My last article for Feminism and Religion had a very brief reference to an episode of sexual violence; since its publication I have received emails from women who decided to tell me their experiences with rape and abuse.
I am deeply grateful, ladies. I read each one of your stories. I am honored by the trust you placed in me to open your heart and let me go in to see your sorrow and hopes. My soul found solidarity in your words and I recognized myself in your struggle with physical and emotional scars, with your courage to pick up the pieces and coming back from the ashes to pursue justice, inner peace and build new self confidence.
Breaking the silence is not easy. We live in a culture where “women are prettier the more they remain quiet.” We’re taught rather to accept violence without complaints; if we talk, we will be blamed and vilified, isolated, ashamed or mocked. Rape is frequent topic of jokes and the medicine many males recommend for disciplining women who don’t behave “as a woman should.”
Your trust has given me confidence to speak up. I want to return your generosity and what I learned from your testimonies. I decided to publicly speak about this. You and I have lived for long time in the fear of judgment and rejection, unable to identify or raise our voices to the abuse we have suffered.
Silence perpetuates abuse. I have chosen this space where I am surrounded by wise, loving and supportive women to say: I am one of those one in three who experienced violence at some point of her life. I am like many women who suffered physical and sexual violence. I am part of the global 35% of women sexually assaulted; one of those that has been abused while you’re reading this.
Yes. I survived rape. Years ago, my fiancé at the time raped me after a long session of violence that included profanities, beatings, pouring over me one liter of 100% pure chlorine and cutting me with a knife.
That night I came home after a long day at work. He was waiting for me outside and pushed me inside when I opened the door. Yes, I knew he had a temper. Yes, he had spoken profanities at me before. Yes, our relationship was in crisis. Yes, he thought I was cheating on him. Yes, I thought all this could be fixed. However, I never expected it. Not one “Yes” cancels the big “No” as a definitive answer to all forms of violence against women.
I defended myself. I am stubborn and this time was no exception. I fought back as much as I could. But I was a small woman against a man of 1.8 meters dominated by rage who had decided to punish me for my “lack of humbleness.”
I remember clearly the words he yelled in my ear while raping me: “This is to teach you how to respect men.” “This is what you get for not knowing your place.” And, “You won’t make me feel lesser after this.” But, I also remember a single idea ringing in my head: I will prevail.
According to the police, it was not rape. He was my fiancé, so it was apparently not possible to be raped by someone I had accepted into my life by my “own adult decision and risk.” At the police station, I was told that all couples had problems. They suggested I return back home and reflect on the costs of being focused on my career. “Good women do not exasperate their men.”
He was never prosecuted. I never heard from or about him again. I am afraid that wherever he is, he could be doing the same to another woman. But, as I promised myself in the midst of the violence, I prevailed.
I decided that, despite judgments and victimization surrounding me, I would not be a victim. So far, I have lived as a survivor, giving my best to help end inequalities on which violence against women are based. However, I have still carried a shame about being sexually assaulted. I had to struggle in silence with my own vulnerability, being a feminist, an activist and a self-made woman.
Right now, in this space, I want to release my soul from any burden related to the past. I was raped because there is a culture, a society, an understanding of religions that allow men to rape and leaves them unpunished. Patriarchy should be the one to be ashamed; on its behalf the most atrocious cruelties are committed against women on a daily basis.
To my aggressor, I don’t have anything to say except that all his cruelty was not enough to destroy my will or hijack my future. I have a firm belief in divine justice and in my own ability to act on behalf of gender justice, encouraging its pursuit wherever I go.
To the people who knew about this, I appreciate your discretion and care all this time. To those who will know it today, I apologize for my silence and the changes this can bring to our links and relationships. I hope we can find a new and better way together.
I’m aware of slandering from people who will say this is the reason behind my “feminazi hate.” I do not care. I’ll be fine. My past is no longer a burden to me and those comments will not be either.
To the women who shared their stories and to those who are reading this piece, I want to let you know that you are not alone, and I care for you. We should care for each other; building networks, sharing our stories, supporting each other and boosting our courage are the only ways to protect ourselves and counteract vulnerability. There is no virtual reality, because human beings are not virtual. I am here, standing firmly, for you.
After my rape, I tattooed a butterfly on my shoulder, as “.. proof that you can go through a great deal of darkness yet become something so beautiful!” Praise your scars, they tell the world that you fought and won.
Divinity lives within us. We have a huge, unlimited and timeless power in our spiritual strength. Regardless if you believe in God or not, never stop believing in your possibilities. Believe in your dignity and resilience. Believe in your potential to transform your life. Believe in your voice and raise it loud for your truth, even if others don’t.
There is nothing in our past that could be big, heavy and difficult enough to block our road to happiness and fulfillment. It’s time to start living with no shame. Writer Asra Nomani says “When we strive to live without shame we achieve courage, confidence and voice.” Stay attached to a simple and daily act of justice in your behalf: SPEAK UP! YOU WILL PREVAIL.
Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is a Writer, Mentor and Community Educator in Capacity Building for Grass Roots Female Leaders and Advocates. A Muslim Feminist who is an Independent Researcher of Gender and Islam in Latin America on Feminist Hermeneutics, Muslim Women Representations, Queer Identities and Movement Building. She blogs in Spanish at Mezquita de Mujeres, a site dedicated to explore the links between Gender, Religion and Feminism as well to Women from the Global South as Change Makers in their communities.