Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault. If this topic brings up issues for you, reconsider reading it at a time you feel comfortable. If you are struggling, a list of resources is available at the end of the article. Thank you for reading, Milly Tamati.
To me, storytelling is an art. Just as every tiny paint brush stroke paints a bigger picture, so does every word in a story. I could paint a pretty picture of my story for you, one filled with colours and shapes of a perfect life. The picture would be pale pinks and pastel blues, it would be reminiscent of flying through fairy floss clouds as the sun sets. Looking at this picture, you might even wish you were me. Yet, behind the surface of the picture, is a story begging to be told. The story in its entirety. To only tell you the happy parts would be an injustice to myself and the countless other women who have become a statistic. For the first time in my life, I am ready to share my story.
I can only recall one time in my life that I have been more afraid than I am right now. I was travelling alone in Mexico, and I was raped by three men. I can say those words now, yet it took me over 3 years to tell a single soul. For over 1000 days that I kept the worst thing that had ever happened to me, a secret.
The day after it happened, I thought my life was over. I woke up and I remember thinking how strange it was that everything looked just as it had the day before. After something terrible happens to you, you almost expect life to be different shades of grey. I resented the sun for shining when I could only see darkness. I ate cornflakes for breakfast that day, and everyone around me was chatting over their morning coffees. How strange it was to be destroyed on the inside, yet sitting amongst normal people. I felt like I had been dropped from another planet, I was not one of these humans anymore. I stared at the wall, eating one bland spoonful at a time, trying to figure out what to do. Who do I call? How do I put into words what happened? In that moment, I had never felt more alone in my life.
I had a preconceived idea of what rape was. A violent attack by a stranger in the back of an alley, right? Maybe a burglary gone wrong, or an opportunist who holds a gun to your head? I wasn’t black and blue, I hadn’t clawed my way out of the situation. My throat was not raw from screaming for help. My clothes not torn, my body not dumped on the side of a riverbank. I looked completely normal to the outside world. Three men chose to have sex with a woman who’s only consent was to cry into the pillow. Her lifeless body passed around like a joint, calmly and without question.
This my friends, is the problem.
I had been through something extremely traumatic, but because I didn’t act immediately, I found it more and more difficult to do anything about it. I hated myself for not rolling over, punching them in the face, running outside naked and begging for help. I hated myself for drinking too much tequila. I hated myself, with every inch of my being that morning. In the hours that followed, I hated myself for not being able to comprehend what happened. I lay on the top bunk and stared at the ceiling, trying to make sense of it all. If it weren’t for being in a lot of pain, I could have almost believed it was a terrible dream. I kept replaying in my head how it all went so wrong. I was well traveled, I knew how to handle my drink. I had been in far more dodgy situations before and had been completely fine. I’d always had a healthy relationship with my body and with my sexual partners. In my shocked state, I came to the conclusion that I must have given off a vibe. Some kind of scent, like a bitch who is in heat. I must have asked for it. The dress I was wearing was backless and I wasn’t wearing a bra. My tanned spine, on show for the world to discover. Was it the way I danced? Was it the look I gave? Maybe I said “I’m up for it” in the way that I smiled? Was it because I was talkative and too friendly? Because I included everyone in conversations, even the quiet girls who didn’t speak English. Was this enough to say to you all, hold me down and have sex with me? Because of all of these things, I decided that was what it was. Sex, not rape.
This my friends, is the problem.
The days that followed, I felt like I had an iron burning into my chest. Heavy, scalding and persistent. If you’ve ever been diving, you know the intense amount of pressure that surrounds you as you go deeper toward the ocean floor. You equalise to relieve this, but the threat never goes away, and the danger of it crushing you is always in the back of your mind. For me, this was the feeling of carrying on after that night. When the sun was high in the sky, so were my spirits. However when night approached and shadows appeared, I would stumble back into my dark place. Evening shadows became the boogieman to me. The men were no longer physically beside me, but their shadows felt eternally ingrained into my being. I learned that monsters are real and they walk amongst us every day.
Every minute that passed without telling anyone, cemented my decision to keep silent even more. There were many reasons I didn’t feel like I had a voice in a situation where I wished I could scream for help. This is exactly why I am writing about my experience for you to read, for you to listen, for you to understand. You see, the reason this is so important to include is because I am not alone. Once I started sharing my secret, I was overwhelmed by how many girls responded with “me too”. Once upon a time I thought it was a catchy hashtag on social media. I have found out the hard way, it’s not.
Statistics show that one in five woman experience a sexual assault at some point in their life. Take a look around you. Your girlfriends, sisters, cousins, daughters, wives, nieces. As women, the numbers are stacked against us. It’s not a case of if, but who. If one in five people were being diagnosed with a disease that plagued them for the rest of their life, there would be a public outcry to find a fix. Millions of dollars would be poured into it, social media would be blowing up, politicians would be using it to their advantage during their campaigns. Just take a look at our reaction to Covid-19. Entire countries shut down, economies on the brink of collapse, lives stopped. We absolutely have the power to create change whenever we want to.
This my friends, is the problem.
Right now, I am vulnerable. I am afraid. I am scared of judgement. I am nervous I will be pitied and viewed differently. I am sad and I am angry. I am a million emotions and at the same time, I am a bit numb.
But above everything, I am empowered. What happened to me, doesn’t make me who I am and it will only define me if I allow it. I refuse to be called a victim or a survivor. In theory, both of these terms are probably quite fitting but in my mind it means that I will always have a negative association with the act itself. As a victim, I’d never be truly free because I would always feel like I was trying to fix the problems within myself. In reality, I have accepted I am perfectly imperfect, scars and all.
Sharing this for the world to see is step one. One giant splash of deep, crimson paint on my work of art. Rape culture has been accepted for too long and until we recognise that, it will continue. For the future of our girls, the time to speak was yesterday.
My friends, we have a problem. Through conversations, we can spark movements. Through movements, we can change the world.
With love and hope,
My Blog: www.dancebarefootagain.com
If you are in Australia, you can call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)
Chat online at https://www.rape-dvservices.org.au/
If you are in the UK, you can call 0808 802 9999
Or chat online at https://rapecrisis.org.uk/get-help/want-to-talk/
If you are in New Zealand, you can call 0800 044 334.
Or find more information here https://www.victimsupport.org.nz/get-help/support-after-sexual-violence-or-family-violence/
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