We lived in Hamilton, Ontario for a couple of years while my father did his PhD at McMaster University. It was an interesting change from Winnipeg and positive to be in a different environment.
However memory is a funny thing. One thing that stuck with me was an odd event that took place after swimming class.
I must have been 10 or 11 when in the change room there was the usual tween talk with innocent ribaldry.
When teasing turned to boasts about boys, one girl blurted out a peculiar assertion.
“I’ve gone all the way!” she announced.
“Nah!” “You’re full of crap!” we all retorted.
“No really! I have many times!” she shouted back.
“Yeah yeah right…” we shot back full of catcalls and cruel noises.
“For years!” she cried out.
Our chorus of disbelief got louder. She started to cry, shut down and ran from the change room.
Only years later did it dawn on me that she must have been a victim of sexual abuse.
Her trauma was masked by bravado and a plea for help none of us understood.
As it was inconceivable that a young pre-pubescent girl of 11 years could have been sexually active for years.
Rather than listen what she was really saying, our ignorance compounded her trauma and no doubt buried her courage to speak up again even deeper.
And that is the challenge with such abuse.
So when I opened the paper yesterday to read an article “Is it easier to open up about sexual abuse online?” that childhood incident flashed back into my mind.
I wonder where that girl is now? By now she would be in her mid 40s… and I can only hope that someone better equipped than a bunch of ignorant pre-teens really heard her. That she found help sooner rather than later.
It is one of the reasons I find Avehi Abacus‘s curriculum ‘Saath Saath‘ and its treatment of gender, gender inequality and sexuality so powerful is its sensitive way of opening a dialogue on many issues – including raising a ‘red flag’ to help spot potential abuse. You never know who has been touched by such experiences.
Because even now I wish we knew enough at that young age to believe her and see she needed help. It isn’t enough to understand it now. Someone should have understood it then too.
And maybe put a stop to it. Maybe helped another young girl or boy know enough to not be silent. Not just blurt it out to other children too unaware to hear what they are really saying.