This morning on Facebook, one of the first posts I saw was this:
If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. (copied/pasted)
Without a second thought, I copied and pasted the post and hashtag to my own feed. My reaction was instantaneous, guttural and instinctive – and here’s why:
The very first thought I had was “Gosh, she too?!” about the friend who had posted this. I never would have thought, I said to myself…
And then I thought – well, would she have thought the same about me?
This is the most insidious nature of sexual harassment and assault. It is so hidden, so buried, with the survivors frequently questioned and doubted (just look at the initial reactions to the Weinstein story – ‘we knew, but…’ being the most quoted phrase perhaps in this whole debacle).
Sometimes, we, the survivors ourselves question it – did it really happen to me? But did I do anything wrong? Should I have done something different?
No. And again, most emphatically… NO.
Abuse is just that, abuse. And the buck HAS TO stop with the abuser. We need to get this message out, we need to scream it from the rooftops till its heard.
My story, luckily, was ‘light’ when compared to the multitude of stories that are out there. But it happened, and it never should have, and I did nothing about it.
I was around 27 years old (yup, I’ve actually blocked the exact year it happened) and I was living in Torino, Italy, a city I am in love with till this day. I was renting the flat I was living in at the time from my friend’s mum and I lived on the fifth floor. One day, I got into the lift on the ground floor and a middle-aged man, perhaps 50 years of age, got in with me. The lift wasn’t a big lift, but neither was it a small one – 4 people fit comfortably. The man got out on the third floor.
And somehow, in the few seconds that it took for the lift to go up three floors, he had managed to invade my personal space and force me up against the back of the lift as he raised his hands to touch my breasts.
I couldn’t believe it and I literally froze to the spot. Yes, I mean this literally, I froze. Luckily, I had a briefcase in my hand and after what seemed like an eternity of numbness I raised it in front of myself, thereby blocking his access.
At this point, the door opened and he stepped out as though nothing had happened.
I continued to be rooted to the spot.
When the lift reached my floor I got out and went into my apartment, still in a state of shock. I proceeded to follow my normal routine until, at a certain point, my then-boyfriend dropped by. As soon as I saw a familiar and safe face, I let go and told him what had happened.
Till today, over 15 years later, I can still vividly recall how hollow and strange the words coming out of my mouth sounded. It was nearly as though I had had an out-of-body experience.
Domi reacted in the best way possible – he comforted me and immediately called my closest female friend at the time, urging her to come over straight away. The flat belonged to her mum.
When she came, talking to her made it somehow more real, and disgust and anger set in, along with self-doubt: was I imagining this? I knew I wasn’t, but… was I?
She was furious and wanted me to go to the police but I refused. What would I say? What could they do? Had I imagined it? Would they believe me? Who was he? I’m a foreigner, will they treat me differently?
This and a million other doubts set in. I rationalised the incident away saying to myself that after all, nothing serious had happened. But today I can say I was wrong – something very serious had happened. A man had decided that he had right over me, over my space, over my body and he had forced this ‘right’ on me.
This is just one tiny episode in the millions that happen on a yearly basis. And before someone says men get abused too, yes, I’m sure they do, but there certainly isn’t a quasi-institutionalised acceptance of this.
Until women continue to be objectified, until women continue to be doubted, until women continue to be seen as second-class citizens, until we teach our sons and daughters better, we will, unfortunately, continue to say #metoo.