The memories come like a flood. I’m 15 or 16, it’s either July or August. I’m pedalling someone’s bicycle up a one lane road. The road curves and bends. Mostly, it is dark, the shadows of trees thick on the asphalt. As I reach one particular bend, I take a deep in-breath, and speed up. I want to pass this spot as fast as my legs can pedal. I don’t really understand what it is that frightens me. It’s my secret, and nobody will ever know the shadows that I have to pass through to reach the end of this shadowy road, to where the sun shines and sparkles, reflecting in the lake.
Sometimes I pass the spot without seeing him. But most of the times, he’s there, in the shadows, waiting, lurking, for me to see. When he’s there, he’s always ready. Although he doesn’t know I can’t – I won’t – I don’t – see anything. I don’t see his face, and I don’t see what he wants me to see. I think he’s older, maybe in his 40s or 50s, although I have no way to know. My memory plays tricks on me. I imagine him holding his trench coat open. But when I search my mind, I don’t come up with any clear image of him or his clothes, or that which he wanted me to see.
What remains with me is the fear, the knowing that he’s waiting for me, that journey through the shadows, the fast pedalling, holding my breath, and the relief when I reach the sun, the lake, and bathe. I take the memories and travel with them home, across the Mediterranean, to another country, another home, and I tuck them neatly away into a back drawer, to be kept like a forbidden note from a secret lover.
A couple of weeks ago, on February 14th, the drawer of these memories spills out its contents. I am now 40 years old. No longer an innocent child who doesn’t understand she is being violated. I park my car on a main road in Haifa, and get out. A young man stops his car near me. At first, I think he’s going to ask me if I’m leaving so he can park, and I wave my hand. He keeps talking, but I can’t hear him, so I take a couple of steps towards his car to better hear him. He asks: “How do I get downtown Haifa?” I’m about to reply, when I suddenly notice the movement of his hand in his lap. He’s holding his penis and wagging with it. My eyes fly back up to his face, smiling wickedly. My reaction is immediate; it isn’t my mind but my body that reacts by immediately turning around and walking away fast. My mind goes blank, my body trembles in shock. I realize that I have just been sexually violated attacked assaulted.
I am not writing this because I feel the need to share my experience. I have been through many difficult experiences in my life and have coping mechanisms. I am sharing this because we mustn’t keep silent about any violence committed against us. Sexual violence is still largely a taboo in our society, and I will never be silent about it. Young girls being sexually harassed or assaulted need to know that it isn’t happening only to them. I believe there is no woman who hasn’t experienced one form or other of sexual violence in her life, and we need to talk about it. We need to share our experiences in the public sphere and raise our voices against these violations.
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