CW: Suicidal ideation, Sexual Violence, Pscyhological Trauma, Abuse, & recounting of a surivor’s experience.
Unfortunately in many instances of sexual violence, survivors are often blamed for their own victimization, while abusers are often proteced,defended, or have their behaviour excused.
This is not only seen in high profile cases featuring celebrities or prominent athletes, but also on an individual level.
In South Asian families, this is no different. Many people are quick to protect abusers that are either familial or community relations, and inadvertently create predator-friendly environments without listening, acknowledging and validating the trauma of survivors.
Trauma is not something that can just disappear or be forgotten about the next day, even if a reputation needs to be protected.
Coming from a very patriarchal family as a young South Asian woman, I have seen men constantly abuse their power. I first-hand have experienced sexual violence seven times in my life, with more than half of those by men in my own family.
As a survivor of sexual violence, coming forward and finally being able to voice my experiences to my family was a scary and difficult task to take on, especially considering that mental health isn’t really something that was talked about.
The fear of being gaslit, invalidated, and victim-blamed lingered at the back of my brain.
It wasn’t a surprise that victim blaming made me regret ever sharing my experiences, even with my own parents—after being told to “forget about it” because it happened in the past, and to “move on” while still living with one of my abusers.
This led to a difficult time in my life, which included mental breakdowns, sleep paralysis and suicidal ideations.
While I have overcome these thoughts, I am still going through the healing journey over and over again, despite having to relive my experiences.
I’m still here, hanging on, fighting these constant battles in my head while living in survival mode.
September was Suicide Prevention Month, however, suicide prevention should not be the only month where this topic strikes a conversation on social media, and is forgotten about once the month is over.
Survivors of sexual violence are often left out of the conversation, despite being 4.1 times more likely than non-crime victims to have contemplated suicide, and 13 times more likely to have attempted suicide due to people finding out about the assualt, victim blaming, contracting STD’s and much more.
Further, because there is much taboo and stigma around South Asian women moving out before marriage, it becomes even more difficult for survivors to create a safety plan and escape their abusers.
But, living with mental illness and having it take a drastic toll in my life—along with my first-hand experiences of how brown families will do anything to let issues like abuse and sexual violence be brushed under the rug—this was something I never took lightly.
It is not at all shocking to learn that many families will protect sexual abusers, and put all the shame and guilt on the victim for being in a “vulnerable position.”
It should not be surprising to hear that many families force victims to forgive their abusers and tell us to move on with our lives to avoid family drama, and because “accidents happen.”
Victim blaming is something survivors don’t want to hear anyways, because a majority of the time we are lead to believe myths surrounding sexual violence—that it is our fault, and begin to blame ourselves long before we come forward.
Why are we constantly taught to remain kind, gentle, and quiet when our bodies are violated?
Why does having access to our bodies always remain available, and that it is our job to say no?
Why do we have to constantly live in survival mode, and live in a world where we have to have our minds on alert, watch our every step, and to go with the flow of things to avoid being hurt?
If society’s message to us is“don’t get sexually assaulted” instead of “don’t sexually assault people,” how are we supposed to protect ourselves from the abusers in our families and communities?
How are we supposed to avoid being sexually assaulted when the danger is in our own households or community spaces, and justified abusive behaviour continues to be an issue?
Are survivors supposed to do what I did—move out, struggle both emotionally and financially, and try our best to move on all while fearing that these abusers can commit another offence?
There is little to no progress being made for keeping women safe not only in public, but also behind closed doors.
I have heard from multiple women who have been outcast by their family due to the ongoing issues South Asian families have when it comes to protecting abusers, instead of survivors.
While the protection of abusers isn’t at all new, it stings that in a community that is supposed to come together, there is little action to protect survivors.
We are often the ones who have to dive deep into our trauma and educate people on such issues, despite being outcast from our own community and society due to the stigma of sexual violence.
This is not our shame to carry, and it is the abusers who should be ashamed.
These past few years, and more so in the last six months, I have had to learn to be my own support system—to hold my own hand, wipe my own tears, and support myself the best I can I have had to dig myself out of my own hole, and try my best to keep fighting and surviving in a community that enables abusers and diminishes the voices of survivors.
There have been many times I haven’t been thankful for my body because of the lack of respect and love I refused to give to myself after being told numerous times it was my fault for not watching my safety, and for putting myself in vulnerable positions.
I was ashamed, disgusted and angry of everything my body endured. I wanted to strip myself from my skin, and replace it with another. I was never grateful, despite all the trials and tribulations she had gone through, to continue to survive these storms, these obstacles thrown my way.
Regaining back my power, worth, and voice after it was taken away from me for a lifetime was a pain, especially when those who were supposed to be there for me refused to take in any part of showing love and support. I’m trying my best to not suffer in silence and not have my mental illness get the best of me.
Protecting an abuser’s reputation and the family name should not be so commonplace, and the cost of protecting their mental health more than survivor’s goes to show how little the people in our community are willing to oust abusers.
Survivors should be able to live in a society where we should not have to keep our truth tucked away for other people’s comfort.
Believe survivors, show empathy, provide space and support, and hold abusers accountable.
It’s time we stop protecting abusers, and start protecting survivors.