In January 2012 I was sexually assaulted.
Shame kept me silent.
Now I speak with strength.
For many years during my 20’s I worked in Uganda running a children’s charity. During a work trip in 2012 I found myself standing in a room coming to the terrifying realisation that in front of me was a man who intended to have sex with me against my will.
It had been a typical workday, and up until that point a normal evening. Time spent during the day collecting receipts from the grocery shopping for accounting, picking the kids up from school, helping them with their homework after dinner. Then, as I put my belongings from the day down by the door, it quickly became the scariest night of my life. There was a man, quite casually and in a very self assured kind of way, telling me that he would be having sex with me. My reaction, my saying no, was of no interest to him. It was almost as if he couldn’t hear me, he couldn’t quite see me. He didn't listen to a voice that was not his own.
That man, a colleague and someone I had considered a friend for many years, spent nine hours terrorizing me that evening. Shame seeped into my pores and buried its suffocating effect deep under my skin. His hands may have stopped touching my body but I have felt his grip ever since.
Leading up to the assault he shared stories of black magic and ideas of grand delusion. He spoke of intentions of civil war and messages from his ancestors. Apparently, he was going to take over the country, people would be killed. He told lies about his imaginary boyfriend. And then his girlfriend. None of it made any sense. I struggled to keep up.
Sometimes he lay on the floor, laughing, as I attempted to drag him by his legs towards the door, kicking him and telling him to leave me alone. Other times he was eerily quiet, just staring at me. Occasionally he would speak in tongues as he prayed by the bed. He let me know that if I did not do what he wanted he would be killed, either by the spirits of his dead ancestors (who were apparently just outside the window) or by suicide on his way home.
I didn’t grow up thinking that one day I might be sexually assaulted so when I found myself in this situation I had one thought pulsating through my mind,
‘What the fuck do I do?’
Once in high school we had a guy in a navy blue tracksuit come to talk to us about self-defense. Sitting there that evening I remembered something that man had taught us, it was along the lines of if someone you don’t know is attempting to assault you make as much noise as you can as they are scared of getting caught. If it is someone you know, they are scared of you rejecting them, so do your best to ‘let them down lightly’. (This is my memory of that class, please do your own research on this.)
I had been in the room with this man for about 8 hours by now. I was exhausted. After several hours of ineffective pleading, and begging, and fighting I attempted to ‘let him down gently.’
This involved negotiating a ‘compromise’.
How sickening that was, to negotiate with a rapist.
How determined I was, to be free.
He shoved and he licked and he grabbed and he pushed. He moaned and he groaned.
I held my breath. I counted to numbers out loud. I closed my eyes and stared into space. I held back my tears, I tried to be tough.
Afterwards he patted me on the arm and told me what a “good girl” I had been. He momentarily looked up towards the ceiling and nodded his head, reassuring me that his ancestors were happy with me. Oh thank fuck I thought, because that’s what I was worried about, your ancestors being happy. It wasn’t the potential of an STD or getting pregnant or being raped. Fuck you. I took a shower, but no matter how much I scrubbed the filth that had entered my body moments before could not be washed away.
My work in Uganda was, is, deeply personal and important to me. When I returned home after that trip I struggled to separate the violation I experienced that night and my work with the project. I would show up to work commitments, I would attend events, I would fundraise, but all I could seem to do was cry. Cry tears I didn’t understand.
It was exhausting, embarrassing and confusing. It became increasingly difficult to continue to travel Uganda and it became equally difficult to work on the project at home. This dysfunctional pattern played out for some time. I felt like a complete failure. I saw a counsellor, though she told me that I seemed ‘fine.’ I saw a spiritual teacher who told me this was my karma. So I kept on going, being ‘fine’ and completely dysfunctional.
Then I had a conversation that changed everything.
Last year I was attending a bootcamp for women entrepreneurs. I was once again the crying one, the sad one. I had reached my limit, I was drowning. I couldn’t go on feeling the way I did. I needed help.
On the first evening one of the mentors of the program came and sat with me at the dinner table. She gently, slowly, lovingly, created space in the conversation to explore what my tears where really about. She asked me about what happened in Uganda. She asked me about shame. It was like she was speaking a language that a deep part of me had been waiting to hear. It soothed me.
I took a moment to pause, and reflect on her words.
Yes that’s what it feels like under my skin, shame.
Deep, dark, disgusting shame has been festering under my skin.
And I have had enough.
After talking with her, something shifted. I was able to change the story that was playing on repeat inside of me: that I was bad, that what happened was somehow my fault, that I had done something wrong.
Author and researcher, Brene Brown, explains that “if we can share our story with one who responds with empathy and understanding, shame cannot survive.”
That evening at the dinner table, sitting across from this women, my strength became stronger than my shame. The empathy and understanding she extended to me created the space for empathy and understanding to exist within myself. This is how the healing began. A conversation with this women, turned into looking into shame, reading and writing and more conversations. It turned into seeing a therapist who didn’t tell me I was ‘fine’. It was connecting with other women. It was taking long baths and long walks. But mostly, it was softening into the truth that I am not bad, and forgiving myself for ever thinking that I was. It was loving the parts of me that were hurt that night.
And it was other women.
Oh, how you strengthen me.
Your stories, your sharing.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
In January 2012 I was sexually assaulted.
It was the third time, in my then 26 years, I had been.
Shame kept me silent.
now I speak with strength.
Thank you to every single #metoo,
It is because of you.
To the man who kept me in that room, I see you are a father now.
No doubt there are many things you would like to share with your sons.
Maybe you will take them camping, as I know this is something you enjoy. Maybe one day, when they are older, you will teach them how to drive a car. Maybe you will teach them about the stars in the sky. Maybe you will share stories from your childhood and together you will laugh and cry.
I have a suggestion:
Teach your boys how to care for themselves and how to care for each other. Show them what it looks like to be caring, make time in your day to care. Teach them they matter, and that people around them matter. Show them how they matter; when they wake up, when they get home from school, when they brush their teeth before bed. Teach them about difference. Teach them in a way that they come to know themselves. Share with them your mistakes. Teach them how to heal, not hurt. Show them how to love.
Teach them about rape, about sexual assault, about consent. Have the conversations with them that feel difficult and uncomfortable, invite your wife into these conversations. Create the space for them to hear your words, to hear her voice, to find their own. This may help them in the future to be able to listen to the words and hear the voices of others, of women.
Be courageous, show them they have a choice, a choice not to be like the man you were to me.
I made deal with the devil that night with you.
In an attempt to be free, I comprised my dignity, my worth, my truth.
Now I see that my freedom comes from forgiveness.
I've started by forgiving me.
You are welcome to leave a comment below or share this blog.
With love, Rosie
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