'Sexual crime is a global epidemic'
By Cosette Leman
I was a 6-year-old studying in an Indian school when I was first exposed to sexual abuse. He was my teacher’s son and although my memory of that time is blurred, I knew what had happened was wrong. I went to my parents immediately and never returned to the school. During my time in India, I was taught to be cautious as a woman in a misogynistic culture. “Guard yourself, watch your surroundings, don’t trust strange men.” These were the things I had heard a million times. However, when I left India and moved to America is when I think I was least prepared. I had assumed that the rest of the world didn’t harbour the same type of evil I had seen tormenting women in India. So, I let my guard down and 10 years later on my 16th birthday, I was assaulted again. This time, I was old enough to fully understand what he had done to me. Because of the shame I felt, I hid what happened and for over a year, I never told anyone. Even though I knew that I was not the only girl who had dealt with this type of pain, I felt utterly alone. That’s the problem with shame. It fools us into believing that we are isolated in our hurt, that no one would understand the things we are going through. So, I lived in silence and let shame of my past determine my worth. I let it fester and separate me from the rest of the good things in my life. Perhaps my voice wouldn’t be heard even if I tried. Perhaps I would be blamed for situations in which I was powerless. Perhaps I wouldn’t be believed. I remember telling myself that if I pretended like these events didn’t happen, then I would be able to spare my reputation. No one talked about these things openly, so how would I ever feel safe to speak about it either?
Nightmares still plagued me every night and I found it difficult to trust any man in my life. I was filled with hatred for both these men. I couldn’t understand why they were permitted to walk away and resume their lives while mine had fallen to pieces. I hated that they got to take what they wanted and leave me with all of the lingering pain. I hated that they would never understand what they had put me through. I hated that they may have done the same things to other girls. Eventually, all that hate broke me and I came to see that my life had been consumed with what these men had done to me. I finally told someone what had happened to me. It has been a long road of healing since then and is a journey I will never be fully free from, but the stories I carry with me are proof that those past events are not my identity. I am not defined by the wrong that has been committed against me and hate will no longer control me.
Through these experiences, I realized that sexual crime is not limited to India or any one country. It is not a social issue but a global epidemic. I had often thought that perhaps women and girls were treated better in other places, other cities, other continents. The sad truth is that most women, share in the same emotions of shame, guilt, and an overwhelming sense that our bodies have in some way been corrupted. While it is heart-breaking to know so many other women have had similar experiences, it also serves as an encouragement in lifting the hushed shame that every society wants to place on sexual crimes. In the darkness of secrecy, shame is deadly, but in the strengthening numbers of a like-minded people, freedom blossoms.