It was middle of the night. I felt the strange hands making its way under my shirt. Slowly. Until it found its target. He started groping my breasts. My body stiffened. I wanted to shout no. I wanted to remove the hands but I would wake up my mother. So I turned my back on him so he’d let go. But then he found my buttocks. I wanted to cry. But it would wake my mother up. I desperately waited for the morning, for everyone to wake up. For two nights, I suppressed my voice, my tears, my courage. I was about 14 years old.
On the third night, I refused to go back to that house.
Up until today, only two people knew about this. One is my husband. Looking back, I knew I made the right decision. My father would have killed him. I think I had spared the family another burial that day.
Unfortunately I had to deal with these kinds of sexual abuse in most of my teenage life and a few times in my adult life. These were the small incidents, or what I thought were small incidents. The cousins who embraced and kissed me without my permission and tried several times to grope my breasts, the boss who stole a kiss when he thought I was the only one in the office, that other boss who thought I would sleep with him because we shared the same hotel room (I hope he died of his cancer already. The tourism world would be a much safe place without him), that guy in the bus who put his elbow on the arm rest while I was sleeping too close my breasts, that guy who masturbated beside me and classmates in the cinema, that guy in the train who stood too close behind me.
I know I am not the only one. Close friends have told me about how they were rape, sexually abused, sexually harrassed. I did not expect the stories from some of them.
I grew up in the Philippines. I grew up in a family that strictly forbid me to wear shorts and strapless tops least I’d be sexually harassed. I grew up in a society where the rape of the ugly and the fat is a joke that’s being repeated over and over again, on the streets, in comedy bars, by ordinary people, men and women alike, even by celebrities. A society that laughs at rape. All these are very wrong, definitely not the proper way to bring up a vulnerable girl.
Had I told my story earlier, I’m sure many will say it’s my fault. I wasn’t the most prudent girl. I hang out with the boys, I wear whatever I like, I curse, I shout, I make the first move when I like someone. I’ve kissed boys at 14. I already had boyfriends.
When I got pregnant, I was desperately hoping for a boy. In fact, in the first four months, I called my baby a boy’s name. But I was given a girl. Every single sexual harassment I’ve experienced came back to me. I am so afraid for my daughter because this world is such dangerous place for girls.
In the car today, when I told husband that I am’m joining #MeToo by blogging about my story, he asked why is it only now that women are coming out, en masse, to tell their stories. He was struggling for the word to describe the extent of this campaign, corrected himself when he said “hype”.
I told him from his point of view as male, it is very hard to understand the sexual abuse of women, particularly when one has not experienced it himself. The shame, the fear, feeling dirty, being judged. But because many women are speaking out, women like me are finding the courage to share our stories.
I don’t blame him. Our society has systematized the abuse of women, from our sexuality to our wages, to our role in the society. Men has put measures in place, through politics and religion, so that women would be treated beneath them and that they (men) would decide how we women would live our lives. If we don’t fall under the categories they’ve set for us, we are judged and the blame is put on us. Make no mistakes about it, women are sometimes also part of that blaming.
Very few men are an exception. And as long as their number remains scarce, the abuse of women will continue.
It felt strange to write this. I thought I would bring this secret to my grave. I never expected I’d had the courage to make this public. My family is on Facebook too. But it would be unfair to all the women who had experienced sexual abuse (and ultimately to my daughter) if I remain silent.
Ladies, girls, please have the courage. If a man attempts sexual advances on you, fight back, file a complaint, speak about it. How would you know if it’s sexual harassment or sexual abuse? It’s very simple “YOU DON’T WANT IT, YOU DID NOT PERMIT IT.” It does not matter whether it’s a stranger, a family or your very own husband. Your body is yours alone. No one can touch it without your approval, no one has the right to it except you.
And I will make sure my little girl will grow up with this in mind.