“Two weeks ago, I made a statement to the police about my experience of sexual abuse at [a photo studio]. Behind locked doors, he used his power to sexually abuse me during a photo shoot.
My loving family took me to this photographer to celebrate my becoming a woman. Samathiya veedu, a cultural celebration that rejoices every Tamil girl on her first period. What should have been an amazing festivity to commemorate my being turned out to be the most fucked up condemned experience.
My reason for sharing this is because I know that I am not alone.
To all the other survivors, police are looking for more women to come forward. This is a difficult experience that can be slightly eased with support (at least it did for me). I am open to connecting and sharing my personal experience making the statement, and walk with you in whatever capacity you need. Please feel free to contact me via facebook or email Tharshiga_e@hotmail.com
United, we are stronger”
I could have never imagined the attention that this post received. My intention was to use social media to reach out to other survivors impacted by the same perpetrator – to tell them that they are not alone. The ensuing outpouring of support and increasing number of requests for information and resources has prompted me to speak and write more about my experience. Due to ongoing legal proceedings, specifics of my statement will not be provided.
It is important for me to raise awareness about childhood sexual abuse, to shed light on a dark matter that would have otherwise gone ignored. My post includes a visual piece: faces, which I believe resonated with people on a more relatable level. Faces are too often concealed in these scenarios for countless reasons. Somehow, unmasking the individuals made this real and perhaps on more levels than one. For me, this was an essential part of my journey.
Childhood sexual abuse halted and shattered my identity in that moment in time. My reality froze and I questioned everything and everyone. For many years, I could not understand what happened to me. Yet I knew in my soul that this was not right. How could I possibly tell anyone? Sharing this was the last thing on my mind. And yet, this was the first question everyone asked me when I eventually disclosed.
The freezing response that I experienced was temporary. It was immediately followed by high levels of pain, ambiguity, confusion, embarrassment, and anger. I did not have the language to speak about the incident. I did not tell anyone for several years. During waking hours, I tried my hardest to resume life as if nothing happened. Most nights, I cried to myself after everyone fell asleep.
Telling my parents meant breaking their hearts, leaving them to feel the impact of cultural stigma and the repercussions it brings. My tears had to be silent. This further perpetuated and ingrained my feelings of loneliness, shame, guilt, and disgust. I started to believe it was my fault. I must have somehow asked for it and because I did nothing about it then or even immediately after, I thought that it must have been my fault.
The experience of sexual abuse clouded all that I was and did. My roles as a daughter, sister, student, friend, girlfriend, and employee were skewed by this trauma. I had zero control during my experience of sexual abuse so I consciously chose to exert control wherever I could, whether it was appropriate or not. I did not care or what was more concerning is that I did not know what was and was not appropriate at that point in my life. I shielded myself from anyone and anything that had even the slightest potential to hurt me. This made creating and maintaining any sort of relationship difficult.
My obsession with power and control intertwined with my mistrustful nature induced thoughts and actions that the present version of me cannot even fathom. Yet, it was all me. I was manipulative. I lied. I was violent. I was explosive. Yet I was also caring, loving, and relatable. I was a wave of very intense emotions.
Emotionally, I was quite volatile for reasons I could not identify or understand. As with my social world, I seemed hysterical with my “unwarranted” emotional reactions. Psychologically, I did not understand my own mind or behavior so I began to believe I was “crazy”. Physically, I was confused about where to draw the line in relationships. My sense of boundaries was corrupted. Additionally, I was petrified of being left alone. Daily activities such as sleeping, walking to and from school, baby sitting my younger siblings, things that children are expected to do alone, I could not. I felt incapable of doing anything without creating havoc for my family. As a result, I had tremendous hate for myself. It goes without saying that there was no sense of any spiritual connection with the darkness of this experience hanging over me.
Sexual abuse impacts the emotional, social, psychological, physical, and spiritual self. Like all significant memories, this 14-year-old girl continues to hold this experience within me. She makes her presence known when she senses danger. Her perception of danger is skewed sometimes. She is hypersensitive, ferocious, stubborn, and fired up to all situations perceived as dangerous. She is not going to let it happen again. “Better safe than sorry,” she thinks, and sometimes surfaces during harmless social interactions with very intense emotional reactions.
For several years, I did not draw the link between my thoughts, emotions, behaviors and childhood sexual abuse. When I finally did, my mind experienced a progressive paradigm shift. With the help of therapy, deep self reflection, and unconditional love from my immediate family and closest friends, I could finally start to understand. This newfound lens allows me to be gentle and compassionate with myself. This was the beginning of my healing.
I now perceive the 14-year-old girl in me as a beautiful mirror of growth. She reflects opportunities in my external world that are no longer serving me. She gently provokes me to challenge notions I developed as a product of childhood sexual abuse that once served me but now hinder my growth.
I still bump into mental and emotional barricades. But now it’s few and far between. I am a student of life that is and will always be in an ongoing process of deconstruction and construction of norms, ideas, and mere existence.
The memory lives within my body mind and soul. The impact on my life and accompanying pain was tremendous. But it no longer holds any power over me. I define its role in my life. My choice to open myself up and assertively sit in my truth is self-revolution. The pain and suffering of this experience was vast. But it also planted the seeds that grew my career and life aspirations.
“Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds meaning” (Viktor Frankl).
I pursued my Bachelors and Masters degrees in Psychology. I am currently a Registered Psychotherapist working with women that have extensive trauma and use substances to cope with the pain. These women are true champions. They are resilient, adaptive, caring, and beautiful beings that I have the privilege of working with. This further rooted and confirmed my present and future intentions.
My astounding spirit sister, Jenny Starke and I are launching A.N.B.U., an acronym for Abuse Never Become Us. A.N.B.U. is a non-profit organization for survivors of childhood sexual abuse within the Tamil community. Learn more at: www.anbu.ca.
I would like to express my utmost gratitude to my readers for honoring me with your invaluable time. I want to thank your open mind for sitting through this article and on some level, choosing to acknowledge the existence of the reality of abuse in our community. The decision of survivors to share our stories and your choice to read and reflect on these stories will create the wave or change that is needed in our community.
United, we are stronger.