Trigger Warning- Sexual Assault, Sexual abuse (Child and Adult), Violent Physical Abuse, Rape.
I met Sheela on Instagram. A lively girl, who freely shared her thoughts on the discussions I initiated, I enjoyed the interactions we had without any idea about the hidden depths to her strength.
And then a couple of weeks ago, Sheela sent me her story. Her story.
With it, these words.
"I want my story out there so parents know that paedophiles are often people they trust, women out there should know they are not to be defined by the horror we share and that it is not shameful to speak out about it. "
She also said that she had no qualms about making her identity public as she has no reason to feel ashamed and that she is done feeling that way.
*In Sheela's own words*
My life has been one long drawn nightmare. All the memories keep replaying like they’ve just happened yesterday. No matter what we do, there are some memories that we never forget.
My father was a very strict man. My mother was a housewife. My father was in many ways very caring and loving, but most of the times, his temper would flare and he would take his anger out on his family. He would beat us, strangle us, attempt to drown us in the bathtub, and even sometimes throw us from our first floor balcony down to the ground. He kicked, punched and stomped me until I was at the age of 17. I’d go to school bruised and wounded, and every time someone asked, I’d have to think up different excuses. As a child, I used to think he’d torture us because we have done something wrong. But as I grew up, I realized he made us his punching bag because he needed to release his tension. He never smoked or drank: he was simply a violent, angry man. But even getting beaten up was better than witnessing my mother gets beaten in the same way. My mum was a homely and reserved person. She would get beaten mostly because she tried stopping him from hitting us. After high school, while managing my dad’s business and studying at the same time, often when I couldn’t do things for him on time, he would lash out with harsh words, calling me a bitch and labelling me a prostitute. It happens even till now, just lesser than before.
Sadly, this was only one aspect of my childhood. Along with getting beaten, I was sexually abused multiple times during my childhood. When I was 5 and 6, my auntie’s son, who was in his early 20’s, stayed at my house for a short time. Whenever I was home alone with my cousin, he would touch me. His touches led to more actions, and eventually he forced me to perform oral sex on him. His explanation was that this was the way cousins show their love for each other. When he moved out, another cousin brother from mother’s side molested me for almost a year.
I never understood what was happening. I have never been told not to let anyone behave this way towards me. I didn’t even know what was happening was wrong.
As the years passed, I tried to bury my memories of my sexual abuse and to be honest, I sort of lost the memory of what I went through, maybe because I never understood what they were in the first place.
But when I was 14, it happened again. My mother’s youngest brother-in-law began living in our house. He was a pervert, and our whole family knew it, but nobody ever expected he’d prey on his own family. But he did. One day, I came home from school early because I was feeling sick and feverish. I took the bus home, and had the house to myself. I took medicine and immediately fell asleep. Suddenly, I was awoken from my sleep by a terrible and unbearable pain. I then realized I was lying naked in my bed with someone on top of me. By the time I fully realized what had happened; my uncle was through with me. I pushed him away and locked myself in my brother’s room. I panicked: I did not understand what happened. He went out a little bit after that and I returned to my room, finding blood stains on my bed sheet. I cleared the bed and put the sheet in the machine for washing. I locked myself in my brother’s room.
At that age, all I knew about sex was it is something adults do, and should only do after marriage. After my family came home, I felt safer and went back to my room. I could barely sleep that night because of the pain in my body. I told my cousin the next day what had happened. She begged me to not tell anyone, believing that if I told, it would surely split my family up. She told me I would only humiliate myself. I convinced myself not to tell anyone. I didn’t want my parents to feel like they had failed to protect me. I kept quiet and started to avoid my uncle completely.
But one day, I was late to school. I had no choice but to ride with him. Halfway through, he began asking me questions about that afternoon he raped me. He asked if I enjoyed it. He told me he should be teaching me how to do it, and that it could be our little secret. I was trying so hard not to cry. I did not want to look weak in front of him. When we reached the school, he gave me RM5 and told me to ‘keep it for the night’. It was if my virginity was worth only RM5 to him. I tore it up in front of him and ran to school. Once at school, I broke down. I told my friends what had happened and asked them to keep it secret. They back-stabbed me and spread it around not only to our school, but to other schools nearby.
At the end of the year, my uncle moved out. We went to visit him for prayer one day. That night, as I was dosing off to sleep, I suddenly felt someone reaching for my thighs. It was him. I was about to scream for help, and he got scared and left. A few days later, he told his wife that I had asked him for sex multiple times. I still cannot believe that everyone, including my own mother, believed him instead of me. They beat me up very badly, and since then, all of them have treated me cheaply. I felt like I was growing up an orphan within my own family.
A year later, my father hit my mom so hard that I finally broke down and filed a police report, but my mother refused to go along with it. She didn’t want to raise a family without a husband. My father felt as if I had betrayed him, and ever since then he’s treated me coldly. When I was 17, he hit me so hard that I passed out. When I woke up, he hit me again and again. He hit me until I was unrecognizable. I ran away from my house on the 1st of March and after a while, I returned after I made sure my dad promised he would never do that again.
To add to my woes, year 2012 I was raped by a childhood friend. He raped me in his car, and I gave into him, thinking that this is how it will be for the rest of my life. All I could think at that moment is why every man I thought I could trust turn out to be the one that hurt me most? After this incident I thought I was pregnant. Even though I have always been against abortion, I considered doing it. Thankfully I was not pregnant, but that moment made me realize I had to do something. I contacted WCC, seek counselling, and finally accepted that none of this was ever my fault. I’ve learn to stop blaming myself, letting myself think that I’d brought this all on myself, when really I was too young to understand. I grew up in pain, but I’ve learned now that there are ways to overcome it.
At the same year, I had a surgery for an ovarian cyst and after few days of being discharged, my dad had lost his temper over something at home and hit me and my mum. He hit me right at my surgery spot that I fear things will go worse, and I fled without anything at all except for the clothes I was wearing, not even shoes on my feet. I went to a friend’s house stayed overnight and went to the Women's Centre for Change (WCC) the next day. I didn’t lodge a report but I refused to come back home, and stood against my dad and told him off, with everything I could that I will not tolerate his beating towards me nor my mum and if that’s how he’s going to be, he will lose me! He still wouldn’t admit his mistake and justify that he grew up that way and nothing is wrong with beating.
After some time, he promised the WCC he wouldn’t do that, and that he will not ever repeat and I made sure he understood if it happens again, I will lodge a report on him. He has been a great dad, he put through all his efforts into educating me, and giving the best he could for us, but his temper is not justified. I wanted him to understand that what he did is wrong, that if my future husband was to do the same to me, how would he accept that? Since then he has not done anything to us, and I’m proud to say he is a changed man.
In 2014, I joined a local college to pursue my law degree and was sexually harassed by a lecturer who is involved in politics. He had come to acknowledge my past experience and thought of taking advantage on me multiple of times, indicating that he would grade me based on how I perform with him. When he realized I had come to a point that I refused and stood up against him and that I’ve discussed with a family friend who’s also an inspector, he took all measures to mess up with my studies that I decided to quit, not because I did not want to speak out but because my family was worried for my safety. I feel like I have lost so much and I've been struggling throughout my life. My studies are the only reason I’m still fighting this battle and I believe that one day, I can make a change in many children’s lives, with my own experience itself.
For the first time, I decided to go away, even from my loved ones, just to be on my own. I left my family and friends and took some time off, and came back after I felt I could think sensibly. Due to my pent-up rage, I could easily say I didn’t think I would be able to pick myself up back then. But I did.
Because I know, none of this was my choice, none of this was my mistake. It’s hard but I just get up every morning, and say to myself, smile because you can, and you will not let anyone see the worst part of you and judge you. Many have told me that my smile can easily make their day, but I wish I could say the same, because my smile is just a mask, and I’ve lost all sense of trust and faith in myself. I keep on living though with one thing in my mind, I only get stronger with this pain. I stopped praying for many years at one point as well. I just don’t see what I did to deserve this at such a young age. No one deserves this at any age! No one at all. Many had fallen into the worst path of life over this type of abuse. I’m just one of those who managed not to, and I wish I can save as many as I can in the future.
At one point, I thought I would end up as a prostitute. But instead I put all of my energy into my studies. I hope to be a part of a woman’s organization to help find peace and justice for women who have been in the same boat as me.
For now, all I can say is that we must take each step steadily and never let our faith in ourselves shatter. I can say now that I’ve started to pick myself up. I’m proud of myself for overcoming my traumatic experiences, and not letting my past overtake my life.
If you've reached this far, I know you will join me in commending Sheela for being brave to speak out proudly. While sending me this, Sheela also said that her main intent behind this is to use her pain to change the world. Please help her make this a reality by sharing her story and doing your bit in keeping the world around us safe for children, women and each other.
You can read more from Sheela who blogs about Depression, Self-love and Acceptance here.
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((Image for Courtesy : Pixabay))