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Grim reading on openDemocracy. Four women share their stories about rape, disclosure, and dealing with rape myths. TW.

Women of the World (WOW) created a public, cultural space where women’s stories of survival and their manner of telling them expanded their particular narratives into the universal and political.

Four women, from Pakistan, the US, Britain and Germany, sit quietly on a panel at a festival as the audience assembles and the hubbub of voices dies away. Silence falls.

Then they speak. The Pakistani woman was 8 years old, possibly younger she says, when her 15 year old cousin began to sexually abuse her. The British woman has never spoken in public before. Her written testimony is simultaneously matter of fact, poetic and searingly affecting. She is shaking as she reads: ‘From the age of 14, I was raped and sexually assaulted 7 times over an 11 year period by 12 different men in 4 countries.’ The American woman says: ‘I was raped 8 years ago when I was 29. It was the classic stranger rape that makes the headlines, and it did.’ The German woman reads a poem then says: ‘It was an older cousin. I was 5 when it started. Actually I don’t know when it started. I can’t remember when the grooming phase ended.’

See also this post from earlier today:
“This is rape culture” – Caitlin Roper on @feministcurrent

For two hours the women give their testimony and talk with others in the audience who have had similar experiences. They have been brought together by Jude Kelly, the artistic director of London’s South Bank Centre, as part of the annual Women of the World Festival (WOW). Kelly is chairing. She has created a space to talk, but not the usual space. This is not a therapy room, where a progression from taboo, secrecy, pain, guilt, and shame towards healing might be hoped for. This is a public, cultural space where the women’s stories and their manner of telling them expand their particular narratives into the universal and political.

One woman’s story:

‘It took me a long time to say that he had raped me. There was no escape. It never felt like an option to tell anyone. It became normal for me. I was 16 when these memories came back. It was hard to differentiate what was real. I was having flashbacks and nightmares and I couldn’t sleep. I needed help. I tried to tell my parents. I didn’t want to hurt them. I only told them a little. My mum is a doctor. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe me. Her reaction was “Get over it. It happens to all of us.” And that person, my cousin, was still in my life. The duty to hold the family together was a priority. What happened after is worse. It was all about him, what people would say. The last time I went to Karachi I refused to stay at my uncle’s house. My mum said I had to – in the exact same room where everything had happened to me.

‘There is a constant message: “Don’t say”. But talking about it publicly is taking the power back. My parents want me to get married. I had a panicked phone call from mum: “Don’t say anything about this”. But as long as I keep hiding that I can’t be myself. It’s a cultural thing. When we are silent we are complicit. We’ve got to challenge the culture.’

– Winnie (US)

© and read the rest: Rape testimony: pitting truths against rape culture openDemocracy