Today is the first day I started to promote shewillsurvive.com as a resource for women and girls impacted by sexual abuse or violence. I’ve been working on this project for over a year and a half, but today is the day I finally started to say it out loud.
It’s important to me to share my inspiration for the project, so without further ado…
I was groomed and raped as a child. There, I said it.
Even now, 2 decades later, it’s sometimes difficult to admit or acknowledge that this awful thing that happened to me. Why don’t survivors speak out? Why don’t we report it? Why don’t we shout it at the top of our lungs? Because of the shame. The guilt. The societal and cultural pressures placed on women and girls.
I was lucky to be raised by encouraging parents who didn’t see my gender as a limitation , but as most girls being raised in ethnically Indian households, there were certain things (think: the awkward conversations) we didn’t talk about because no one talks about them. In turn, the community and culture had certain expectations – the unspoken things that girls shouldn’t do or say, rules about how girls should behave, who girls should and shouldn’t interact with, and so on. There are even limitations placed on girls who are menstruating or those who have miscarried – baseless discriminatory stigmas that have no merit but are enforced because ‘that’s what everyone does’ and few seem to dare to try and challenge the status quo – conformity reigns supreme. Despite being empowered by my parents at home, I was confused, to say the least.
So when I was groomed (by someone in the local Indian community), repeatedly abused and eventually raped, I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t tell anyone, and I didn’t for a very long time. I could have. But I didn’t. I was ashamed and didn’t know how to talk about what happened to me without feeling guilty or dirty. I was too embarrassed to tell my parents, my friends. I wasn’t comfortable speaking about what had happened to me, because things like my body, sexuality and ‘relationships’ or even just boys were things we didn’t really talk about. Even though they would have believed me and supported me, I was ashamed of what was done to me, angry with myself for ‘allowing it to happen’ (despite me clearly having no control or say in the matter), and the guilt of having done something which was never talked about; something that is sacred and must only be done after marriage and with one person. I barely even understood what had been taken from me, but I felt like dirty, damaged goods.
The first ‘person’ (well, mammal) I told? My cat. The shame stuck with me like a bad haircut for many many years. Compound that with growing up in a reasonably strict collective culture, where girls are not as highly revered as boys, where sex isn’t a topic to be discussed, where women are considered impure or dirty for menstruating and bodily changes aren’t a topic for discussion, and that shame magnifies.
I ended up becoming pretty distant. Always fine on the outside, broken on the inside. Never getting too close. I acted out, had trust issues, and really struggled with depression and anxiety. It took me years to even accept what had happened, and many more years to start my healing process. Even some of my closest friends are/were surprised when they find out what happened to me. “I never would have thought…”.
Keeping your trauma inside is isolating, harmful, and is basically a ticking time-bomb which leads to a massive implosion (or explosion). It’s detrimental to your health. Being abused or violated is bad enough. No one should have to conquer that mountain alone.
Fast forward to now and I have become a very different person to the young naïve girl I once was. That day changed everything. The road to recovery has been tough, but I have come a long way. Now I want to turn my pain into a force for change and help other people. Today, I am happy, healthy, and have all the love and support in the world from my darling little family and friends. I have my very own daughters, who are more precious to me than anything or anyone in the entire universe. They are the light of my life, and yet I am terrified to raise these two tiny people because the world has become a scary place, particularly for girls and women. I plan to tell my girls everything, the good and the bad, even the things I’m still not comfortable talking about. It’s not about my comfort. It’s about their safety.
I created this site because I want my daughters and every other girl and woman in the world to know that they are not alone. This repository of support resources for those impacted by sexual violence or abuse is my gift to every girl who feels like she wants to speak out but she doesn’t know how or to whom she can turn.
This site is step one. Step two is trying to make an impactful change so that no one ever feels like they can’t speak out, and to get people to start having awkward conversations, so that maybe less people will grow up to be abusers and more will grow up believing in treating others with respect so we can finally obtain true gender equality for everyone.
Support is out there, and even if you aren’t comfortable telling someone you know, there is always help and support available wherever you are. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
If you read this far, thank you.