I contemplated writing this article for years. In part because I’ve never shared these incidents that I’m about to tell you so publicly… but I’ve decided it’s time to share this story… Perhaps it will be helpful to others who are going through trauma, maybe it will inspire others to stand up, say something and contribute to the much-needed conversation that needs to happen around these topics, and perhaps it will do none of the above. My story, however, needs to get out.
Please note that what I’m about to share are my experiences and opinions and I in no way want to offend or diminish the experiences that others have endured. Each person’s experience with this is unique and different. I’m merely sharing my story so that you may know, that if you’re going through or have gone through similar experiences – you are not alone. I see you woman (or man), and I hope my story will be of service to you and inspire you to tell yours too (if you wish to do so). I also want you to know that it’s taken me 15 years to share this so openly if you’re not ready – that’s ok, it’s ok to wait to share.
I was 21 when it happened. It also happened to coincide with the last day that I would ever take anti-depression medication. I’d been struggling with depression for a few years… but that’s a story for another day.
It was supposed to be a victorious day, I had finally been able to successfully wean myself off of anti-depressants without falling into depression again.
The night quickly took a horrid turn: date raped by a man whom I’d been seeing for a few months. At the time I didn’t know anyone who this had happened too. But after the event, I would learn about countless women and friends who had experienced this kind of trauma. All of them suffering in silence, until it happened to a friend and only then we’d share our stories. It was like some secret club that I definitely never wished to be part of…but yet, there I was.
It was like some secret club that I definitely never wished to be part of…but yet, there I was.
For years I only told a few friends, and new friends along the way never heard the story…
In the aftermath I had to write my own police statement as the officer assigned to my case wasn’t competent to do so – welcome to a third world country’s police force. There were many gynecological exams, I had to receive AIDS prevention treatment, and of course counseling.
Feeling violated, humiliated and utterly lost. The shame I felt was intensified because before the incident I was a virgin.
A friend offered up the wisest words, words that would stay with me forever.
“You didn’t give anything to him. He took it.”
To me, these words were so empowering. It helped me realized that I had a choice. It was a pivotal moment, understanding that I could shift from being the victim, stopping the prolonged suffering that often follows a traumatic experience like this.
I decided not to press charges, I was about to leave South Africa, and the last thing I wanted was to get caught up in a lengthy legal battle where I’d have to relive the entire horrible thing over and over again. Instead, I decided to confront my predator head on.
I decided to confront my predator head on.
I remember it being super sunny that morning when I went to his house, the same location where the nightmare had taken place. I felt safe being accompanied by a very kind detective who had taken over the case.
After the detective exchanged a few words with him and showed him the evidence against him, it was my turn. My counselor had coached me on what to say. It was simple: “You knew I didn’t want to do it. You had no right.” After delivering my bit, my rapist apologized and agreed to pay for all medical expenses, including counseling.
It was one of the most liberating mornings of my young adult life.
Looking back at it now, that younger version of me had so much courage. It was one of the most liberating mornings of my young adult life. And ultimately it was the action that set me free.
Although it took several years to truly let go of all of it, forgive, and not let it impact my relationships, my friends’ wise words always stuck with me. And the apology helped me to get tremendous closure which made moving on with my life easier.
Fast forward a few years to sexual harassment at work. There were multiple offenders and incidents. And this time it wasn’t so easy to confront the trespassers.
Because there was a stigma attached to women who flagged companies for this kind of behavior and I would lose more than my job, I’d lose my visa and thus my entire right to stay abroad.
I wasn’t ready to pack in my career.
I felt trapped and lost, there would be no other female broker mentors until later when it was too late, and my contempt for the industry had grown so large that there was no staying.
Finally, it all became too much, and I walked into the office on a cold day in February and confronted my manager. This time there were no apologies. Instead, I got shipped off to HR immediately.
When I reflect on these two very different experiences the following comes to mind:
You are not a victim, you are a warrior survivor:
As women, we empathize to a fault. We feel sorry to speak up and out because we don’t want to hurt others. We make disempowering statements like: “what did I do to deserve this?” or “it’s all my fault because…” We take on all the blame, shame, fault and make it all about us when in fact it’s got NOTHING to do with us.
I remember being in my counselor’s office feeling a whole slew of guilt for calling my rapist out on his misconduct. My counselor reminded me that that was playing the victim. I had a choice: to be a warrior or a victim. Warriors and survivors move on, become stronger and use that strength to rise. They know where their responsibility starts and ends.
Forgiveness and closure are key:
“We must forgive those who we feel wronged us, not because they deserve to be forgiven but because we love ourselves so much we don’t want to keep paying for the injustice…. I will no longer beat myself up and abuse myself. I will no longer be the victim.” ~ The Four Agreements
Do whatever it is you need to do to get some closure. For me, in the first scenario, it was counseling, forgiving myself, and facing the culprit. In the second scenario, I had to forgive, and forgive, and forgive again.
Believe me, I was ANGRY for months (maybe even years!). But looking back at it, it was all a waste of my precious time and energy. Time and energy I could have spent building my new beautiful life.
There’s so much shame:
This one is perhaps the most difficult and daunting one. There’s so.much.shame. To this day, even as I’m writing this: I’m still a little ashamed of what happened to me that night 15 years ago, and even the sexual harassment at work. I should have known better, I shouldn’t have had that last drink, I shouldn’t have gone back to his house… that’s one side of it, and on the other hand, the fear of being judged: “What will people think of me when they know this about me?”
For the longest time, this thinking caused havoc in my relationships. I was suffocating myself and any new romantic connection with my own judgment.
In the end, the thing that saved me and I kept coming back too was my girlfriend’s words: “you didn’t give anything to him – he took it…” Over time this sentence allowed me to detach from the experience, not let it define me. I could let it be something that happened TO me. I could let it go. It made me stronger, more resilient, and although the road from that day to what I do today isn’t one straight shot – I do believe that that moment was one of the defining moments that inspired my purpose: to empower other women to stand up and take control of their lives, careers, and businesses.
Thank you to all the other women out there who have shared your stories. Your courage gave me the strength to share mine.