Mirror, mirror…

I share the tragedy of my rape because when I snatch my story out of its’ dark corner and shove it into the light, the impalpable shame that surrounds it vanishes and it becomes powerless over me and my future.

I share my story with the man or woman that is raped every 7 minutes in Canada, with the Brazilian woman that is raped every 15 seconds, to the 93 women that are raped every day in India.

75% of Aboriginal girls are raped by the time they reach 18 years of age.

My story is not just my story. It is the story of many. It is the story of one out of four and one out of six. One is still one too many.

1997. I was 17 years old. It was a cold, dry morning, around 7:00 a.m., I was on my way to school to attend choir practice.

Weeks prior to the rape, we had a brief encounter. I was walking from my house to the bus stop to go to school and he came up from behind me, put his right hand underneath my (uniform) kilt. I felt his hand cup and grab my butt and when I turned around startled, he stared at me valiantly and walked away casually, looking back at me with offensive satisfaction. I just stood there, stunned. I blamed myself for that moment. “Why are you wearing your kilt?” I asked myself. So, guess what? Since I placed blame on myself, I started to wear sweatpants every morning and would change into my uniform when I got to school. Now, isn’t it fucked up that we live in a society where girls and women feel they have no choice but to accommodate evil? It took me decades to realize that there is only one thing that causes rape: RAPISTS.

The morning that it happened I was on my usual route, with my Russell Athletic sweatpants on. Hey, my legs are completely covered, no one will harass me THIS time, right?

Everything happened so fast that I had no time to react. From the time he came up from behind me, to when he grabbed me to when he threw me to the ground, to when I tried to fight back to when he got up and left me there – it all seemed like a matter of seconds. Every touch from him was cold and remorseless. When it plays back in my mind, it’s usually out of sequence and the same fog of frustration and unanswered questions swirl around me.

What were the series of life choices that led this “man” to rape me?
I shouldn’t have tried to fight to back, what was I thinking?
You should pay more attention in tae kwon do class!
It’s this same guy from weeks ago, you should have known!
Why me?
Did she see me?
How could she not see me?
Why didn’t she stop to help me?

I didn’t see her face, but I saw her black heels while I was on the ground – him on top of me. The black heels didn’t stop to help me, I didn’t hear her cry out for help, she didn’t even take steps back, she just kept moving forward as if I was in invisible.

I think of this woman more often than the rapist. For decades, I hated her. Why, why, why? Why? Why didn’t you help me? How can you just walk by something like that? But now, after years of self-reflection, a different assortment of questions have surfaced.

Maybe she thought that someone else would step in?
Maybe she figured someone had already dialed 911?
Maybe she thought there was more than one rapist?
Maybe she was scared that he has going to come after her?
Maybe she simply did not want to get involved?
Maybe her stress response was simply dissociation?

This bystander handed me a gift that day – a mirror. Never will I be a mirror like image of her choices in that moment when she saw me. I am quick to offer help to others because I know what it’s like to be aware that someone has witnessed an incomprehensible situation I am in but does not offer assistance. She has influenced me in my advocacy work. Her actions that day is the reason why I am more than willing to spend hours on Twitter with an online translator supporting a survivor who is 9 hours ahead of me. She is the reason why I point blank asked my cousin if she too was molested by our grandfather. I rather create an uncomfortable conversation and be wrong, then choose silence and be right. I recently spoke at a highschool and shared with them the psychological phenomenon known as the bystander effect. That part of my talk is inspired by the bystander and her black heels. I still think of this woman, but with empathy and compassion now.

I believe that everything happens for a reason and this includes every conversation you hear and everything you see, whether you are overhearing a man disrespecting his girlfriend in public or when a friend slowly starts to confide with you about their childhood trauma.

Always help someone. You might be the only person that does.

Thank You.

I woke up on my 34th Birthday with one intention: let love in.

I was thrilled by all the Birthday wishes I wholeheartedly received that day as I continue my journey back to a connection with my body, a soul case that has, for most of my life, been a stranger to me. My day of birth has never been easy, and like many things in this world, I have a detachment from it. Being forced to evacuate my body at 4 years old because a monster made a choice to invade and steal my childhood is the primary reason that I have always woken up on the seventh of every July with an unexplainable emptiness. I would always ask myself, “How can I celebrate a life that I can’t wholly remember and was not allowed to live properly?” It has only been in the past three years that I have started to “like” it, but it was always a game day decision; whatever I felt when I woke up on my Birthday was the wave of emotion that I was going to ride.

It has been a little over twenty months since my first speaking engagement, and the number one question I get asked is why I have chosen to do “this” publicly, why I choose to blog, to speak, to rant, to rave. My answer has stayed the same; nothing positive came from staying silent. In silence, I was cutting, purging, bingeing, over exercising, depressed, suicidal, you name it, it was happening. I don’t know about you, but I like the whole Breaking My Silence thing a whole lot better. I woke up on the morning of my thirty fourth with no shame of my traumas and acceptance that I will never receive apologies from my abusers. But I have also accepted that as long as I am alive, I will always be a work in progress, and that I am living life with intention now, instead of waiting to die. Thank you to everyone that has stood by me, you guys are my real family. And to those that have walked away, you guys have been my greatest teachers, teaching me that rejection is protection in disguise, and that silence is, I believe, a staple in the cultural identity of Asians.  I am thankful to these people for clearing so much room for amazing possibilities. My fellow survivors, in the wake of our monsters destructions, we will always rise victorious. One day at a time. ‘Coz they win when your soul dies.

The “missing” letter.

September of last year I had messaged my Uncle on Facebook asking if he knew the whereabouts of the letter.  After telling my parents about my molestation, I decided to write my “Grandfather” a letter, which was to be mailed to my Uncle, who was going to pass it on to him.  Imagine my surprise when my Uncle replied four days later saying that “I don’t think I ever saw this letter and if I did I don’t have a copy of it.”  Bullshit.  He was the appointed messenger.  And I wrote that damn thing twice.  So not only did he lie about ever seeing it, he then downsized my ten year ordeal to an incident.  Isn’t an incident something like accidentally rear ending somebody in the parking lot of a shopping mall?

Okay, I guess then that letter has conveniently gone missing, swept under the proverbial rug of The Cultural Code of Silence.  Surprise, surprise.

It’s a good thing I remembered what I wrote, huh?

I started off the letter with, “Do you remember the summer of 1994? I do. I remember everything. You have murdered my childhood.”

“I am writing this as a living corpse.  I am numb.  The only way I can feel alive is to put a blade to my skin and cut. The blood signifies that I am unfortunately still here.”

Then I made some points very clear to him.

– “I have told my parents.”

– “You will never see me again.”

– “I cannot wait to get married and take on a last name that I could be proud of.”

– “You will never meet my future husband and my future children.”

– “I am in prison for the rest of my life for your crime.”

– “I will never know what it will be like to lead a normal life.”

– “I pray you die alone.  I pray you die slowly, just like how my death was.”

–  “On the day of your death, I will smile and laugh.  I will come to your funeral wearing the brightest colours to celebrate your impending arrival into Hell.”

———-
My “family” can keep the original letter.  It has probably collected a lot of dust anyway.  I wonder what else is under there?

Nothing will stop me.

“Even if you are in the minority of one, the Truth is still the Truth.” – Mahatma Ghandi.

Speech at the Memorial for the Montreal Massacre – December 1, 2012.

This speech is dedicated to [names have been removed].

I am Breaking My Silence.

Our silence is their protection.

“When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”  A quote by Audre Lorde, Activist.

I was a little reluctant to share. I decided for the first support group session, I would take a back seat and observe. Then a beautiful woman said something that changed my life. She said clearly, “I was molested as a child.” I froze. That was the first time in the 13 years I’ve been seeking counseling that a human being has said that, out loud with me in the same room. It wasn’t from a book or from the television. Finally, I knew someone else that was molested, thus already learning the first advantage to group support: You are not alone. I was not alone. This woman in front of me was proof of it. She was real. She had a name, a story, a purpose in life.

I once spent an entire lunch hour in high school in a bathroom stall. I just stood there feeling completely alone. I didn’t want to be around my classmates who were stressing about boys or math equations. I had a real life problem – an unsolved one. A problem I believed at the time was mine alone, that there was not a single person in the entire Universe who had experienced my pain.

I remember this particular instance in math class where I was asked to approach the chalkboard to solve a mathematical equation. What I desperately wanted to write was:

Solve this.
I am 17.
The other day I was sexually assaulted by a stranger on the way to school.
I told zero people.
3 years prior, in the summer of 1994, I was molested by my paternal grandfather, Adriano. I was 14.
The first time he molested me, was, metaphorically, the day I died and became someone else.

On one occasion he said “Please don’t tell anyone about this. Do you want to ruin your family?”

I told zero people.
That’s 5 years of abiding to his Code of Silence.
When I told my parents, I was surprised that they believed me.
Every 24 hours that go by, I remember less and less of what my life was like before that first day he molested me.
Where did my childhood go?
It’s missing. And I have a right to reclaim it.

A monster took my life before I had a chance to decide what I wanted for my life.

Years after that day in math class, I had more to add to my life equation. At 25, I was in a domestically abusive relationship with my then alcoholic boyfriend, Jose, who not only abused me, but the baby that I was pregnant with. A product of a machismo household with Neanderthal attitudes towards alcohol and women, he became a part of the vicious cycle, and dragged me on the disturbing merry go round. It is a miracle that I am even standing here, with my arms and legs in place, with my 5 senses intact. I would end up having to give birth to my child 1 month before my due date, for the abuse had taken a toll on my 4’11 frame. He would go on to walk out on us 12 days before the baby turned 1. His parting words were “Good luck trying to get a penny out of me.”

Peer support breaks the barriers of loneliness and isolation, has made me feel less of a statistic, and has transformed the way I perceived the word “therapy”. In a confidential environment, we felt safe to address our fears and anxieties. Through mutual aid and the sharing of literature and methods of coping and healing, week by week, we unpeeled layers of our broken spirits and tired bodies. We’ve offered support for each other by attending court and giving feedback on a woman’s victim impact statement. Through each other, we have reconnected with our innermost selves, asking questions we have not thought of until someone had asked it of them self. Sharing stories of sorrow, survival and hope has erased the clear demarcation of our skin colour and socioeconomic status, and has clearly showed but we are more alike than we are different.

I felt empowered when I shared stories of how much dance and Hip Hop have been my saving grace all these years, and how the only time I can ever be truly myself, be the closest I am to that 14 year old girl, is when I’m dancing. I felt I had a purpose when I shared stories that were able to give the women understanding and perception. I looked forward to meeting with these women every week, for I finally felt like all my range of emotions was being validated. These women understand how hard it is to wear a smile in the morning, after crying all night. Although this session is over, there is no “graduation date”. In this case, there is no such phrase as “get over it already!” or “you’re still thinking about that?”. I have learned through group support that this is a lifelong process, that any kind of abuse especially from childhood takes a long time to get through.

If that moment when I heard “I was molested as a child.” was all I ever took with me from support group, it was worth it. Fortunately, it wasn’t. These remarkable women that I’ve grown to love as sisters, have changed my life. I am proud of their strength and growth beyond their painful experiences and want to honour them individually for we are a thriving sisterhood forming an unbroken chain of support.  For them, I will be their lamp, lifeboat, or ladder, for these 4 women have become a life-altering plus to my 32 year equation.

I finish off with the last verse and chorus of the song “Babygirl” by the Hip Hop artist Brother Ali. The following lines of poetry are what pushed me to give support group a chance.

She said if I was meant to die he would’ve killed me.
There must be a reason that I still breathe.
I don’t have the tools to rebuild me.
But I still believe that one day I could feel free.
And my body could be mine again.
My eyes can learn how to shine again.
My inner child won’t have to hide and then
When I’m strong then Love can be invited in.
Sweet God that’s all I ask of thee.
I’m willing to give you what you demand of me.
I’m learning to embrace the reality
That life doesn’t always turn out how it’s planned to be.
I didn’t deserve what was handed to me
Only one who can grant happiness is me
What it takes for her to face the day
I can only hope to be half that brave.

Don’t run babygirl, don’t run.
You gotta face what you’re fighting, head on.
Only one thing I could say in truth.
You gotta deal with the demons before they deal with you.

My name is Jodie and I have just Broken My Silence.