This blog is not about writing, but I need to write it.
I just Skyped this morning with my mother for nearly three hours and discussed the sexual assault by my uncle, my mother’s brother, that happened to me nearly thirty years ago. We also chatted about a family funeral that happened yesterday, and the little trip we are planning with my sisters in the coming month or so. But the main feature for me was to relive that memory. I had actually forgotten that it had happened, I have not been so traumatised by it that I can’t go on living my life. Somehow it came up in our conversation and we talked about how we both had experienced it.
In my last blog I mentioned that I never write about my family or friends’ experiences, but this is my experience. And I want everybody to hear what I’ve got to say about it.
Thirty years ago my uncle had recently gone through a divorce. His ex-wife had also taken his rights to see his daughter away, but we never really knew why. I always got along really well with my uncle. He told weird stories about aliens and magic healings. I was nineteen at the time and was aware that he was a bit of a weirdo himself. A great storyteller though and I loved to listen to him. I had just graduated from high school and was planning to move to Australia on my own. That day, my uncle hugged me on passing me in the hallway and, innocent me, just thought he wanted to share with me that he was going to miss me. So I let him. My mother left to visit her aunt and my uncle left with her to go home. However, after my mother got a few groceries she decided it was too late for a visit and returned home. Just before she got home she saw my uncle to into our house again, he had the key. She wondered why he returned, but thought nothing of it.
At some stage we’re sitting on the couch in the living room, next to each other. My mother was cooking dinner in the kitchen. My uncle and I had nothing to talk about, for a change, so we just sat there listening to the music. All of a sudden he was sticking his tongue in my mouth, trying to give me a French kiss (a very bad one at that, but what did I know?). I pushed him off me and called him an idiot. I immediately tried to make it sound not as bad as I didn’t want to offend him! I got up, changed the music tape (it was 1987) and went upstairs to my room. I didn’t know what to do. So I cried.
When my mother called me to let me know dinner was ready, she heard me cry. When she came up I told her what had happened. She stormed downstairs to my uncle and asked him what the hell he was doing. He pretended that he had no clue what she was on about. When my mother explained what I had told her, he ran upstairs, came into my room and sat down next to me. He even put his arm around me. And TOLD ME TO SHUT UP. I couldn’t believe I was hearing this! I immediately moved away from him and my mother, who had stormed up after him, sat herself between us (she had heard his words too, fortunately) and yelled at him to get out of her house. I didn’t see him for years after that.
It gets even ‘better,’ so keep on reading.
My sisters were shocked, of course, when we told them what happened. He was our uncle and why would he do such a thing. My mother asked all of us if he had ever done anything like this earlier, to any of us. Which fortunately was all answered with ‘no.’ After I had gone to bed, my mother first went to my grandmother’s place and told her what had happened. Gran was also very shocked. Back at home my mother called her aunt, whom she had a very good relationship with, and informed her of the situation. She was very upset with it as well, as can be imagined. It is good for a woman to have a network to fall back upon, if only for moral support. The next day, Sunday morning, everybody gathered at my grandmother’s house as per usual. We don’t know what had happened in between that time, but my grandmother had turned like a leaf on a tree. She attacked my mother for making such an atrocious accusation, ‘AFTER ALL, WE WERE TALKING ABOUT HER CHILD.’ My mother of course flipped. ‘What about my child, your granddaughter, THE VICTIM?’ But gran didn’t want to hear any of it. Oh, and my mother shouldn’t have told her aunt either, that was a big faux pas according to my gran. My mother’s relationship with her mother never was the same after this incident.
Now here comes the worst part…
Big deal, you may think. ‘I wasn’t raped, it was just a kiss, so why the fuss,’ as per the words of my own grandmother. But out of the four women of my family – my mother, my two sisters and myself – three of us have been sexually assaulted at least once during our lives. And I’m not sure nothing happened to the fourth one. Is this due to a flawed gene that runs in the family? Were we all harassed by the same sick family member? Did we act or dress inappropriately. No, no, no and no! All three occasions happened to us at various times in our lives; from nine-years-old to mid-twenties. It was done by various people; strangers, colleagues, uncles. It happened in various locations; in the neighbourhood, at work, at home. And it didn’t happen to the same person that acted flirtatious, dressed sexy and kept walking in the wrong place at the wrong time. All I can deduct is that there just is no place that a woman is ever safe.
The three of us have survived these traumas. Not only because it wasn’t as severe as being raped, but also because we are strong women. We don’t let these pathetic men ruin our lives with the memory of them violating our bodies. But now, almost thirty years later, I still struggle with the fact that I didn’t act when it happened to me. Why didn’t I want to call him an idiot. Because that’s what he was. Why didn’t I want to hurt his feelings? He hurt mine. Why didn’t I tell my mother right there and then what happened? That would have been the sensible thing to do. Instead, I tried to deal with it on my own, which I couldn’t. I was lucky that my mother stood up for me. Like her aunt had done for her when it happened to her. As a result the man who attacked her, a stranger, was arrested. We didn’t contact the police when my uncle assaulted me though. The thought didn’t even enter my mind at the time. He was family and, as I probably would have expected them to say, it was ‘just a kiss.’ I have no doubt, though, that if she hadn’t decided to return home early like she did I would have been raped by my uncle. My mother stopped him from touching me, but heaven knows how many women he has assaulted after me.
How many women are out there, who have been violated so much worse. Women who don’t dare to speak up because the acts forced upon them have been so grose and disgusting that they themselves don’t dare to speak about it. How many women are out there, who don’t have anybody to talk to about it. I am lucky that I have a loving family and can talk about these things, to help me get over it. But how many women have tried to speak out, only to be met with resistance or, worse, apathy? I can’t get over the fact that there are women, like my grandmother, that are actively trying to put it away, sweep it under the carpet. Women should not tolerate sexual assault of any kind. Not from anybody, be it husbands, sons or brothers. Not against their own bodies, nor against that of others.’ Not in any shape or form. Our bodies are ours and we decide if, when and how you can touch it. I’m not a feminist. I accept that men and women are different, but I believe that we are equal in that we have the same rights, especially the right to happiness.
So I urge every woman to speak up, to say no to sexual harassment, immediately when it happens. Don’t accept any physical contact as ‘a little joke,’ ‘playing around’ or ‘just being nice.’ Colleagues don’t invade each other’s personal space. Family members don’t touch each other in a sexual way unless they are married and the feeling is mutual. Men should not touch private parts of children unless you are a doctor and have a medical reason for doing so. And don’t just tell them off but also report it! Nothing will be done, nothing will change, if nobody knows! You may be called a bitch, an ice queen, or even a cunt after making these perpetrators stand in the spotlight for their distasteful actions, but at least you’ll keep your dignity, have no regrets and earn respect. You may not get any respect from them, but you certainly will earn respect from all the women around you, especially those ‘would-have-been-victims-after-you’!