[CW: This post describes the aftermath of rape, its emotional impact of rape & experience of intense victim-blaming.]
What is Hope, you ask? Hope is Love personified. Hope is Kindness acted out. Hope is a Friend, and a Lover, who offers compassion unconditionally. Hope is everywhere if we simply allow it to be.
I learned to love again, and along with it, the idea of hope became less elusive, allowing me to learn to live with the cracks in my heart. As long as it keeps on beating loud and proud.
I am a (gang) rape survivor. I can say that now, ten years after that night.
It started with a tequila shot and ended with me waking up naked in an empty bed and my clothes all over the floor. Next to the bed, my black Guess handbag was intact and zipped up on the bedside table. I reached out to check my mobile phone and saw multiple texts, and a few missed calls. I stood up and picked up my clothes from the floor. I did not remember what went through my mind. I only remember that I wanted to leave as images started to form in my head.
I pulled up my jeans and realized the zip was broken and the button was nowhere to be found. I remembered thinking to myself, now that is a good thing, isn’t it? Clearly, I must have struggled.
I went down the stairs of the two-story building and found a familiar face by the door, asking me if I was fine. He walked me out to show me the way to the nearest bus stop so I could get home. I insisted for him to have a cigarette with me. In truth, I was starting to realize the fear that was creeping up in me. I was starting to remember.
Days, weeks and months after, I was fumbling around in a hopeless place. I was literally living in a home where spiteful remarks would be made by a man who did not know how to be a father to a rape victim. I believe I was coerced to drop the police report I already wrote. “No one is going to believe you”, the police said. “The process may take months or even years, adik, please think carefully and consider what your dad is saying.”
As a Malay and Muslim girl, I was made to reflect on my “bad decisions” instead, and how much shame I brought to my family. I was made to feel so much guilt for disappointing my late mother who was (still is) my light and my soul.
At nineteen, I could not fight. I swallowed every single accusation, every insult, every degrading word thrown at me for already losing my virginity anyway, and worst of all, for getting so drunk I could not protect myself! Tak ada maruah betul!
“Just move on. Be strong. Redha sahaja la. God will guide you back again. Show remorse and you will be forgiven. Taubat je la.”
Words thrown to me so carelessly, words that only served to dig a deeper hole for me to climb into.
Words that I consumed and allowed to define me. I grovelled so hard to find a sliver of hope, that silver lining in a shitty predicament.
Over the next three years, I coped in several different ways. I even “turned to God” and made a hundred-eighty degrees change to my physical appearance – donning the hijab and covering my skin just to feel a little safer. In hopes that it will help me redefine who I am.
Three more years passed, and all I felt was more disgust. I did not feel comfortable putting on a persona, trying to be “more Muslim”, in a world where being Muslim means I have to always be reminded of my shameful past. Every Muslim has her/his own experience of turning to Islam in Singapore – mine was not liberating. I felt suffocated more than ever.
I also learned from a beautiful soul that the One & Only Creator is Most Merciful, and that “there is no compulsion in religion.”
And soon after that, came the realization of who I am. A Malay-Muslim woman who can write her own story, her own life regardless of what the Malay and Muslim communities may think of me. I had to pick my battles.
I am already fighting a demon in my mind, the voices of my past.
Now in 2020, I must say that Hope had appeared to me, in an echo, a voice that kept whispering into my ears. A whisper that got louder over time. A familiar whisper telling me that there is no shame in being broken. A damaged thing can still be precious. That damaged can describe a whole range of things, from being attacked by cancer to being gang-raped. And most importantly, that hope can exist in an imperfect reality.
And that hope persisted. In the voices of others who offered a listening shoulder or an empathetic ear. I found strength in living with the ugliest parts of my life. The vilest of experiences. Yet these experiences do not need to define who I choose to be.
And now I would like to share Hope with the whole wide world. There is no shame in building solidarity. In asking for help, in screaming out loud for Hope. Every victim, every survivor, knows it. Even with the #METOO movement, Hope can still seem far out there. But it is there. Let me remind you that Hope is alive.
If you or someone you know is facing partner/domestic violence don’t hesitate to call the Women’s Helpline at 1800 777 5555 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are facing any kind of sexual violence, call the Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC) hotline at 6779 0282 or email email@example.com.
E is turning twenty-nine this year and she lives on, the only way she knows how—by wearing her heart on her sleeve.
Illustration by Ishibashi Chiharu