Even though it was 15 years ago when I was just eight years old, I remember everything clearly. My elder cousin separated me from the rest of our family and took me to his room. It was dark with just a sliver of sunlight entering the room through a window. The atmosphere was damp and I could hear noises from afar but it was at a distance.
Then, my cousin starting touching my body. All over my waist and between my thighs — repeatedly. I can recall that his fingers and hands were warm. I remember, because he would press his palms against the skin on my stomach, the nape of my neck, and my arm pits before he began touching other parts. Almost as though there was something he was searching for.
This wasn’t the first time this had occurred. I had no idea about good or bad touch. All I remember is feeling uncomfortable. Every time his fingers made their way into my pants, I felt uneasy but he would assure me that it was alright and that it would be over soon.
The first time he did it was awful. But it was no less unbearable in the following attempts. For years, I had suppressed the memory and convinced myself that I was not sexually harassed, and that it was just a figment of my imagination.
My cousin had a sickening interest in parts of my body that even I had never touched
But the reality was that my cousin, who was about 10 years older to me, had a sickening interest in parts of my body that even I had never touched. I remember countless times, he would manage to take me away to a quieter part of the house using some excuse or the other. Each time, he succeeded. The instances were numerous, but some jarring memories stand out. For him, it really was like a game and I was an object.
Recalling it after all these years takes effort not because I don’t remember it but because repressing it was the only way I felt I could grow up to be a normal, well-rounded, functioning adult.
Like many abuse survivors, I blamed myself for “enabling” the situation. I know now, that someone who I trusted as a brother took advantage of my innocence. And the fact that I didn’t exactly know what was happening to me and what it meant, gave him power. It was an unwarranted kind of power over various parts of my body that he felt he could touch.
I do remember him being cautious, a little scared, because he would keep turning around to see if someone was coming. But he was bold and shameless. He seemed to know it all: my body, my reactions and above all, how to get away with it.
I knew enough to know that what was happening needed to stop but I didn’t know how to stop it. Part of me felt like it was something we all go through while growing up. As uncomfortable and uneasy as I was, I thought it was normal and that the other younger cousins around me, who were around my age, were also going through it. What I couldn’t seem to understand was why he was the one doing it? Did he have some sort of authority?
Like many abuse survivors, I blamed myself for “enabling” the situation
While I write this, I remember feeling nothing when I was abused. Even now, I felt nothing. I had questions. My cousin used to touch me between my legs — a part of my body that I was still too young to even know what to call, let alone knowing how sensitive it was. He would even do it through the thick fabric of my jeans. And then grab my inner thighs, the small of my back and my butt. “What does he achieve?” I used to wonder. Why does he use me to see what’s down there? Or does he know already? Why am I not being asked what’s happening with my body?
But the answer was easy. I was a child, and who takes permission from children? It clearly didn’t matter to him.
Fast forward to 2018: As a survivor, if I were to evaluate as an adult why any man would sexually abuse someone, I strongly believe it’s about power and the idea that you can get away with it.
I do not blame my parents. If they had known, they would have dealt with it seriously. My parents always told me to stay away from strangers and not indulge unknown men and women. I was never allowed to visit anyone’s house unaccompanied. They took all the necessary steps in their power to keep me and my siblings safe.
But what they didn’t tell me was ‘why’. Why was I supposed to stay away from strangers? And why was I not allowed to go alone anywhere. Perhaps it was beyond their wildest imagination that a girl as young as eight can be abused and that too by a family member. And while they had warned me in their own way, I wish they had told me to scream my lungs out if someone ever touched me without permission.