I was fourteen the first time that I was molested. It was an incident that (in hindsight) ushered me into the awareness that womanhood was in many ways going to be quite the challenge. I was walking home after school, this was in Malmo, Sweden, where I lived at the time. As I approached the last turn before reaching my street, I had the sense that someone was following me. I turned back to see a man observing me, walking at a similar pace to mine.
As I got to the front door and paused to pull out my keys, the man also stopped. He smiled at me saying that he was newly moved into the apartment complex.
For some reason, I felt a slight suspicion but I nevertheless proceeded to enter the compound, and into the lift, with the man following behind me.
As we entered the lift, he pressed the first floor button and I the fourth. No sooner had the lift ascended than did he begin to firmly grope me. Then, as we came to the first floor, he kicked the door open and ran out and down the stairs before I could react.
Many years after this incident, I was date – and gang – raped.
When I compare the two events, it strikes me how differently I reacted in each instance. When the man molested me in the lift, I rushed to immediately tell my mum who then attempted to run after the man in a white t-shirt and blue jeans that I hurriedly described to her. Of course, he was long gone by then but I spoke about it with her, with friends and with my boyfriend at the time.
In contrast, when I was raped, I told no one. For years, I kept it to myself. Partly, because I felt ashamed about it and too sensitive to deal with what would inevitably follow but most of all I did not want to be pitied. I did – and do – not see myself as a victim.
Rather I felt that being raped was a probable, if nonetheless unimaginable, reality of being a woman. But it saddens me to think that although the world had by then taught me to anticipate, if not expect, to be sexually assaulted, it had also taught me to remain silent about sexual crime.
The good news – if we may call a result of something burdensome, good – is that I today feel stronger than ever as it comes to sexual crime and harassment.
In a sense, something about my 14 year old self was reawakened, that young woman who knew – and unapologetically vocalised – that she had been violated, is much similar to the woman I am today who is quick and unhesitant to call out potential molesters.
Which brings me to why I write this post. I write this post firstly to contribute to creating a culture where we encourage women who have been raped or in any way molested to ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS report the crime if only they can. Not reporting rape is like not reporting a robbery (or any other crime, for that matter). And of course often worse. I truly regret not going to the police. Especially as I knew exactly where I could have pointed the police to in order to find the men who raped me.
If I had reported the case, those men would forever have to live with a rape accusation, if not a conviction, on their records. They may for legal, or other reasons have needed to share this with their wives and children in the future. It is this act – of when rapists have to come to terms with their violence, anger and misogyny – that ultimately has the power to change rape culture.
Emotions do not always work in a rational fashion and I know that for many, it is too painful and risky to report rape so most of all, I write this post to share with women (and men) who have experienced similar situations, to know that they are not alone. And, that, while it may sound like a cliche, the utmost triumph comes from making a large space in your life for love. My experiences led to dig deep into the meaning of healing and I believe that is the most important thing we must find ways to do.
If you choose to leave a comment, I encourage you to share any thoughts on the silence around rape. As I was writing this post I searched for named first person narrative about rape experiences and did not find much at all.
Thank you for sharing, Minna. Mixed emotions and feelings as I type this (tearful, angry, empowered…). I recall one my best friends in primary school going through a similar experience, but it was her dad. As did another close friend of mine when we were in our teens. So shocking and scary, a testimony to the fact that ‘it’ can happen to any of us. I believe in karma and those bastards will get theirs…but with this shared experience, hopefully some of those evil perpetrators will receive theirs sooner rather than later.
Love and light to you. You are most brave and triumphant that you can stand tall today and inspire others to speak out and against such violations. A woman for a cause, a leader and role model. Much love from the bottom of my heart. Iola xxx
THANK YOU for sharing your experience. I was raped by someone I knew at 8, then an ex at 20 and assaulted in a lift by a stranger at 22. The only one I ever told anybody about and reported to the police was the stranger in the lift. He was never caught but trying to ID him from the police’s mugshots of locally known sex offenders was a very eyeopening experience regarding how many there are. The ex actually at one point “threatened” that he was going to tell my family and I begged him not to. Can you imagine how ludicrous that I as the victim was so ashamed? It makes me angry now.
For some reason we do see strangers attacking as more serious which isn’t logical. The sad truth is that the vast majority of rapes are by people you know and/or trust which is actually the biggest betrayal. We also still live in a society where the victim is the one under scrutiny about their behaviour that “provoked” the attack. In our warped thinking the sense of shame means that you don’t want other people to think less of you (as the rapist who knows you must have done) plus not wanting to be seen as a victim. Then the fact that it involves sexual organs which in normal circumstance is an intimate act that until fairly recently isn’t really discussed anyway. All of these are some of the reasons why we stay silent.
Ultimately until rape becomes a “man” issue then I’m not sure how much will change. I live in hope.
This is terrible to read LD, I’m sorry to hear what you’ve been through.
Also, can’t even imagine the trauma of the IDing process.
Well done for taking action.
Mary Ononokpono says
Thank you Minna. When we share our stories we remove power from the memory of the shame and any pain associated with it. It’s nice to know that you are not alone. It is also incredibly beautiful to Witness the force that you are becoming in spite of dealing with such trauma. You have my deepest gratitude.
Minna, you are so very courageous to tell your story. Wow…
Proud of u coz, love u to bits
Wow, thank you for being courageous enough to speak about this, and I know it will inspire and help other women to do the same, and report these incidents, where they may have happened or are still happening. I had an experience in high school with a music teacher who used to grope me and other girls – nowhere near as serious as rape – but still as humiliating in its potential psychological and emotional consequences. None of us ever spoke out about it. But I once shared it with a childhood friend at the same school who had a similar experience with the same teacher. But that was as far as we ever talked about it. We were scared and vulnerable at the time, and didn’t think anyone would believe us. Now it horrifies me to think that my and others’ silence may have contributed to perpetuating that man’s behavior and continuing his menace.
Thanks for speaking out, sharing, and as always inspiring us all.
That story sends shivers down my spine. What a world we live in where teachers are molesters. So much filth out there carefully hidden in polished, unsuspecting packages.
Bo Ingelsson says
Always report the rape. I feel anger and sadness and shame that we men commit this crime.
Thank you so much for sharing your story Minna. From personal experience and from what I keep hearing, that silence is the result of the shame felt inside, the fear that no one will believe you or take you seriously. The fear that you will be blamed. That silence, for many, is equal to self-protection and a way to deal with the pain. It’s understandable, and probably easier than to report the rape. But I guess ultimately reporting it might result in getting some form of justice and closure, which is why victims are encouraged to do it. I hope this post touches lives. x
I adore you for writing this article Minna, as I already posted on FB
unfortunately most of my reply has disappeared into the ether!
I don’t pity you. You’re one of the most amazing women I know so definitely no pity, but I do feel sorry that you or any woman had(has) to go through something like this and sometimes alone. You are so so brave for speaking out.
I agree that we shouldn’t be silent about rape or any kind of sexual assault but that is easy for me to say considering I have never had to deal with it and it is difficult to understand the myriad of emotions and thoughts and feelings that make women keep it to themselves. I do pray it becomes so common place to report and talk about rape and sexual assault that in the near future, there is no question of women doing both. I think shame is a factor in a lot of cases. The thought that somehow, they brought it on themselves and I think we need to continue drumming home the message that no matter what we wear, what we do and even whether it is someone we are sexually involved in, the moment we say ‘no’ and something happens against our will, we have been violated and it is not our fault in any way. It is his. Entirely.
thanks for sharing.
men who have been raped seem to be the only people who know that men also suffer rape… but it’s laughed about like it never happens except behind bars and in the movies…
I once heard a fretful man at a police station reporting a threat from another man, “He said he’s going to make a woman out of me.” I was disgusted no end by the suggestion that women are the only people who could ever possibly be raped and that women getting raped goes with the territory. I wondered if the man reporting the threat feared more for his “masculinity” (whatever that is) than the rape itself. Of course, few male rape survivors would dare say a word about it, because “it cannot happen to a man, unless that man isn’t a ‘real man’ (whatever that is).”
bottom line is… rape is a horrific reality for women and men (molestation is also a horrific reality for both girls and boys)… and, I’m no expert but from my personal experiences (yes, I felt “left out” while reading this article and wondered how many male survivors felt the same), I thinkers we might learn some things by challenging suggestions that only women are (or can be) raped and that only men are (or can be) rapists.
where’s the delete button?
thank you for your courage, and thank you for sharing.
total healing and love to you.
Holy shit, this was powerful. Thank you so much for sharing, and you’re right. The only way to get rid of rape culture is to take action. No one will stop blaming victims until victims stop blaming themselves.
Carolyn Moon says
Oh Minna, I was so touched by your post and the grace and fortitude it took to share these experiences with your fellow bloggers and those who read your posts on a consistent basis.
I can remember when I was in college in the mid-60’s and involved in the human rights struggle; there were incidents of acquaintance rapes. Sisters were compelled not to report it and shared only with those who had similar experiences for fear of somehow maligning the movement. We informally had a list of what men to avoid being alone with. A few years later, I thought how crazy was that! The most insidious aspect of all this is I don’t think the men involved viewed it as rape.
Everything was for the movement and to get the word out and maintain some sense of nobility as ‘we fought oppression’. We needed the foot soldiers. On campus young girls who suffered fraternity related rapes became the victims of ridicule and harsh treatment by the other students. This was also perplexing to me for no one would cast dispersions or shine a light on the guys who did it. ‘Rape culture’ is treacherous and deceptive and we all must work to eliminate it through the spoken word and actions, especially on reporting it with compassion for those who are violated.
It was also noted that men are raped too especially as young boys by men they looked up to. I’m sure another under-reported phenom is that of women molesting young girls and boys. Oprah did some segments on that. I can’t reiterate it enough that we must also continue to find solutions for molesters thrive on the secrecy and the shame and guilt of their victims.
“Emotions do not always work in a rational fashion and I know that for many, it is too painful and risky to report rape so most of all, I write this post to share with women (and men) who have experienced similar situations, to know that they are not alone”.
These folks continue to deal with the residual consequences of rape and it morphs into so many different behaviors. Unfortunately, many of them are destructive.
A quote by Michel de Montaigne comes to mind…”Nothing fixes a thing so intensely in the memory as the wish to forget it”.
One of the keys is exposure of these acts of inhumanity and assault and as you state “while it may sound like a cliche, the utmost triumph comes from making a large space in your life for love”.
Thank you for this gift of love for humanity. Bountiful blessings to you as you continue your advocacy for those who are marginalized in many areas and your endeavor to be a change agent by freeing yourself as well.
May your beautiful countenance continue to shine Minna. This is such a graceful testimony. Not even a hint of malice. So many young women in schools, universities and religious institutions need to hear this. You are very precious gift Minna. Seriously.xx
Minna, thanks a lot for your openness and courage!!!
I have a story to share that is not so similar to yours and in many ways hard to share. One reason being shame, the other that this incident happened when I was very young, somewhere between being a toddler and 4yrs old. All I “had” at first were flashbacks and my difficulties with men, intimacy, my own sexuality…….
When I was in my twenties, memories started coming back and I was devestated, I felt helpless, depressed and most of all sad, and I must admit, not at all hopeful. I didn’t have an easy childhood anyway, but the terrible things that had troubled me in my childhood and still affect me to this day, though I have been able to work with them, were all things done to people around me, mostly my mother. Now I had to deal with sexual abuse, perpetrated so long ago, that I didn’t know what to do, who to talk to, how to find out who did this to me and my siblings, who a few years later suffered the same flashbacks I had(without my talking to them), which hurt and helped at the same time, because now I was sure I didn’t just make it all up!
I went into therapy for some time and now feel I can accept the past as it was, integrated the abuse, but still have only told 2 people close to me and haven’t spoken to my family about it, nor have they directly spoken to me about it…..that’s my story in short. I wrote this to contribute something, so that others might get something from it and because I have a voice and wish to use it.
Thank you Minna, for this opportunity.
Well done for choosing to tackle what happened to you, it must be very hard to revisit. You’re strong for sharing.
Minna, On my blog The Wild Woman In The Cellar, I have been struggling for months with a 3 series blog on this subject and allother issues around it: (african) female perception and ownership of sexuality. Your honest and touching blog broke the ice.
For this, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Now I am finally freed of the restraining psychological shackles that have been holding me back. I can now write of my own experiences on the subject of rape, of the unimaginable extent of trauma and of healing and finding ones glorious sexuality.
The only rape publicized by African women is war-time rape perpetrated on indegenous village women. The educated middle/higher class ones like us have not been bold enough to speak up and tell the truth that even in the highest of social circles, rape and other forms of sexual assault still happens. During my minor and early teenage years I experienced one form of assault or another from at least 80% of the fathers of my friends. These men were “intellectuals” and respected cornerstone members of the society. We always imagine sex offenders as insane depraved inhuman beasts. Unfortunately this is about 1% of the whole. Most of them are just our regular everyday men: Our loved and respected fathers, brothers, colleagues, husbands neighbour, friends,religious leaders, just name it.
Ironically, good guy and the evil guy are all to be found in one man.
Thank you for blazing the path. We will follow.
Carolyn Moon says
“We always imagine sex offenders as insane depraved inhuman beasts. Unfortunately this is about 1% of the whole. Most of them are just our regular everyday men: Our loved and respected fathers, brothers, colleagues, husbands neighbour, friends,religious leaders, just name it.
Ironically, good guy and the evil guy are all to be found in one man”.
Well stated facts and truth. It is all the more insidious for they are people that as children we’ve been told to trust and not question. I’m glad that parents are realizing this and teaching their children to say no and to report when anyone and that includes family, friends and acquaintances behave in manner that makes them uncomfortable. It’s a process and we still have a long and winding road to navigate.
Minna, I’ve been reading the comments and you’ve done a brave and noble thing here.
Hi Carolyn and Chinello,
I want to emphasise the important contribution you’ve added to this; that sexual crimes against women in educated, academic, activist, artist, middle class and up, you name it, circles is very common.
And since it is very common, the perpetrators are indeed right in our midst.
For too long, we’ve been allowing society (and by society I mean direct and indirect structures such as family, political instituions etc. and subtle and direct ideological and economic interests) position rape as something that only “The Other” must grapple with.
Thanks for that and for your encouragement.
Also, in addition to the first comment, while searching for first person narrative about rape, it struck and concerned me that the majority that I found was in fact by women in the global south. Not because it’s not good that women in impoverished and war torn parts of the world are speaking out in countless NGO pamphlets, but because those urging them to do so are often even more crippled by feelings of shame and silencing culture than they are.
I respect you very much for opening up about this really sensitive matter. I still find it be very hard to talk about my exeperience of being molested by a family member when I was around 8.i hope one day I will be able to talk about it and give women the strength to open up because deep down I do know the only way to be librated is by speaking up about it.we are not the once to be embarresed.
Clement Yeung says
Such a powerful article. Thanks for sharing that.
On another (and probably selfish) note, it makes me concerned about my fiancée. She is young, beautiful, and not always in my sight which makes sense but doesn’t appeal to the protector part of my brain.
Could I ask you, in hindsight, is there anything you feel that in those awful moments or the moments leading up to them, you could have done differently to avoid the molestation / rape?
I have a list of precautions I’ve given her as some kind of system to always keep us in contact / as safe as possible but it’s not fail safe by any means.
I didn’t write this post to go on about my experience in any case and also I understand that when you love someone you always put them first and that’s good but be careful to patronise your girlriend with overprotecting – at least I would have huge issues with a boyfriend precautioning me about rape as if it’s a question of doing everything you can to prepare yourself. It’s not like going camping or something that you prepare for. It happens to people at the most unlikeliest of times. Your energy would be better spent creating dialogue with men about why so many men rape women than making your girlfriend feel like she can actually do something to prevent other people’s criminal behaviour.
If it’s any reassurance, being young and beautiful does not in any way increase the risk of you being raped. Women and men of all ages and types can be at risk.
Also, as I say in the post, “The good news – if we may call a result of something burdensome, good – is that I today feel stronger than ever as it comes to sexual crime and harassment. In a sense, something about my 14 year old self was reawakened, that young woman who knew – and unapologetically vocalised – that she had been violated, is much similar to the woman I am today who is quick and unhesitant to call out potential molesters.”
So while I am vigilant about sexual harrassment, the truth is there are no guarantees in life.
i remember from a child knowing somehow to keep the lustful looks of stranger men secret and hidden because they made me feel dirty. as i grew older i too realised that it was simply to be a part of being a girl, teen, woman to be street harassed & sexually assaulted. Sort of like it is normal. And when i spoke with men i trusted & loved they swept my anxieties under the rug because i was ‘overreacting’ and ‘imagining things’. now as i get older and i notice less street harassment i am part grateful but i also worry about the next phase where some men will c me as an ugly old useless bint.
at least i know to look out for other young girls, women and boys. and i shall.
Hey, thanks for sharing. I relate to this. Also to the conflicting part of appreciating attention because it will one day cease. However, I will never ever miss street harrassment but yes a friendly compliment is a completely different, and pleasant, thing.
Shaina D. says
I commend you on being open and sharing you story. I can’t say I know how you feel, but I can say that what he did was not right. I also applaud you for being strong enough to stand your ground. Im truely sorry but I feel that you are a STRONG WOMAN!!!!
Your insistence that women (or anyone else) should report seems very misplaced. The practice of rape crisis advocates is not to push women on the issue of reporting rape either one way or the other but solely to support victims /survivors in whichever way they themselves choose. It is particularly puzzling that you would say this when you didn’t report your rape and seemingly still have not done so (at least at the time of writing). If reporting is important to you then you should report no matter how much time has lapsed. The police will still investigate, indeed they regularly investigate historic cases and these do sometimes result in prosecution and conviction. Having not yourself been through the process of reporting, please try to understand that you are in no position to tell others to do so. It is a very difficult process and I speak from personal experience. Having reported my rape three years after it occurred, I understand that I am still not in a position to urge others what they should do, I only offer my unconditional support as they make their own decisions — this being especially crucial when one’s autonomy has been violated.
I recommend reading Toni Bell’s articles on the body is not an apology as she offers great insight into this issue.
Thanks for your thoughts Belle. I appreciate the dialogue. However, I wrote in the post that women should report “if only they can” and I also emphasise that for some this is not an option. But my stance is that more women should report, speak out, take action for the sake of future generations to come. The silencing perpetuates the idea that it is our fault.
As for why I have not reported now – I would be not only compelled to but I would take pride in reporting if only I could.
“no one will stop blaming victims until victims stop blaming themselves”! This statement is shocking to me — it is in itself a victim blaming statement! If what you say here were true, that puts us in a horrific state of affairs. Do you find yourself unable to refrain from blaming any victims who do blame themselves? Have you considered that the reason we as victims might blame ourselves is *because * we are blamed by others? Do you really think it’s fair to place the onus of ending victim blaming on the victims themselves even as they are experiencing grave trauma?
Ese Obrimah says
Thank you so much for sharing this Minna. It really helped me process my own struggles. I think religious teachings around the importance of purity (a message preached pretty much exclusively to women) has a lot to do with the silence. I think women who experience sexual assault are overcome by the idea that they have failed God in their inability to maintain “purity” and fail to realize that something has been done to them. Until we change the way we speak to women about their bodies and sex, we as a society will continue to perpetuate internalized victim blaming. Not to mention the victim blaming coming from others.
You’re absolutely right regarding the role of religion here, Ese.
Thank you for sharing. Hugs.