Suffering In Silence No More
I come from a society where when a woman gets raped, or sexually assaulted/molested in any way, she is more than often blamed, if not always.
This blame – or feelings of guilt – is thus instilled in the woman since the day she is born; insofar burdening her very existence. She is told that she must always guard her body – protect it – by covering herself from head to toe in a paRuney, chador, or in extreme cases, a shuttlecock burqa. And the less skin she has visible, the better protected she will be against the “beasts” who can’t seem to control themselves and their sexual urges: Men.
However, the dilemma not only lies in the fact that women are blamed for “luring” and “exciting” men. The dilemma also lies in the fact that many women do not truly understand what it is that they are being blamed for. There are many women who are told, from a very early age, that they need to “protect” themselves and their bodies; but the question that keeps gnawing at the sides is: What are these women really protecting when they don’t understand what it is that should be protected in the first place?
Sex, as we all know, is a taboo topic; it’s rarely discussed, especially in highly conservative societies. Many young women do not even know the basics around sex and what it entails, until their wedding night of course. They are constantly told to “save themselves,” “guard their bodies,” “stay away from men,” etc., but they are never told exactly why they should do this.
Perhaps those who preach it do not understand it themselves either, but are only following what they have always followed by tradition and perhaps even credos. A woman gets blamed and there is never any explanation given, except that she failed to follow strict societal rules/guidelines, which in turn allowed such a horrid incident to occur.
Of course, I should also add here that men are hardly blamed. And if they so happen to indulge in anything iniquitous, it is only because of the women’s “failure” to guard herself properly. The woman is the main culprit here; the only culprit.
As a result, meanings around sex and what is considered rape and what isn’t become distorted and more than often confounding. There are women who still do not know, nor understand, what it means to “get raped.” While the common definition of rape refers to the act of sexual intercourse that has been forced upon a woman (or a man) without their consent, there are many women who believe that sexual molestation is rape as well. Sexual molestation could include kissing, breast fondling, buttock-grabbing, etc. And, to be honest, while rape strictly encompasses forced sexual intercourse, there is no denying that forced acts of sexual molestation may be deemed as a form of rape as well, as it is and can be physically and psychologically traumatizing.
Nevertheless, the reason I decided to discuss this topic is because a few weeks ago, I met a girl (Nada Abbasey) on Twitter who approached me with a story that she wanted to share. The story is of a good friend of hers, who has suffered in silence for far, far too long and feels that now is finally the time to let go of that silence and share her story. It is a story relayed by a very brave woman, who finally took the courage to have her voice heard, for there are many, many women in her shoes, who, too, are suffering and wish they could find an outlet or medium to share their stories.
Without further ado, here is Sehrish’s story, as told and written by Nada Abbasey.
The Afterlife Of A Rape Victim
By Nada Abbasey
I never would have thought that I’d be sitting here writing about a dear friend , Sehrish — about a very emotional and mortifying ordeal she went through — and that I would share it with the world. But here I am, after months of seeing her struggle and trying to overcome those haunting memories on her own and unfortunately failing at it, decidedly trying to help her out by having her approach the world anonymously through me.
This is just a four letter word in the English dictionary; it is not a long word but it is a very robust and barbaric word that gives me tremors just writing it on this piece of paper. Growing up, I had heard about incidents of rape occasionally; read various articles about it; had come across random victims’ epilogues either through a third person, through the media or social network; but had never personally known anyone who had experienced it. And, thus, I never actually realized the true intensity of what it means to get raped; that it is not only those torturous moments that last for either a few minutes or hours that kill your soul, but rather it is actually a lot more than that. They are the moments that come later too — every day and night — that impact you in ways that are beyond imaginable or explainable!
I will be honest and confess that I do have my fears about associating myself with this sensitive story, and by writing and sharing it publicly. I fear the reactions I may receive from the people I know, along with random public comments that may be far less than sympathetic. Because the bitter truth is that, even as of date, rape victims/survivors are usually blamed rather than the molester who is the actual culprit. But at the same time, I am anxious to do something for my friend, Sehrish, and for all the other women out there who are suffering in silence. We need to put an end to women who have no choice but to suffer silently, as they strongly believe that if they decide to come out and speak up, then they will more likely be blamed than supported.
No names mentioned, but before I made this story public, I discussed this incident with a couple of extremely close friends. And I was shocked and disturbed with the response I received. One would assume you would know your best friends completely but surprisingly, it’s not always true. They turned out to be a part of that group that focused around how the victim could have avoided the situation, instead of on the fact that she never should have been raped in the first place. In other words, they think that women provoke men to molest them physically! This is particularly a way to suggest that the rape was justified.
This kind of opinion coming out of close friends was very discouraging for me, especially when I was already having doubts and fighting my fears in regards to sharing this story. But apparently, my close friends’ opinions were not discouraging enough to hold me back from being a voice for my friend and for many others out there. Just because a woman chooses to drive alone at night does not mean she is asking for sex! Just because a woman chooses to wear clothes that may expose her body inappropriately does not give men have the right to rape her! I strongly disagree with people who I often hear say, “Oh well, she had to face the consequences for being out this late at night.” While I agree that individuals should be careful in their choices in life; however, it should not only apply to women. It should apply to men as well. I will never agree that a victim is responsible for her rape because of her state of dress and demeanor. Women do need to be careful with their choices as this world is no heaven. But, if their choices are not so wise, that still does not mean that they are available to be molested physically. God has blessed men, too, to think and act wisely. If they made a choice to rape a woman, then that is totally their – the man’s – fault and in no way should a woman be blamed for it.
Even so, my friend, Sehrish, dreads that night every single minute of her life. She has so many regrets regarding that night that she keeps contemplating all the things that she could have done to prevent that horrible incident from happening. What if she hadn’t left her house at that late hour of the night? What if she hadn’t had an argument with her husband? What if she hadn’t stood at the gas station filling up gas while lost in her stressful thoughts? Then she contemplates the things that she should have done. Maybe she should have screamed for help sooner. Maybe she should have turned around and soaked him with the gas nozzle that she was holding in her hands, distracting him long enough to escape.
It was around 1 am in the morning, during a week night, when she fled out of her home furiously after having an explosive argument with her husband. Leaving home at these kind of odd hours was not something uncommon for her, since she had done that so many times to calm herself down after the constant arguments she had in her ten years of marriage. She needed the space to breathe and get fresh air; to get her mind off of things so she could be normal for the sake of her young daughter by the time she came back home. She left in her SUV and wandered about the streets for around half an hour, tears streaming down her face. She decided to finally head back home when she realized she was running out of gas. So instead of heading home, she went to a nearby gas station. The gas station was deserted and there were no other cars, besides hers, that were filling up gas. Though, there was a convenience store about 300 to 400 feet away from the pump where she was parked. She could see it was open but couldn’t see any one inside. There were, however, a couple of cars parked towards the side in the parking lot, which was basically for a strip center behind the gas station.
Sehrish parked at the pump and sat in her truck with her head resting against the wheel for a few minutes before she got out. She was emotionally drained and did not realize what an odd hour this was to sit at a gas station all by herself on this dark night with hardly anyone around. She was too lost in her emotions and thoughts when she stepped out of her truck to notice whether there was anyone around, especially someone that looked very suspicious. Sehrish is a petite girl who’s just a little over five feet tall. If she is standing behind a pump, she wouldn’t be able to see over it. Lost in her thoughts, she got out of her truck, swiped her credit card and turned around to face her car while the nozzle was in her hand. She shoved the nozzle into the tank and was just about to turn around again to select the fuel grade level when someone suddenly grabbed her from behind, placing one arm around her waist and the other one over her mouth and nose with a grip so tight that she could barely breathe. She was startled as she didn’t even hear any footsteps approaching her. Immediately, her hands reached for his arm – the one covering her mouth – in an attempt to release herself from his powerful grip, but it was useless. Her attempts at screaming were muffled so strongly by his hand that she could barely hear herself. She then tried to use all her body force to wriggle free or just to make some kind of motion or noise that would get attention by someone, anyone, but, failed in even moving an inch from where they were standing. She was actually trapped in the middle, between her truck, which she was facing, and the pump behind her. So it was not shocking that no one noticed them there since she was way under the height of her truck and the pump. I cannot speak for that barbarian since she never got to see him.
After this failed struggle which lasted just a few seconds, he whispered into Sehrish’s ear with a voice so strong and coarse that she will never forget it. He told her if she gives him what he wants he will let her go, but if she moved or tried to make a sound one more time he will stab her from behind a dozen times and cut her into pieces. My friend, Sehrish, simply froze to those words; she felt like this is how she was going to die. Her body was numb and getting colder, and she literally felt like she was going to faint. Up until that point, she was assuming that he wanted to mug her, and she thought that if she gives him money, her truck, her phone — basically everything she had with her at the time without any resistance, he may let her go. She stopped her worthless jousting and he very slowly started to slide his arm down, releasing her face to breathe while his other arm was still tightly tugged around her waist. She felt like her ribs were going to get crushed due to his forceful grip. She was crying but dared not make a sound. When he started to slide his hand down, she was expecting him to reach down and grab her phone from her jeans pocket. But no, his hand stopped sliding far from where her phone was. It stopped on her breast. And grabbed it…
It was suddenly then that she realized he wanted way more than what she was expecting; way more than she could give; way more than she had. He wanted her! Her soul. Her dignity. He wanted to RAPE her! She gasped at his grip. It was a gasp occurring not due to the physical pain, but from a pain occurring from deep below. He kept amusing himself by touching and feeling different parts of her body, molesting it in every way possible. She started shaking her head showing, a form of plea as she dared not to make a sound. She was horrified! Terrified! But, he kept molesting her body…enjoying…and then it started getting worse. He started feeling her neck using his mouth, which led on to the painful bites. He still didn’t stop and seemed like he would not stop. By then, Sehrish was just looking at the sky, not sure what she was looking for but was searching for something; some miracle. He moved on and made his way down…further down…touched her…hurt her…touched more…and hurt more. He pulled her closer up against him, than she already was, and made sure she felt him from behind. He still wasn’t done. There was no desisting. He slid his right hand under her shirt, made his way from the bottom and unhooked her bra; and once again made his way to the front again. This went on for maybe 20 minutes but it seemed like hours. She was frozen to death. Her mind had stopped working and she was just waiting to die while he kept molesting and agonizing her — her body — in different ways; in different parts. The only thought that was crossing her mind was how was he going to kill her and after how long? He whispered into her ear that he wanted to fuck her in a horny hungry disgusting voice. The word “fuck” came to her as an alarm and awakened her. It hit her that if he was going to kill her anyway, after fulfilling his filthy desires, than why not now? If she has to die, she should die now! She should make an attempt for an escape and if he kills her, he kills her! His hands were busy molesting her body and her mouth was free so it allowed her the opportunity to scream. With that in mind, she screamed for help! She screamed her lungs out. He was startled at her first scream and panicked. She felt his body jitter a bit and he loosened up just enough for her to not feel him anymore. Within seconds he pushed her on the ground and she fell with her back towards him. Sehrish expected him to either stab her now or molest her even more by doing what he desired. She had stopped screaming by then and was just sobbing uncontrollably, waiting to die. But it got better. She heard footsteps fading away.
She dared to turn around and he was no longer there. She lay on the ground for a few more seconds, stunned, trying to make sure he was gone. And then the very next thing she did was jump up to her feet, unhook the gas nozzle which was still hanging in her car, and fled. The gas station was hardly 15 minutes away from her home but it sure seemed like the longest 15 minutes of her life. All the while, she kept checking her rear-view mirror, making sure no one was following her. When she finally made it home, it was around 2:45 am. Thankfully, everyone was asleep so she did not have to give any explanation about the mess she was in. She made sure all the doors were locked, turned on the security alarm and went into her walk-in closet to get a hold of herself.
She just sat there…inside the closet: scared…alone…confused…devastated…dead. She cried…then stopped…then cried more…What had happened? What was she supposed to think? What was she supposed to tell her family, her husband? She was clueless! She was about to be mugged, right? But she managed to get away. It was nothing more than that, or was it more than that? She was in a constant battle; in denial of what had happened. She had heard about rapists, perverts, and psychos molesting the opposite gender but that was the story of ‘others’ — incidents that occurred with others that we usually just hear, feel sympathetic for, give our views on, and then move on. She could not be one of those victims, one of those individuals who were to be discussed by people as a pitiful reference. She was in no way going to accept what had just happened. And the more she lied to herself, the more unbearable it got. By the time she got off of the floor, she was feeling a lot worse. She had lost track of time. She had a severe headache to the extent that it felt like her head was going to explode. Her stomach was tied in knots; her heart felt so heavy and big and she kept gagging, feeling like something was stuck in her throat. Let’s just say she had completely lost it.
She dragged herself to the sink, which was below a big mirror on the wall, to at least try and freshen up when she noticed marks around her neck. They were bite marks! And with that came the feeling of disgust. Can it get any worse? What is happening? What did she do to deserve this? She was crushed and it kept getting worse every minute. She wanted to scratch them off. It made her feel like he was still around, still feeling her neck. She was disgusted with herself. She felt she had lost her dignity, her respect. She hated herself and hoped her soul would somehow peel apart from this disgusting body she was in, which was molested by this barbarian. In the shower, she took the longest time trying to get his disgusting touch off of her. She scrubbed herself till her skin started to hurt. Finally, after a long failed shower, Sehrish got into bed, next to her husband. It was almost dawn. She could hear the birds chirping from outside as the sunlight tried to make its way through the strength of darkness. She got up again with the intention of praying in her mind. She got on the prayer mat, stared at it, and got off. She couldn’t pray. She felt contaminated, filthy and impure. And if this is how she envisioned herself in her own eyes, how could she stand on this pure piece of carpet and pray to Allah? She could not face Him. She felt Allah was upset with her. What caused this incident was not her fault. But again, if she had not left the house or refrained from going to the gas station, things would have gone differently. And so, partially she did believe it was her fault. She did not pray and went to bed again; tossed and turned for a while and then finally dozed off into a troubled sleep.
A week had passed and Sehrish’s situation was getting worse. She did not say anything to anyone in relation to that event. She wanted to believe that it was not an important matter because she was just being mugged. She kept giving assurance to herself, though never believing it even once. Her appetite had decreased to a huge amount. In fact, food was the last thing on her mind. She was not as attentive in her daily life routine anymore. Her daughter was being neglected. She always either felt depressed or frustrated. She was becoming short tempered and tried to stay as far away from everyone as much as possible. She had been feeling very conscious about the bite marks around her neck, which she hid with makeup and were now finally fading. Initially, she had wanted them to just vanish, hoping it would also erase that horrifying experience from her mind. And, yet, though those bite marks were finally fading, the marks on her soul were getting deeper. She had showered 50 times in that one week, wishing she could purify herself or get his touch off of her somehow. There were no longer any bruises on her body visible to the eye, but they were there and she could see them. That day she realized marks left on your body may fade away with time but marks left on your soul stay lifelong and kill you slowly and gradually.
Sehrish comes from a good, respectable South Asian family — a family that is there for each other in times of happiness and sadness. But this was something way more than sadness. She thought of confiding in her husband so many times, but was scared. What if he felt the same disgust for her that she was feeling for herself? After all, many South Asians have been raised the same way, with the same set of mind. She felt humiliated. These changes in her personality were pretty obvious no matter how hard she tried to show otherwise. Her marital life, which was already going through a crisis, was getting affected badly. She couldn’t let her husband touch her. His touch reminded her of that night. It brought back flashbacks, which led to panic attacks. She couldn’t even let him hug her. She would find excuses to stay far away from him. She hated the word sex and truly believed she could never feel the same way about it. She started having panic attacks that were brought on by the darkness, as the sun set to dusk. She was still in denial. She still tried to believe that it was a mugging attempt, but never truly believed her self. Not once, but many times she planned on committing suicide. She wanted to set her soul free. Have it apart from that molested body that did not deserve her soul. She was going into deep depression.
Two weeks had passed when she finally decided to call up one of her best friends, with the slight intention of confiding in her and pouring her heart out. She desperately needed a shoulder to cry on and reveal the details of the horrible incident that was haunting and killing her. Sehrish’s friend did sense a difference in her tone; a kind of reluctance or sadness that is usually not there. And without much resistance, Sehrish started disclosing the scenes of that event. But she was at a loss for words. She was still reluctant and embarrassed. Her sobs kept defeating and huffing her words. But apparently her friend managed to comprehend as to what may have had happened and asked Sehrish that very question, “Did he rape you?” It was at that very juncture that it struck her that, indeed, she was raped. The common definition of the word rape refers to the molestation of one’s body, without consent, to the point of having intercourse. But that was not the case with her. The barbarian did not get a chance to reach the point where he would have forced her to have intercourse, but would this still be classified as rape? That he was so close? She was no longer in denial but just confused, trying to interpret the meaning of rape pertaining to the events that occurred that night. It was too early for Sehrish to admit to her friend whether or not she was raped. She simply denied her friend that he raped her and hung up on her. She couldn’t talk about this anymore with her friend or anyone, but she was grateful to her friend, as she had managed to awaken Sehrish and knocked some sense into her.
Months have passed now and things have changed, but not much. That very friend, whom she confided in, trusted and relied on enough to confess about that incident has gradually drifted apart and they are no longer in touch. Sehrish feels that her friend, too, was grossed out by her and decided to let go, and she does miss her friendship a lot. Sometimes she just wants to grab the phone, call up her friend and ask her why she’d drifted away. She wants to ask: “Did you really believe this was my fault?” She was a friend that Sehrish shared all her secrets and trusted her with them. She was and considered her her partner-in-crime, and now Sehrish has lost her due to her admission. And, so, due to her friend’s reaction, Sehrish realized that this is something that is not to be revealed.
The feelings she has for herself revolve around sympathy, love and hatred. She still thinks of committing suicide. She is still scared to drive alone even during the day. She is overprotective of her child and can’t trust anyone with her. She has not gone to that gas station since then and she does not think she ever can and will go there again. She goes out grocery shopping and everyone that looks at her seems like a suspect. She was not able to see that man’s face and so every man seems like him! She is living her life in fear; fear of running into that man again; fear of what people may think of her if they were ever to find out; fear of being treated and looked upon as “damaged goods.” She has not slept in months and is sleep deprived. She has lost interest in life. Since her marital life was being affected so much, she did mention to her husband that someone grabbed her and tried to physically assault her, but she managed to escape. His response assured Sehrish that this is all he was entitled to know, and sternly advised her not to discuss this with anyone as it is humiliating.
She went to see a psychiatrist and he prescribed a whole bunch of medications. But she chose not to take them. As I relay her story, I want people to know that she is not crazy and is not suffering from mental disorder. She does not need medications. She needs support! She needs her friends and family to understand her condition, understand her and the pain she is going through. She wants to be there for her daughter but I am deeply concerned that she may go into an even more severe form of depression very soon. She has started praying and seeking help from Allah. It did take her time to face Him again, and she finally did. These emotions of guilt and hatred for herself are killing her slowly. I feel like with every passing day, she is being sucked into a hole, deeper and deeper. She does laugh, smile, and try to act normal, but it is getting harder for her to pretend anymore. She has prisoned her soul in her body.
Our culture is still harsh when it comes to raped victims/survivors. They have no room in the eyes of a human being, let alone in society. Rape victims are considered “gross” and are seen as the “black sheep” in the family, and in the world. Our current media and different sources of networking has brought up and unfolded several different rape stories in the past. They have definitely brought awareness and encouraged rape victims/survivors to come forward and speak up; yet, at the same time, these forums brutally propagate these stories in the name of seeking justice. While we do get to hear the detailed story being reflected to us, scene by scene; at the same time, however, we hardly ever get to hear the aftermath, and what the victim is going through – the trauma they are in after this tragic ordeal and what may be going through their minds. We hardly get to see this other side, the after affects that suppresses the victim’s interest in being alive anymore.
My goal in sharing this story is not only to seek justice for this woman or to suggest different kinds of punishment that may and should be enforced upon such criminals. My purpose is to encourage my friend, along with all other women, that may be suffering silently and bring them back to life. I want them to believe that they are still dignified, normal people and none less than any other, and for that I seek your – the reader’s – supportive words. I want the readers to pray for them, encourage them to live, and give them hope in life.
This wasn’t a choice, this was fate! This was not their fault and they definitely deserve to live a decent, respectable life! These victims have survived and are still surviving. But, that is not enough. I want them to live! I want them to feel normal! I want them to still believe in themselves and see that perhaps there still exist people out there who understand them and support them in every way possible.
This inspiration has in turn encouraged me to write and be a voice for them.
Samar Esapzai is a PhD student in international rural development, focusing on Gender and Development of Pashtun women.