Silence Is The Enemy Of Justice
It was October 1980, just after my thirteenth birthday.
I remember the sun radiating down with a slight chill in the air and could smell the sweet aroma of honeysuckle as I walked down the long trajectory from the upper rock of Gibraltar.
I was full of excitement holding a brand new typewriter in hand, swinging it playfully as I did so having just completed my first week of typing lessons, which my father always insisted would advance my ‘career progression.’
“When you’re in need of a job, you can always fall back on becoming a typist” he would say, as if the job equalled a position as President of the United States.
No other prospects were waiting for me academically other than ‘falling into becoming a typist’ if I was lucky.
I skipped on gingerly, happy, carefree and excited to get home. Learning to type using the correct fingers took some getting used to, but I felt I was mastering it. I had even kept a piece of paper with the results of my lesson proudly displayed in the midst of the white space. Excited to share with my parents.
As I crossed over the road a taxi stopped and a white mop of hair popped out of the car window.
“Do you want a lift home?” asked this middle aged man.
I had never seen him in my life.
“No thanks” I responded politely and walked on.
Growing up in a place as small as Gibraltar, which is one of the safest and most enchanting places, where everyone knows each other in an area spanning two and a half square miles, I struggled with my decision.
Could I trust him?
“But I know your family” he insisted.
Mentioning one of my family members full name.
“Go on, I can give you a lift home, it will certainly beat having to walk all the way down the hill.”
If he knew someone in my family, it was a sure bet that I would be safe I thought.
“Okay” I said and stepped into the front seat, after all he was driving a taxi, how wrong could my decision be?
He took my precious typewriter and threw it on the backseat.
The first thing I noticed was that he had switched on the internal locking system the moment I entered the car, and closed the windows, making it very warm inside.
I felt a slight dose of anxiety but dismissed it, hey I was only 13, who was I to question an adult.
I gave him my address which was in the main street about a ten minute drive,
He drove the opposite direction.
I remember convincing myself that perhaps there were roadworks on the normal route home and he was just avoiding them, I attempted to justify every twist and turn.
He was making conversation giving the moment a normality that was frankly bizarre. I don’t even remember what he was saying. My heart beating faster as fear developed, I kept pushing the thoughts from my mind, trying to justify each action, but it kept coming back with a vengeance — a warning of what was to come.
I watched passively how he drove far away from town up to a desolate spot in an area around the lighthouse where only cars can drive, but pedestrians couldn’t. I was trapped.
I passively surrendered to the moment.
I kept thinking I had done something wrong, I still needed to show respect to an adult, keep my mouth shut and just comply.
I wanted to get out of the car, but couldn’t as I was locked in. Besides, even if I did, it would mean leaving my precious typewriter behind on the backseat. I was worried my parents would be upset if I didn’t return home with it safely in it’s box.
Strange what you obsess over, but I was still a child transitioning into adulthood; trying to understand the adult world whilst I was in the midst of becoming one.
The man finally stopped the car opposite the lighthouse which was surrounded by turbulent waters. If only the lighthouse and it’s lights could rescue me in the same way it rescues boats lost out at sea, I thought.
That was all I could focus on, an old lighthouse standing in front of me.
I sat in my seat surrendering like an animal waiting to be devoured by its prey, there was nothing I could do. The car was locked, windows closed and I was in a desolate spot with a stranger, who I had trusted less than an hour earlier.
He turned around in his seat and faced me, it was the first time I could see his face properly. I felt sick, remember that when you’re an adolescent, a middle aged man is equivalent to a geriatric.
He tried to get close to me but I pushed him away, I don’t remember his face, but I never forgot those hands, pale skinned, boney, slim fingers.
I kept pushing him away and asking him to stop. I felt trapped but still didn’t want to show disrespect or upset him. I almost felt I owed him for giving me a lift home, and here I was, being ungrateful by not returning the favour.
After a while of persevering and trying to take advantage of me (I’ll spare you the details) he stopped, gave up.
He suddenly put the key in the ignition, started the car, looked back at me with a face of disgust and drove on, mumbling obscenities about me as he did so.
I hadn’t uttered a word or had barely moved, only using my arm to keep pushing him away. I felt paralysed yet confused.
Without a word he drove all the way down to my street, parked near my house, threw me and my typewriter out of the car like you cast out unwanted goods into a trash can and sped off.
I picked myself and my typewriter (which had remained intact through the ordeal) and walked back home. By now, unlike earlier on in the afternoon, I felt downtrodden, silent, no longer with a spring in my step.
I had grown up in one hour, that is all it had taken for me to go from a naive adolescent, to an anxious adult.
I arrived home, too ashamed to say anything to my parents, and only later in the evening did I manage to verbalise it quietly to one of my sisters. I remember doubting myself, had I done something wrong?
My sister and I decided against telling my parents. We didn’t want to upset them.
Did I report this man?
It happened 37 years ago.
I can only speak for myself, but I have passively recounted the story to my daughters, completely devoid of emotion. passively, just like I was then in that car. Completely detached.
But this week I felt different,
My eldest daughter mentioned the difference in energy when I described it this week.
“Mum, you need to write about this, you must,” she insisted whilst we stood in the kitchen (as one does) where I finally broke down and felt the anger, frustration and impotence I should have felt then.
37 years of holding it all in, somehow normalising it, in the same way this man had.
Why this week?
It was finally awakened by the story of Harvey Weinstein.
The women he was alleged to have been inappropriate with only came forward now, after many years of keeping silent.
All those years harbouring a secret, scared to unleash it for fear of the repercussions. The silence protects the perpetrator and cannot bring about any justice, to stop them in their tracks so that they never target anyone again.
When I became a Therapist years after my incident, I worked with a number of girls who had been abused or inappropriately manhandled, also been asked to keep silent — by their own parents.
I recall a Nigerian girl who walked into my clinic, dropped off by her mother as one drops off a package you no longer want — one of tainted goods. Her mother took absolutely no interest in her daughters dilemma, she forced her to come to therapy so that she wouldn’t be forced to hear the sordid details herself, let the therapist hear it instead.
The poor girl who was only 13 years old, had been sexually abused by a man who had lured her into his place and she somehow managed to run away from him.
She felt ashamed, depressed, traumatised.
Her parents told her never to mention it again, otherwise she would be marched off to a healer in their community so she could become ‘cured.’
But talk about it she must not.
She must remain silent.
A number of years later, whilst working with younger children, I was referred to a Somali family, four of their daughters (all under the age of 10) had been abused by the same man, a family member.
You would have imagined that four souls giving similar version of events would invite empathy, understanding and convince that this story was true.
Their mother (who was yet again pregnant) told us through a translator that the girls were lying, she also told them to be quiet in front of me.
As the girls filtered into my room for therapy where we hoped they would express some of what had happened, none of them dared to speak or express themselves too much. Each one stoically moving on, not allowing for any vulnerability to be exposed.
Is it any wonder we use silence.
To speak would render us exposed to the world, judged by everyone, all sordid details out there.
Whether we like it or not, we still live in a patriarchal society, and we are still not equal.
The Harvey Weinstein and the Bill Cosby story continues to remind us that there is no match for a man in a position of power. When there is an imbalance — Harvey Weinstein against a young actress, or my situation as an adolescent against a middle aged man, there is an opportunity for this to be abused.
Why does it take a women so long to make an allegation?
Because most woman (unless you’re incredibly brave) will not dare to report it in isolation, only once someone else does, you feel a validation, a sisterhood, an acknowledgement of what you’ve been through.
Women who have suffered at the hands of a perpetrator, would have feared being allowed to express themselves for fear that they will be tainted for life.
Let’s take my story, Who on earth would have believed it?
There was no proof, other than I had gone missing for a few hours.
Who would have believed a 13 year old girl against a middle aged taxi driver, possibly a pillar of the community, a husband, father and grandfather.
My name would have been dragged through the mud and any indiscretion I would ever have made would have been aired out mercilessly. As a Jewish girl, I would have brought shame to my community. I would never have recovered and neither would my family.
So I was silent, and so were these women, when faced with a powerful man with more credibility than they had.
The issue is that you never forget it, you just block it, close it off, lock it away, in the same way those doors in the car locked me in on that fateful day.
In my scenario, if a woman would now come forward and show this mans photo, claiming she was a victim of abuse, would I speak now?
Yes I would.
But at that time, there was so much shame attached to the event, that it would have seemed inconceivable. You block it out, repress it, even normalise it and shut it out of your mind — For 30, 40 or 50 years.
The Harvey Weinstein scenario continues to be a reminder of how we have such a long way to go.
We need to all hold our hands up and take responsibility and stop feeding the egos of those who abuse their power. To support the women who are at the mercy of this, so that they can and will step forward with confidence and express the truth without fear of repercussions to themselves and their reputation.
To encourage a culture of silence is to dismiss all those women who fought hard so that in the western world we can vote, be part of the democratic process, and still take positions of power within politics.
We need to empower the next generation of women to speak up, to share and express without shame tainting their very existence.
In turn, we need to listen to what is being expressed. Support and be that beacon of light that can provide a safe space to those who have had to endure any abuse of power.
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