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Only later did I understand…

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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.

Standing up against silence (Bombay Times, 9 Aug 2015)

Standing up against silence (Bombay Times, 9 Aug 2015)

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.



  1. Ouch. Hope she is okay. I’m actually sort of glad none of the other 11-year-olds knew she was serious. That would be a heartache multiplied.

    • True… and yet I also know of a situation where the abused became an abuser at a tragic early age. All for want of knowing it was ok to come forth and get help. That truly is heartache multiplied…

  2. NancyTex says:

    You couldn’t have possibly known back then. I know it’s difficult to think about the ‘what-ifs’ now, but don’t beat yourself up over not having told anyone. You were so young and blissfully innocent.

    • True… however however ignorance alas is not always bliss.

      If you read the link – especially Kalki’s story of being abused at 9 – this is clear. Having met her parents – as remarkable as she is – this tragedy is even more painful as I can’t imagine them turning a ‘blind eye’ if they had known.

      So sometimes it requires an environment that opens the door to speak up to a teacher or someone trusted.

  3. So sad and I imagine a hard memory to have. I, too, hope she found the help she needed.

  4. Sarah M says:

    Yes I remember something similar from my teenage years; everyone knew what was happening but we just used to giggle about it. I don’t feel guilty though; we had no idea it was abuse. However some of the teachers also knew and did nothing and maybe they’re the ones who need to feel guilty. It was a different era. If anything I remember feeling jealous, like ‘wow she’s having sex’
    In other words, you (and I) have nothing to feel guilty about. We didn’t know.

  5. I took a look at Saath Saath and it’s impressive. It would be amazing to sit in on the sessions. I wonder if anything along the same lines exists in Canada? I think the program is easily adaptable. The only challenge I see for here is parents blocking it.

    • It is a remarkable course that opens up an honest dialogue on gender with youth. It was produced in the wake of the tragic gang rape in Delhi – known as the ‘Nirbhaya’ case. I forget how many of schools adopted it, but its impressive. Which is a good thing. Interesting that you think parents in Canada may want to block such an initiative though… we often think of Canada being less conservative than India, whereas that isn’t always the case.

      • I’m not sure if the news about the potential censoring of Alberta teachers made it your way. Bill 44 esssentially said that parents had to have notice before religion and sexuality were discussed in the classroom and the Alberta Human Rights Act was ammended in 2009, I believe. I just checked the act though and that section was repealed this year. I’m going to have to do some digging. This is exciting news!

        • No… it didn’t…I’m woefully out of touch on many things Canadian then get a ‘crash course’ on the issues at hand when we waltz through for a week or so every year or so. 😉

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