Every February I gear up to participate in local V-Day 1 Billion Rising events where activists rise up to end violence against women and girls. This year’s theme was the journey to justice, and there were two local events. I delivered a speech at the second event. This is so meaningful to me because it testifies to how far I have come in my journey. Just a few years ago, I would never have spoken what I considered the unspeakable. I have found that with each utterance, I gain more freedom and encourage others to do the same in their own way.
One in every three women/girls will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, and someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes in the USA. Knowing this and being one of these women, I dedicate this month’s post to my fellow survivors in hopes that you find some healing in it. Below is what the crowd heard from me on V-Day:
Justice is one of those tricky concepts that has many faces. For some survivors, justice is restorative where they are willing to engage in a dialogue with the perpetrator, community, and other stakeholders to attempt to repair the harm that has been done to them. For others, justice is poetic. It comes in the form of retribution and punishment whether it involves incarceration, physical harm or illness, or death by homicide or suicide. Yet other survivors feel that there is no such thing as justice any way you look at it. They feel that there is nothing that can ever be said or done to erase or minimize the life-long effects of the violence perpetuated against them.
Justice has as many faces as there are victims and survivors. One common theme of justice is of it being a journey. For me, justice is all about healing. If justice does not provide some sort of healing, it is not justice in my eyes. Many of us spend years and decades searching for peace and healing through justice. Some of us will find it, while others of us may not. My justice-seeking journey has been a long one, and I am sure many, if not all, of you can surely relate.
After I was able to finally admit to myself that I was sexually assaulted as a child, I had to work extremely hard to silence my inner critic who blamed me for my own attacks and shamed me for not doing more to prevent them or end them sooner. Shifting my perception of myself from an accomplice in my own abuse to a victim allowed me to begin the justice-seeking journey. Initially, I just wanted the person who raped me to die a slow death, be raped in return, be beaten within an inch of his life, be castrated, or undergo some other form of violence.
Sometime later, I realized that I had replaced the self-blame and shame with rage and anger. I soon opened up to my family and shared my feelings of defeat. I felt like doing nothing meant that he was getting away with what he did, but I just did not know what to do since the abuse lasted 6 years but had happened many years earlier. My dad suggested I contact the Sheriff and see what my options were for legal justice.
There I was at the Sheriff’s office with my parents and speaking to a detective in the Crimes against Children Unit. Over the course of an hour, I shared my story with him and asked what my options were. There was no hope of prosecution for his crimes against me, but the detective was interested in interviewing all the girls and women in his life now to find out how many other victims there may be. Months later, I had to digest the reality that my hope of legal justice was no longer an option.
After some time, I began to think about confronting him so that I could possibly find some sense of justice that way. I later decided that there was nothing that he could say that would make any of it better or less hurtful and harmful. Even if he cried and apologized to me on his knees for raping me and violating me for years, it would not erase or even minimize it; it would not give me my virginity, innocence, naïveté, or broken relationships back.
At that point I was afraid that I would never see justice, but then a thought occurred to me: Why did the justice I was seeking have to directly involve him? Why did it have to hinge on what did or did not happen to him? Why couldn’t the justice I sought be all about me and depend directly and only upon me? I embarked on a sort of archeological dig deep within myself to find out exactly what I was searching for. Repeatedly, the answer was that I wanted to find healing, gaping wound-by-gaping wound, scar-by-scar, cell-by-cell, memory-by-memory. This is when I started focusing all the mental and emotional energy that I wasted on him and turned it inward.
I decided to create my own justice instead of asking others for it or sitting around waiting for it, and I am not finished yet. Justice is a journey for me. I can never get my life back from before but I can and do reclaim my life for myself right now. I do it every day. It is a constantly renewing commitment. Living my best life, being my best me, speaking my truth, and defining myself for myself ushers justice my way. Although it is true that such trauma has influenced all areas of my life, it does not define it nor does it decide its trajectory anymore. I have come to see that finding peace and healing does not have to depend on whether he is repentant, in physical pain, behind bars, or under the ground in a grave. I am powerful enough that my justice is whatever I decide it is, and the same is true for you.
Jameelah X. Medina, Ph.D., is an educator, author, orator, and business owner residing in southern California with her husband and daughter. www.jameelahmedina.com She is also a contributor to I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim, a collection of 40 personal essays written by American Muslim women under the age of 40.