The night it happened, I was sleeping over at my relatives’ place, close to the university. It was dark by the time I left the lab, and a paper I had due the next morning was still killing me. No amount of editing seemed enough. I was now working in bed, with one of my cousins fast asleep beside me. The only light in the room was the artificial glow from my computer screen. My references needed to be double-checked and then I could call it a night.
In the meantime, my cousin's husband came out from his bath. They had recently married and I was thrilled to have my first brother-in-law. He gestured to come toward him. I went, expecting he had something to say.
“Sab so rahe hain (everybody is sleeping)," he whispered, as he slid his hands around my waist and planted a kiss on my cheek. I froze; his touch turning me into an ice statue. My mind could not process this. "Kya karogi? (What will you do?)," he asked. A few seconds later, he was kissing down my neck. The spell broke.
"I have homework to do," I mumbled, pushing away and running back to bed. He returned to his room, and his pregnant wife.
I texted my best friend before going to sleep, recounting what had just happened. What if I woke up believing this was just a nightmare? I needed something to remind me this was real. What was I to do?
The next evening I told my cousin and her family what had happened. None of them believed me -- something I hadn't anticipated. The rejection crushed my heart into a million pieces; shards of which would unexpectedly prick for a long time to come. I longed for somebody to call him and yell at him, slap him, shake him till his brain rattled . . . but that never happened.
My family stood with me, but they were in India, and I was far away.
A year or so later, I was working on a paper for a crisis counselling course. I had to write about forgiveness. While researching I came across a book that spoke about counselling victims of abuse. One of the things the author emphasized was that individuals who have been abused must not be rushed into forgiveness. God's heart hurts to see His children in pain. He understands what they are feeling and is present to comfort them. God is interested in the wounds of the abused, and not in their ability to forgive instantly.
Similarly, at no point must we make someone who has been abused feel that God's only concern is for them to forgive, ASAP. Forgiveness is an essential part of the healing journey, but it's crucial to remember that healing is a journey. I was also reassured to read that freezing is a normal response in times of acute stress. When our body feels that death is imminent and nothing we do will get us out of danger's way, we freeze, instead of fighting or fleeing.
At another time, I shared my experience with an elderly couple from whom I was learning counseling. The gentleman gave me a paper with multiple feeling words written on it and asked me to circle all the words I felt as a result of the experience. When going through that paper with me, he said, "Freda, the guilt and shame are not yours to carry," I had circled these two words and some others. "They're his. You did nothing wrong, you're not guilty. You are not shamed."
Knowing that I was not guilty or shamed was liberating. As I cried, an invisible weight fell off my shoulders.
It was a long time before I was able to begin forgiving him, and restore communication with my relatives. God was with me through the lows, and lower lows, and He helped me forgive when I was ready. Nobody ever slapped him on my behalf, or shook his head till his brain rattled, but I'm past that desire now. Thanks to people who believed me, and guided me. Because of God who loves me, I now walk in freedom.
I can write about what happened knowing that the guilt and shame are not mine. And also because sexual abuse is common. Chances are that you have been sexually abused yourself or know someone who has. I urge you to be the one to remind them that guilt and shame are not theirs to carry. I ask you if you will sit with them in their pain, and be a vessel of God's love, without rushing them to forgive. Finally, I ask you to give them the gift of believing their story.
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