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MY STORY: RECLAIMING MY NARRATIVE--MY VOICE.

Anonymity is the best protection or safety net for a battered woman, a bruised little girl by sexual crimes and abuses. It is easy hiding behind shadows of smiles from painful memories, because when you are anonymous, when you're unknown, there is safety, because nobody judges or pities you.

For a long time I have hidden my own scares. Women would come forward and share their stories of rape and molestation, and their stories were so similar to mine, but never having shared my ordeal somehow made me feel like I was one of the lucky ones, one of the women who hadn't been bruised in such a horrific way, I felt a slight bit protected from everything that would come from being honest about my experiences, and because in a way I thought bravery was not having that happen to you (I was in denial).

In 2018 something happened that changed everything. On an outreach from work, one of our interns at the time shared a story of a young girl who was being raped by her father and was not believed by her mother, but the girl went on to tell the volunteer and we helped get her to the nearest place to report her case and connect her with other people that could help. I was in a very deep way, moved by that girl's bravery of continuously seeking for help even when she was not believed at home. And in that moment, something broke inside of me, a wall I had built my whole life, a wall of protection, and a darkened refuge place received its first ray of light, a sense of hope for safety, all because of this little girl who was brave enough to look for help despite the challenges. She reminded me of my eight year old self, telling my mother about my molestation when it happened, although I too was not helped and for the rest of my life was left with the knowledge that no one believed my story.

The earliest memory I have of it was telling my mother and her asking me the next day if what I had told her had actually happened, but even though I was honest, the man who molested me still stayed in our house after the incident. When I confronted my mother about it two decades later she told me that the pastor of the church, some elders, my mother and me as well as the molester were called into a meeting to confront the accusation, and that my molester had denied it. She recalled the Pastor informing me not to accuse the Lord's anointed. My molester was a man in his late twenties, from church, who was offered a place to stay at our home by my parents.

The memory of him denying it in a meeting was not something I had retained, but when I found out about it, it made matters even worse, because a group of adults put a little girl in the same room as the man who had abused her, and even further marginalised her, worse further battered her. None of them felt the need to take the case to the police.

Again when I was 18 years old I was raped by a friend, and like many other women, I didn't report the case. He was my friend, and I had learned at that time from experience that women were not believed, especially when the crime was committed by people close to them.

The rape I had blamed myself for, because I was the one who had chosen to stay over at this friend's place while trying to come and apply for university. I was more ashamed of my rape than anything else. My rape as it happened took something away from me, it took my power, it made me small, weak, and it reduced me to something voiceless, and helpless. In that moment I hated being a woman, it showed me how easy it was to be taken away from.

My rape proved something to me at a mere age of eighteen, that it was so easy for someone to take away your power. I never shared that incident too, because I truly believed that telling it and admitting to it, would prove that I had no more power left as a woman. And I held on to my experience as only my own in the hopes of retaining a sense of control and authority over being whole.

For the longest period, I believed that acknowledging to it out loud would be admitting all of those things (that I was weak, that I was to blame and that I was powerless). I figured writing about other survivors was a form of telling my own truth in a small way. I had always been silent about my story, because I felt like I first had to share it with the closest people to me but that was difficult to do as well, and it just proved over time that I would never get a chance to tell it entirely if I had to wait to tell them. As years went by, it became more difficult to share my ordeal, because I would seat in a room with people telling stories of those they knew were raped, and they cried. They had so much pity in their eyes and they were angry (on behalf of those they knew were raped). I felt as if sharing my story in rooms like that would reduce their anger, because I was angrier than they were, I was in more pain than they could ever imagine, I felt more shame and guilt. Admitting would have undressed and exposed me (or so I believed). I never wanted to join the long list of victims who were either blamed or pitied.

But this process taught me that it is not only my job alone as a survivor to be angry, but that it is okay for others to be angry on our behalves too. That these atrocities were all ours. That crimes committed towards girls who can't defend themselves falls on all our shoulders.

The bravery of a teenage girl, for the first time in years allowed me to share my story with my trusted interns, who taught me that admitting to it and crying were not a sign of weakness. That it was not my fault. I'm learning to reclaim my narrative, and since then, saying "I am a rape survivor" isn't as shuttering as I always feared it would be. I have found other women who survived similar ordeals and our stories have shown nothing but strength. It took me baby steps to share it, and I've received nothing but support and a safe space.

We speak a lot about freedom of speech and how it is a right, but we do not look at how speaking out is a responsibility. We (I) have the responsibility to have a voice on social injustice, even if that voice makes others uncomfortable, and even if it makes us the narrators uncomfortable. Lubna Akhatar once said "Keeping silent in the wake of these events is essentially condoning the cruelty in the world around us", provided he was talking about other social injustices, the sentiment is true in sexual crimes and injustices, and we cannot afford to remain silent.

It is never too late to start cultivating our voice against injustice, and although it may seem daunting at first, voicing our stories is a right but most importantly it is a responsibility we owe to those who may be experiencing the same turmoil as we do, or did. We owe an illumination on the realities of girls and women, to our communities, to highlight how we fail and how we can improve and do better by our sisters and brothers, do better by those who can't protect themselves.

This is to prove to little girls and woman out there, that you are not alone, and that you are not powerless. That your true power lies in speaking your truth. That you are not weak, but that your scares make you a token of hope, hope to change the world that tries to oppress, abuse and break us.

My name is Asante Katiti, I am a sexual assault and rape survivor; and this is my story.

by Elsarien A. Katiti * photograph Contributed
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Title Annotation:SPECIAL REPORT
Author:Katiti, Elsarien A.
Publication:Sister Namibia
Geographic Code:6NAMI
Date:Jan 1, 2019
Words:1407
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