kept As A Prisoner
I Suffered Sexual Abuse Since I Was 6, I Couldn’t Speak Up Earlier Because I Was Told It Was My Fault
Cover image via addictionhope.com