Tag Archives: sovereignty

Nisha’s Story

The first of many violations happened when I was 6 years old. I was at a small department store with my dad, and true to our usual routine at this store, I asked to go look at the toys and books.

In the aisle of children’s books, I became deeply engrossed in one, and barely noticed that a young man had come to stand next to me. At one point, he said something to me, and I looked up to see his penis in his hand.

I threw the book into the shelves and ran. I ran so hard, I was panting and red faced when I found my dad, my mind racing.

My dad looked at me and asked what happened. In that moment, I knew that if I told my dad, he would put the store on lock down and kill the guy. I was embarrassed. I didn’t want the guy to get hurt.

So I shrugged it off and held my dad’s hand tightly as we walked through the store. I was only 6 years old, but I remember feeling even smaller.

Several minutes later, the guy was walking down our aisle towards us. He pointed me out to his girlfriend and they walked by us, laughing.

My dad said something like “weirdos” under his breath, and I remember feeling so confused by their laughter. Had I done something wrong? Wasn’t it a bad thing that he did? Why did she in particular laugh at me?

//

There were at least 5 other physical violations by the time I was 19, and countless catcalls and unwanted come-ons. The other physical violations happened at the hands of a doctor, a man who approached me in his vehicle when I was walking alone on a dark road, a stalker who was given my home address by a college professor, a man who grabbed my pussy in a bar, and a date that I mysteriously don’t remember after the second drink.

I am 1 in 3

The UN estimates that at least 1 in 3 women worldwide will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime.

I am 1 in 3.

In 1985, my family moved from the quiet suburbs of Washington, DC to Paris, France. I was nearly 10 years old and had already gone through puberty. By the time I was 15, I had been attacked in an elevator; sexually assaulted and bullied by five classmates on and off for three years; flashed by homeless men on my way to school; groped multiple times by “dirty old men” while taking public transportation; struck by a male principle with a fillip; catcalled by random men while going about my everyday life; and the recipient of an offer of child marriage. In the more than 25 years since, I have experienced numerous incidences of sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, and lewd behavior. Nearly all of my perpetrators have been acquaintances: classmates, colleagues, dates. I did not report the majority of these incidences to authorities or tell my community. Partly because, for a long time, every time I spoke up, it cost me more than if I hadn’t said anything at all. And partly because, by the time I was in my 30s, low-grade sexual harassment felt like the cost of being a woman in a man’s world.

For years, I blamed myself and, whenever yet another person hurt me or disrespected me or violated me, I minimized, de-escalated, and stuffed down my anger, fear, shame, and frustration. Several years ago, I began opening up about my experiences in women’s circles where I felt safe. Two amazing and unexpected things happened:

  1. The more vulnerable I was, the more women met me with support, sisterhood, and empathy, the more my shame melted away, and the more empowered I felt.
  2. Having the courage to share my survivor stories gave other women the courage to stand up and say “me, too” and share both their survivor stories and the times when they confided in a friend or relative and were met with blame, stigma, judgment, and re-victimization.

This collection is an invitation for you to share your survivor story (or stories) and take your power back. What happened to you is not your fault. You are not alone, love. Your voice matters. Together, let’s shed light on the darkness of rape culture and step more fully into our sovereignty as girls and women.