For all the conversations, panels and education movements we have on sexual violence and harassment, there has been the persistent perpetuation of silence where victim stories are concerned. Yes, we do have those who, according to one friend, become poster-women for abuse but while this is commendable, too often these people are removed from the larger society which they are trying to change. Then there are those who speak out and are not believed. Then, there are those who speak out and are believed but are expected to carry on as if nothing is wrong. All this feeds into the belief most victims of sexual abuse and harassment have that it was somehow their fault and see’s feelings of loneliness and depression consume them, particularly if (and it is mostly the case) the person was close to them. That is why I particularly love the #lifeinleggings movement because while it can be seen as just another hashtag, I love that it is helping women to come forward and share their own stories. It is an important movement that we need to see more of.
Its a movement I need to see more of because like many victims of sexual abuse and harassment, it makes me feel as if I am not alone and I have no reason to be ashamed because it is never our fault. The first time I had a hint that my father was sexually abusive was when I was 12. One of my cousins in a letter to my aunt told her that when she was younger my father used to come into her room at nights and touch her inappropriately. I confided the details of the letter to another cousin, letting bare my anger at what I presumed to be a lie. It was not long before I forgot the letter and the way I viewed my father and the unwarranted love I had for him had still not changed. It was only the morning after he had tried to have sex with me when I was 14, stopping touching me only after I started crying did I remember the letter and realised how I was complicit in the culture of silencing victims.
The relationship with my father evaporated after that. While he never did it again, every time he was close by I would feel dirty, every time he looked at me, I felt violated and every time I told someone I was made to feel as if it wasn’t that bad of an experience because “he didn’t really do anything.” One parthner had would even use it against me when he was annoyed with me.So it did not matter to them that I was disgusted by his mere presence, I would still be forced to see him and occasionally sleep in the same house with him because the ones who knew (not a lot of persons did know and only two persons in my family knew) did not think what I went through is concerned real sexual abuse. While I know that there are those who have had far worse experiences, when we begin to trivialise and normalise rape and sexual harassment what we are effectively doing is lining up potential victims for sexual abusers because they know that they will be protected. I don’t think a lot of people understand how these incidents can break little boys and girls. I have since forgiven my father, not for him, but for me but even in my forgiveness, I still feel uncomfortable when I’m in the same room with him, I still feel unsafe.
I have long since stopped talking about it but I have realised that my silence also see’s many persons trying to go through it alone when what we need is conversation and action. I want to be a part of the movement to help break the silence but in all this we should be mindful that it is not our place to force anyone to speak about their experiences but rather to let them know that they are not alone. We are here and we stand with you. #lifeinleggings