You Are Not Damaged Goods

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault

Sexual abuse is a topic that is not typically discussed in traditional Indian households. The stigma associated with it is so strong that many victims prefer to stay quiet. I’m also one of those victims who chose to stay quiet. This is my untold story.

I was nearly 6 years old when I first experienced sexual abuse. My abuser was someone my family knew well. He worked in my family’s field and earned their respect as a hardworking man.

He was also very kind to the children in my family, especially me. During my days off from school, he’d ask my parents to have me shadow him on the field. As my parents trusted him, they always said yes.

With my family’s permission, we started our days in the field together. In the beginning, I felt safe and ran freely through the fields with him. He always picked flowers for me and told me stories. Once he earned my trust, his monstrous side came out. 

Our morning always started out the same. He’d ask me about school and I’d ask him about his family. From there, we’d walk to the fields where I was far from my family. This was his “safe place.” He was comfortable there and started asking to see under my skirt. While I felt it was a strange request, my parents never talked to me about sex and I didn’t want to say no to the man my family loved and respected.

What started out as a request to see my underwear soon turned into touch. I knew it was wrong. However, he always talked “sense” into me and I went along. Soon after, my little hands were guided under his clothing. I stood there frozen and obeyed. As time went on, his requests turned into demands. He threatened to tell my parents as if it was my fault. I was terrified and did not want my parents to know.

Regardless of what he told me, I knew I had to protect myself. I couldn’t let this monster continue to place his shame and guilt on me. I told my parents I needed more time to read books and did not want to play with field workers. Although they did not understand the sudden change in my interest, they agreed.

Since that day, I did everything to avoid this man. If I saw him outside, I immediately went to my grandfather, who always made me feel safe. As much as I avoided him, he looked for ways to find me alone. One day, he did. He asked why I was avoiding him and I gave him an answer — I don’t like being touched and I don’t want to touch you. As I said this, I saw terror in his eyes. He asked if I’d told my parents and I said no. From that day, he went on with his job at our property and I went on with my new life.

While I tried to get my life back as a little girl, the shame followed me. I carried the heavy guilt in my soul. I felt it was my fault. I kept asking myself why I didn’t stop him sooner. As I kept this burden inside my little heart, I heard many stories of sexual abuse in the news, specifically rape. I wanted to ask my mom or grandmother, but I always heard them blaming the victim. I’ve often heard my grandmother say girls should never roam freely if they don’t want to get raped or abused. With that information, I was certain I’d never tell them what happened to me.

Time went on, and my parents moved our family to the United States. While I tried to move on with my life, memories of the helpless little girl kept showing up. I couldn’t help but wonder why I didn’t help her. As I grew up, I started paying close attention to stories of abuse in India.

Even in my new home in Philadelphia, the victim shaming continued. While my mom watched Bollywood movies with rape stories, I noticed how the victim was always the one who carried the shame. The victim was also given a new title for life — “damaged goods.” As the Indian culture expects women to be untouched to find a good husband, what is a victim expected to do?

They feel forced to keep their silence to protect their future. 

My hope for current and future generations is to remove this stigma. I hope we all find the courage to talk to our siblings, cousins, and children about abuse so that little girls (and boys) do not walk around with shame while their abusers walk free.

(Featured Artwork: Graciella Delgado)

Ria Zimmerman

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