TRIGGER WARNING: This blog post speaks about rape and sexual assault.
I can still remember all the details if I try.
I can remember that I was sleeping on the left side of the bed beneath my green and blue checked blanket, my laptop and iPod charging on the night stand beside me.
I can remember that my hair was soaking wet. I was trying out bantu knots for the fourth time and I hoped they would yield some kinky waves when I undid them the next morning.
I remember opening my eyes to an unfamiliar, threatening voice.
I remember the pinch of his vise-like grip and the cold steel pressing into my back as he shoved me down the hallways in my house.
I remember my mind going completely blank, ridding itself of every lesser thought that was worrying me just minutes before I dozed off.
I remember being able to see every object and surface despite the thick darkness and the absence of my glasses, realizing with slight awe that this is what it felt like to be full of adrenaline.
I remember the cloying smell of the night jasmine growing on my neighbor’s fence as he pushed me, barefoot, through the dew-dampened grass.
I remember the dogs barking loudly at our movement, and him shoving me faster, faster, away from the house and their alarm.
I remember the sound of his breath as we walked up the street, pieces of rock and glass sticking to the bottoms of my soft feet.
I remember when he said, “Stop here.”
I remember when he said, “Lay down.”
I remember when he said, “Turn over.”
I remember deciding, as I laid belly down in the bushes, that I was going to fight and be raped, or fight and die.
I remember grabbing, and kicking, and screaming, and clawing, and screaming, and screaming, and screaming, until he ran away from my screams, and I ran away from my screams.
I remember not being able to stop screaming, standing shirtless in the middle of the street around the corner from my home howling like a woman gone mad.
He was long gone, but I was still screaming.
I screamed until I broke blood vessels in my eyes, until my throat went hoarse, until my lungs burned, until my ears started popping.
I remember the screaming. I didn’t know I could scream like that.
I screamed so violently that a man woke up half a mile away, got in his car, and drove to find me there – standing in the street, still screaming and bleeding from the soles of my feet.
On June 16th, 2012, I was assaulted.
A man broke into my house, walked into my bedroom, led me outside at gunpoint, and tried to rape me. He did not succeed.
I’ve tried many times to find the words that would adequately describe how grateful I am that he did not succeed, because I am deeply, deeply, grateful. I am more grateful than I think I will ever be able to express.
But in the days, weeks, and months that followed the assault, the reality of what happened to me settled in.
I was assaulted.
The idea sounded foreign to me even though it wasn’t just an idea, I’d lived it. I had the fork-like scar on his teeth made when they dug into the flesh of my forearm to prove it.
I was assaulted.
It was as if it had happened to somebody else. Even when my aunt sat on the floor in front of me two weeks later and pinched a piece of the remaining glass out of my foot, it felt fake.
But I was assaulted. No questions asked.
I went to therapy. As the days went on, the trauma responses that I thought I wouldn’t have began to flare. I couldn’t sleep at night. I would sit up for hours, staring at my door, waiting for someone to burst through. I would doze with the rising sun, slipping into fitful sleep just as the sky began to lighten. My parents learned not to shake me awake when I nearly punched my father in the face. To this day they call my name from the open doorway to wake me.
I started having panic attacks, moments when my breath would leave me stranded in a room, all by myself, fighting to focus on anything besides my frantic, scrambled thoughts.
I always remembered smells the most – the smell of the night jasmine, the smell of my attacker’s boozy breath, the smell of the wet grass beneath my feet. And when I remembered the smells, I would freeze and shake. My hearing would become hollow; my heart would begin to beat wildly.
I told my therapist I couldn’t sleep, that I couldn’t stop the memories sometimes. He taught me how to regain control, how to focus on breathing and nothing else, how to turn all my senses to breath.
I went back to college that Fall, and the night before I left for the first time in my then twenty years of life, I saw my father cry. Tears dribbled down his hairy cheeks and onto our clenched hands as he prayed a prayer for protection and peace. They were letting me go back to Connecticut where they couldn’t protect me, or keep me safe. I was numb, I couldn’t even feel my own tears running down my face. But seeing his tears made me realize how severe the situation was. Somewhere inside of me, knowing broke open and sighed.
I was assaulted…
After that Summer, I changed.
Cat calls felt like threats. Lewd looks and the lusty stares of strange men didn’t make me blush (they never had), they made me want to fight. I became combative and flighty. I was liable to cuss anyone clean out for saying anything sexual to me, I felt like a caged animal. Thankfully, I never experienced any kind of harassment or assault while I was in college. In fact, I felt unbelievably safe during my time abroad. The time was what I needed for my inflamed mind and body to ease. My temperament cooled with the coming Winter.
I was assaulted, but I survived.
When I returned home for Winter break, I noticed with horrifying clarity how normal it is for Bahamian men to harass women. I felt like I was walking naked down the street each time I was subject to cars honking, men shouting, smooching, and licking their lips at me.
It is far too easy for the men in this country, my country, to talk to women about their bodies and what they want to do to them. For me, cat-calling isn’t just an annoyance, it is a trigger.
I question my personal safety every time I walk down a sidewalk. When men slow their cars, and two or three of them stick their heads and torsos out the windows to get my attention, I’m not flattered, I’m afraid. I lengthen my stride and pick up the pace.
I try to be cordial, muttering thank-yous to their lascivious comments, refusing to slow down or interact fully. I am subject to their boisterous banter and vocal scrutiny of my moving body – the curve of my legs, the sway of my hips, the size of my waist, the color of my lips. I am mortified as I duck into my car and dissolve into tears.
I am exhausted as sobs rack my body and the smell of night jasmine seems to fill my car. I am shaking as I attempt to slow my breathing the way my therapist taught me to all those years ago. Slowly, the memories retreat, my heart rate slows, and I am able to think.
I wonder how many more thousands of women feel the way I do, not complimented, but horrified as men make lewd comments on sidewalks as they walk by. I wonder how many women feel the fingers of their attackers sliding over their skin as men whisper unwarranted words into their ears. I wonder how many women restrain themselves for fear of being berated, verbally mauled, and humiliated even further in a public place because she defended herself.
I wonder. I wonder if these Bahamian men do not to see the disgust, fear, or discomfort on the faces of the women they harass, or if they see it and do not care. I wonder how many more women, like me, do not feel safe on sidewalks and streets.
In the aftermath following the assault, I was made aware of how poorly women are largely regarded and treated in this country, especially victims of sexual violence. I was asked by a ‘trained’ professional what I was wearing when I was kidnapped.
I’ll say that again.
I was asked what I was wearing when I was kidnapped from my bedroom and assaulted.
Men have taken up defense against my complaints about harassment.
“Daniah you’re a beautiful woman, men are going to come on to you.”
“Daniah you have a nice body, men can’t help themselves.”
“Daniah there’s nothing you can do, men will always notice you and feel the need to say something.”
“Daniah you’re just too shapely, men are going to react. Just accept it.”
All excuses, and dangerous ones. You are enabling behavior that I just told you makes me feel unsafe. You are defending the men who have invaded my privacy and run past my boundaries. You are enabling rape culture, and it needs to stop.
The way my physicality is perceived when I do something as simple as walk down the street is a clear indication to me that I am not respected or valued. To be reduced to the size of my hips and thighs is insulting as best and sick at a little less than best. To blame verbal assault on my decision to wear clothing that reveals even the hint of the curves of my body beneath is vile. It is disgusting. And I am horrified of the way we stay silent when it is happening right in front of us.
To be responsible for ensuring that I am not raped is exhausting. And to know that if I am, I will have to prove that I did not cause it is devastating. I cannot wear clothing that is loose enough, be quiet enough, walk modestly enough, be invisible enough, be aware of my surroundings enough to not be harassed.
To not feel confident that I will not be overpowered and abused while I walk at night (or during the day) is terrible. To have to ask a coworker to walk with me to my car after work to ward off the words of strange men is terrible. To be reminded each day by men who do not know me that there was once a man who tried to take something from me that I did not want to give is both terrifying and tiring. I am tired, we are tired.
And do not assume that the women in your life do not have any history with sexual assault or violence. 1 in every 6 American women have been sexually assaulted. Think about six women you know, chances are that at least one of them has either been raped, almost raped, or experienced some sort of sexual violence in her lifetime. This idea that sexual assault victims have a ‘look’, dress a certain way, live a certain type of lifestyle, or can somehow do or say anything that makes them ‘deserving’ of rape is not only disgusting, but completely false. After my ordeal, women began telling me their stories. Women I knew and women who knew of me started saying ‘me too,’ and assuring me that I would not be crippled by the fear forever. Without fail, each time I feel prompted or led by the Holy Spirit to tell someone my story, they follow with a story of their own. This has happened to me dozens of times in the eight years that have passed. It blows my mind how many times our ‘No’ has been ignored.
Many of us have experienced it, and don’t talk about it. I very rarely speak about my experience. My closest friends and family have known since it happened, but even now when I talk about it, I do it from a distance. I don’t allow myself to relive it, to feel the pain, hear the sounds, or smell the scents. I don’t allow it to cripple me, but make no mistake, I’ve been traumatized. And that scar throbs every time I am forced to endure another series of cat calls, another slowed vehicle interaction, another unwanted remark about my body, another assault on my mental space.
Every woman may not have this reaction, I didn’t before I was assaulted, but I do now. And it is wearisome. A conversation needs to be had about how Bahamian women are perceived at home, about the way we are spoken to and treated, about the way our men see us and if they value or respect us. I know all Bahamian men are not like this (please don’t suggest that I do not), but I have been a citizen of this country for 28 years and this has been my experience and the experience of many others.
We need to talk about this.
So I’m going first. Here’s my story.