Reading about the 14-year-old girl, Arshdeep Kaur, and her mother in India who were both thrown off a moving bus after being sexually molested, struck a raw nerve. The mother complained to the bus driver, but faced another attack. Her daughter is dead, the mother is critically injured and the subsequent protests of the outraged masses have ensued.
Sexual violence against women will recur; this does not mean we should remain silent. Speaking out is the only way forward if you want to heal, repair and consolidate a broken female mind and spirit.
It was not just this defenceless girl who was assaulted, but every woman, daughter, sister and mother, too.
I applaud the bravery of the Oxford English Literature student, Ione Wells, who penned a powerful open letter to her teenage attacker declaring that she would not let him win. Delineating the nature of the brutal attack in gruesome detail her bravery is self-evident and his cowardice blatant.
Openness goes a long way in terms of restoring a shattered resolve and that of her local community who came to her aid.
My first sexual assault took place at Central Reference Library, Manchester. I was studying assiduously for my A-levels, after securing a conditional offer to study at Somerville College, Oxford University. Unbeknownst to me my life would change irrevocably due to the selfish and pernicious actions of a lone assaulter who had been loitering in the library, waiting for his opportune moment to strike. As the library began to empty and I was embroiled in the intricacies of Hamlet's soliloquies he pounced. In an instant my innocence was snatched. Whether a girl is raped, molested or physically attacked, it's a violation.
Hamlet's famous quote reads: 'Frailty thy name is woman' but Shakespeare got it wrong, 'Frailty thy name is man'.
For who would pray on a teenager studying for her A-levels in a library? He escaped, but not before verbally abusing me first. Skulking home I retreated, became emotionally numb, my weight plummeted, suffered a mental block, was virtually mute and would constantly break down. Yet I believed I had wear a brave face and be stoic. Dropping a grade, I subsequently lost my place at Oxford never telling Somerville College what happened to me. This first sexual assault flicked on a switch in my brain - a blackness descended and my mental demise began.
Barely had I recovered from that assault when a second assault occurred on a bus.
The spate of sexual assaults in India that have taken place on buses are horrific. Designed to safely take you from A-B, now you can get stabbed, blown up, shot, mugged, raped and killed on buses. The bus was already a dodgy place for me. A man had exposed his erect penis on the seat adjacent to mine, another man tried to touch my leg and all these experiences accumulated, one-by-one, sickening me to the core.
Standing on a packed bus, I remember being told to go to the top deck, reluctantly I complied. Since my first assault was still fresh in my mind I was vigilant, when I finally relaxed thinking I was safe I felt a hand grope me.
This time I shot up out of my seat and yelled at the assailant. Shaking I ran down, told the bus driver what had happened, he promptly stopped the bus and called the police. Several cars arrived at the scene with sirens blaring and blue lights flashing. The stunned man was arrested. Had I over reacted? No I don't think so. Any form of assault, minor or otherwise, cannot be tolerated otherwise where do you draw the line?
Taking the man to court, his lawyer eviscerated me, I broke down and my sister sat dazed and disgusted. There was no physical evidence (namely I hadn't been stabbed nor raped), I lost the case. My world was shattered again.
It is the protesting and seeking of justice, even if you lose, which are crucial if you want to mentally move on from the trauma.
When I lived in London I endured more assaults: in a hospital, on the road cycling, in a bike shop, when I was bending down to lock my bike, when I was filming in Bangladesh. Each time I was assaulted and my attempts to take punitive action were thwarted my resolve began to wane - inside I mentally collapsed a little more.
I thought, Perhaps being sexually assaulted is a rites of passage for every woman?
This is an erroneous and dangerous statement.
To confront my assaulters I wrote poems, turned to my paintbrush and expressed my pain through oil paint.
This series of oil paintings depicts mother and daughter, both assaulted and scarred. The mother's body has bore four children, the landscape of her skin conceals childhood trauma and abuse, the poem penned on the canvas tells her story. Haunted by what happened decades later she is only seeking help now. Her daughter, outwardly perfect and blemish free, has skin that is also tainted by unwanted fingers that have touched and tried to rape her soul. Their stories are transcribed in minuscule text on the canvas
Body as Landscape for Abuse, Birth and Life (oil on canvas, 2013)
Never seeking counselling after the first assault, I internalised the pain and in retrospect this incident was a major catalyst in precipitating a mental unravelling that became more endemic with each subsequent assault.
My mental demise was not inevitable.
If I had spoken out or talked to someone at the outset the damage mentally wouldn't have been so profound and enduring.
I allowed my attackers to break, disempower and ruin my life; it would take years to restore that lost power.
Therefore, I salute the courage of women who protest, speak out and declare adamantly, 'enough'. If women remain silent men will think it is their fundamental right to violate flesh and it is, unequivocally, not.