In the wake of the Kavanaugh scandal, a woman journalist recalls the sexual assaults that have plagued her lifetime and explains why she didn’t report
[Content warning] describes sexual assault
When I was 7 years old I was molested on a train in India.
It was one of those trips diaspora kids will be familiar with, that ‘holiday’ to visit family ‘back home’, in our case it involved visiting two different parts of the country to visit both sets of grandparents, an overnight sleeper train the only viable form of transport available.
It’s still vivid in my mind, the biting mosquitos, the dark carriage, the cluttering and clanking of wheels against rail tracks; that echoic memory now resembles the sensation of having pieces of metal being bashed together inside my brain.
I didn’t tell anyone.
How to articulate it?
I could not speak and neither could my body.
The body which just weeks before had been running around the playground. The same body carrying a scar on its left knee from falling over while roller skating in the garden. The same body which had leaned in to say goodbye to grandparents who had held it when it first arrived in the world.
In his treatise Èmile, or on Education, philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote ‘A sense of shame proceeds from the knowledge of evil, and how can children who neither have, nor ought to have this knowledge, know its effects? Real innocence can never be ashamed.’
So there I was, acquainted with evil, who left behind imprints of shame upon my very being.
For centuries scholars and pundits have been debating and ruing the ‘loss childhood innocence’, everything being blamed from social change to pop culture to a change in parenting styles to social media.
What about the theft of childhood innocence?
Years later during High School, I was asked to write an essay on my fears and phobias, I remember the exact moment where I put pen to paper and wrote; ‘There are two things I fear, enclosed spaces and men.’
This has not changed.
I spent most of my teenage and university years hiding, it was an attempt at trying to not become a victim of what film critic Laura Mulvey calls ‘the male gaze’.
In her essay ‘Visual Pleasures and Narrative Cinema’, Mulvey states that women in cinema are depicted in a way to please the male viewer, she writes ‘In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to the female form which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role, women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness.’
I did not want to be looked at, I did not want to be an object of fantasy and I did not want to be the victim of some form of mild scopophilia.
My attempts were a failure, because no matter how baggy my jumper was, or that I crossed the road every time I saw a group of men, that I stood at the other end of the tube platform and that I always looked down when in public, I was reminded day in day out that being treated as a commodity for male consumption was simply a way of life for women.
Being cat-called at the age of 13 in Harrow, having men stare and make comments as I walked through Meena Bazaar in Dubai aged 14, having an old man press himself up against me on Bus Number 18 when I was 16, strangers grabbing my bum at the Student Union in university; these experiences are not even a snapshot.
In my early twenties, something changed; I obtained an internship at a large organisation, I no longer wanted to hide, the prospect of career success, of making it, became the armour I donned.
At work, I was asked to retrieve some documents from the archive in the basement. A male colleague was in the room and the next thing I knew I was pinned up against the wall, my skirt pulled up, his mouth pressed up against mine.
Later I walked back up to my office, I told my supervisor and she said ‘With the way you dress and the length of that skirt everyone will just blame you, also did he actually get inside of you?’
Once again I became the victim of theft. This time it was not my innocence, it was my sense of worth.
My body again unable to speak. Yet my clothing had held a conversation, had issued an invitation, Friday, basement, 11am, devour me.
That weekend I showered every hour, convinced I was trying to scrub him off me, the reality was I was trying to scrub me off me.
Months later I left the country, a new job abroad.
I found I could run away from people and places, but how to outrun my own body? How to erase memory?
In the film ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ the two lead characters played by Kate Winslet and Jim Carey undergo a procedure to have memories of each other erased following their break up.
This is what I longed for.
The triggers brought upon by some form of haptic memory meant the sensation of touch, even that from loved ones, became unendurable.
I dug deep into my mind, trying to bury those memories, my brain a graveyard, Rest in Peace.
Yet again, years later on another trip abroad, the resurrection would take place.
It was my final night before flying home, a male friend came to say goodbye.
Sat in front of the TV he leaned over and kissed me, after a minute I stopped him and told him to leave.
He did not stop.
I shouted, I struggled.
He did not stop.
In her poem ‘The Letter Your Mother Couldn’t Write’ Warsan Shire writes ‘and by the time they’ve finished, you will be bloody and sore, teeth marks on your thighs, your torso a burnt house of worship’
Since the beginning of time we have witnessed humans destroy what they worship, this too was no different.
Theft once more. My sense of self gone.
I did not report it.
Male entitlement is like a stalker, it will find different ways to follow you, but follow you it will.
As I opted for a career change I was introduced via email to someone well-known and successful in the field I wanted to work in, he offered to meet with me for lunch to discuss further.
Half an hour into lunch he began to make suggestive comments, these became more and more explicit.
Amid all this, there were promises of sending me information regarding work opportunities, introducing me to people that could potentially point me in the right direction and so on.
Yet the innuendos kept coming.
I wanted to leave, but I was scared.
Scared to make a scene, scared to be perceived as a ‘drama queen.’
Finally, I made an excuse saying I had to leave early, startled he said ‘So you aren’t coming back with me to the hotel? I don’t even get a blow job for my time? I should go on twitter and tell the world that you are such a damn cock-tease.’
I sat silently, paid my half off the bill and walked out amid his rebuking me for ‘wasting his time.’
Needless to say, any help which was promised was never given; this was to be a transaction you see, I demand you supply.
The word of a man is a powerful, powerful commodity, its value influenced by his class, race, and status and so on.
To speak up in the face of his denial was like going to war and I was already wounded.
Another work related incident would occur when the owner of a magazine I had written for met with me. I was interviewing him for a piece and mid-interview he calmly stated ‘You must be a firecracker in bed, I would love to find out tonight.’
I ended the interview and left, my rejecting his hope to test out his hypothesis meaning that four years on, I am still owed a large amount of money by that publication.
There have been more experiences like this that have seen career opportunities swiftly taken away.
My body viewed as currency, yours to spend.
It’s not as if I have been stolen from again. Frankly, there was nothing left to take.
I watched Dr Christine Blasey Ford’s senate testimony, the questioning, the commentary in the lead up to and after. I have read and heard the stories and experiences of thousands of women since the #metoo movement began.
I have been awe-struck, humbled and devastated.
Wondering exactly how victims become the ones on trial, questioning how the abusers, the rapists, are the ones with the dirty secret, yet we the ones considered filthy, shunned in many a society.
Their acts shameful, us ashamed.
Brett Kavanaugh’s aggression, a casual reminder of what men do when their sense of entitlement feels threatened, in households, across restaurant tables, out on the street, targeting their mothers, daughters, wives, sisters and women they don’t even know.
I once told a boyfriend about my friend raping me, his response was ‘You should never allow any men to come see you when you are alone, even if they are friends.’ My fault then.
A cousin had only one question ‘What race was he?’, when I shared the stories about the work-related meetings, one friend remarked ‘Were you clear that you wanted to meet to discuss career options? Maybe you were vague and he thought it was a date.’
Do you know why we don’t report?
Because the world becomes that Senate committee, the police, the people around you, the people around the perpetrator, the media, the strangers on the internet.
We as women primed for societal consumption.
Within me is a 7-year-old girl, sat on a train in India, and she says no more. Time is up.
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