Editor’s note: The author of this piece wants Afghan girls and women to know that being sexually assaulted is not their fault. After years of doubting herself, she now knows that a girl who is sexually assaulted should not carry around a burden of shame. The shame is on the man who committed the crime against a woman.
I was 17 years old at the beginning of 2015 when the school I was attending took us to New York City. I was in the train station waiting for my classmates to come and I was a little nervous and feeling lost because I did not know the city very well. Suddenly somebody hugged me from the back, and instantly everything changed in front of my eyes.
I imagined myself trying to run, but did not know where to go, and the monster caught me—again. I thought I was alone and no one saw what was happening. Let me take you back to a time much earlier when I was nine years old. I was walking home from school and this required a five-minute subway ride. I had to walk alone because none of my other friends’ houses were in the same direction.
One warm summer day, I barely saw any other people in the subway as I was rushing to get home and eat lunch. I was walking like a child, running like a child with a childish soul. I thought all the adults were kind and wise.
I remember a man who was about 20 years old, wearing black clothes with dark hair and dark eyes. He stepped in front of me and blocked my way. He was tall and he bent down and started rubbing my legs with his hands. I know I said stop, but my voice was too weak. He couldn’t hear me. I fought my way out and ran home.
But the next day, he caught me at the same spot, and tried to start it again. This time, I was quick and ran fast. I used all my strength to break away. He got so angry.
On the third day, he was walking faster and his face was already angry with revenge. I started running backwards. No one else was there and I screamed, but no one heard. I wondered, how can I scream louder? I wanted the ground to open up a hole and save me by swallowing me up. But instead I fell down and then two gigantic hands went under my arms, picked me up in the air, and then I felt I was in the mouth of the monster. He started rubbing my back to his front side. Between the layers of clothing I felt parts of his body against my back.
I knew that every five to seven minutes, at least one person walked by the place where the man attacked me. Soon a person came by and the man dropped me on the ground. But for days after, I could see that scene in front of my eyes.
Soon we moved but the incident remained always in my mind.
Three years went by and I made myself doubt it ever happened. I wanted to get back to a normal life, study and build a future for myself. I pretended it couldn’t be true and as I became more focused in my studying, I thought less and less about that day. I said to myself that it was just a nightmare and never happened, although I knew it happened.
Now of course I know my friend who hugged me from the back in the train station in New York City did not mean to scare me. I also now know that the other man thought that I was weak and I could not stop him.
However, he does not know me at all.
I will become so strong that hearing my name would make him regret his doings. I will become so loudly successful as to make him deaf. I will shine so bright he will become blind. He will realize his big mistake. He seizes little girls who look weak, but what he does not know is that each one of them grows up strong.
I know who was at fault and it was not me.
By Basira D.
Photo by Jessica R.
Dearest Basira: I hurt for the fact that you must suffer this trauma, that this man not only forced himself but these memories upon you. But I cheer for you – loudly – here in New York City – because you are strong, and you are speaking out, and yes, you are letting other girls and women know it is not their fault – not at all!!! – that someone chose to use their power against them. This is a well-written remembrance Basira. You are doing important work and I am proud of you. Stacy
Such bravery, talent and courage, Basira. Thank you!!
Thank you for sharing your story, Basira jan! You are strong and inspiring! You story gives other women the courage to share theirs! If women remain reticent and don’t combat especially because of “shaming” and the absurd stigma, nothing will change!
I think the first step is to talk about this issue/share stories so that girls learn to speak up otherwise how will our families/society know about the severity of this issue and help? When I was interning at a hospital in Kabul, I saw a woman with her little 7 years old daughter walk into the gynecology room. At first I thought the mother needs screening. While both crying, the mother said that she wants to find out if her little daughter is still virgin because someone on her way to school had sexually assaulted the little girl. At the end the mother leaves the room promising herself to not let anyone know about the issue especially her husband and to also not allow her daughter attend school anymore! In these cases the perpetrators are never recognized let alone being prosecuted. We need a MOVEMENT! This is a busy year for me, but for next year I have a project planned for assault and violence against women. For now let’s empower ourselves first so we can empower others!
Basira, you are definitely not “one of the very few!” You are one of the hundred stories that I have heard myself and one of MILLIONS that are victimized every year. This issue is ubiquitous; look at the Afghanistan Demographic Health Survey (AfDHS) numbers and reports. We are going to do something about this!