Undoing Damage

There are conversations you have with people that you can’t ever forget, even if you are no longer in their lives, or you in theirs. In 2009, I took on the role of editor for the Women’s Edition of Metior, Murdoch Guild’s student magazine. Part of my job constituted of commissioning articles, which is really just a fancy way of saying begging people to write for the 36-page severely underfunded publication. Speaking of underfunded, writers, designers, photographers and the likes were all on a volunteer basis, save for the editor who did the bulk of the work. Mind you, the editor had to be a student of Murdoch University and at least partially enrolled for classes. So this meant having to juggle studies, possibly a part-time job (students aren’t exactly sitting on mounds of cash) AND edit, proofread, design layout, source pictures…you get what I mean. Needless to say, for two months I wasn’t short of things to do.Fortunately, there were people who were passionate about writing and women’s rights with stories to tell, waiting to contribute to the issue. It was no surprise then that my mornings at the Guild office were often livened by the visits of various women who were either involved in the magazine or wanted to contribute somehow.

One morning while trying to squeeze in some writing, our cover designer knocked on my door, presumably with sketches to share. I anticipated a quick meeting and greeted her, my mind already drafting the next e-mail I had to send. Our cover designer, Sally* was a tall sure young woman, who was majoring in Science and happened to be brilliant in art. Her drawings were stunning and I admired her ease and confidence with which she seemed to glide across rooms and doorways. Her beautiful brown hair was cropped short and she had big eyes.

We sat down and discussed deadlines, size, image logistics. Then, she told me she might write in an article. Yes! One less page I had to worry about, I thought to myself.

“It’s not something I’ve told a lot of people. In fact, I just only told my mom recently,” she said to me, getting comfortable in her chair. My mind whirred, what was she talking about? Sally proceeded to tell me that, one night, as a teenage girl, she had been sexually assaulted by a guy she knew. She told me how she had had a bit too much to drink, and how she said no but he didn’t listen. She decided to tell me so that she could build up the courage to go to the authorities and seek justice.

I was in shock. I wouldn’t have guessed that a woman who looked so sure of herself had been subjected to almost being raped just a few years ago. It goes to show two things: 1. never judge a book by its cover, 2. The consequences of sexual assault are devastating and damaging to women.

As she told me the story, my heart felt like it was being contracted by an invisible hand. Sally had tears in her eyes but she never succumbed to crying. I think I did, but I can’t remember now. She spoke of how hard it was to tell her mom, how scared she was of being blamed and how much she didn’t want to see that guy again.But she might have to if she chose to seek out justice.

How brave she was in my eyes! Here she was, ready to report the guy who had left such a painful scar that it was hard still to even talk about it, all these years later. How many women would do that?

The answer is: not many, and simply because not many women even have the resources to cope with this sort of pain, let alone have avenues to report their perpetrators. This is the sad reality of rape and its victims. Based on my mere glimpse into the realities of rape and based on the hundreds of statistics, the perpetrators are usually someone the victim knows.

When Sally told me she was scared, anger raged in my heart. Why should this woman, whose only crime was being young and having fun, be afraid of being blamed?How many times have women been blamed for being sexually wronged?For wearing short skirts? For ‘inviting’ men to invade their physical selves?

And what of the consequences of rape? The confusion, the hurt, the numbness, the desperation to feel normal, the fear of telling the truth? The intense fear of not having anyone believe you? What kind of damage does that do to a person, male or female?A damage that I can only begin to imagine when I sat across Sally and heard her heart-breaking story.

But that doesn’t mean she had to remain heartbroken for so long. Sally broke her silence by telling her mom, and reported feeling ten times better after her confession. Even when she left, she went with a smile. I think talking about it was cathartic for her and volunteering to write about it was a definite step in the road to healing.

Perhaps it is foolish to think we can undo damages but I am a foolish idealist. If you know of someone who has been sexually assaulted, abused or raped and needs help or if you have experienced this yourself and in need of assistance, please contact the relevant helpline in your state.

In Malaysia, this is the contact: Rape Crisis – UH 03-7956 4422. Alternatively, you can also call the TELENITA Helpline : 03-78770224. The centre at UH is actually a one-stop centre for women in crisis.

Let’s undo the damage together, people!

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