I was eighteen years old. I had recently been crowned Navy Queen, a local beauty pageant that I had taken part in because my friend who had won it the year before thought it would be a good idea. No one was more shocked than I when my name was announced as winner. But unlike many of the previous winners, I had no interest in using this accolade as a stepping stone into a modelling career or to participate in other beauty pageants. As an experience, it was a one-off, fun while it lasted, and I wasted no time getting back to normal college life.
A couple of weeks later we got a phone call from someone who appeared to be connected to the Navy Queen business and wanted to tell us about a potential scholarship for me to study art in Paris. It sounded interesting. They said I needed a medical check-up ahead of being granted such a scholarship and asked if I would be prepared to have one. I thought this sounded strange but assumed that was how it worked, and so I agreed. It was arranged that the doctor would come to our house to do a checkup.
The appointment was set for one afternoon after my return from college. It so happened that no one else was going to be home at that time. The night before the appointment I had a dream about my impending medical check-up. It was not a good dream and I felt uneasy. You could say it was a premonition. I said nothing about it to my parents. That day at college I asked one of my close friends if she would accompany me home as I did not want to be alone when the doctor came to see me.
The “doctor” arrived as promised. My friend waited outside in the living room as he proceeded to do his “medical check-up” in my parent’s bedroom. Today, thirty years later, even as I write this, my mouth is dry and my heart is pounding from the confusion and fear I felt at that time. Outwardly I remained composed. But I kept thinking: what sort of a medical checkup is this and what did it have to do with art? Was he even a real doctor or had I just been sexually assaulted by an opportunist who had taken advantage of my naivety?
I did not talk about what happened that day to anyone – not even to my friend who waited for me in another room. I told my parents I was no longer interested in going to Paris to do art or anything else. If they wondered why I had had such a change of heart they did not push me for answers. I simply buried that episode somewhere deep in my mind and told myself I would never let that happen to me again.
So why do I talk about this so publicly after all this time? The latest saga of Donald Trump bragging about his use of his celebrity status to sexually prey on women has suddenly brought this taboo subject into the mainstream. Even in countries like the USA, women who have come forward with allegations of having been assaulted by Trump are facing scrutiny and skepticism from some quarters. Survivors of sexual harassment and assault in countries like India face an uphill battle that would make climbing Mount Everest seem easy in comparison.
Sexual abuse happens everyday – many like me will never talk about it or be able to bring the perpetrator to justice. But we are doing ourselves and everyone who could probably be subjected to sexual abuse a disservice by our silence. There are a number of reasons why many of us prefer to simply move on from the unpleasantness of an uninvited sexual encounter. Society’s perceptions and the lasciviousness of the response to such allegations can make the survivor feel emotionally assaulted over and over again. It is no surprise that they only find the courage to come out in the open with their stories when it becomes clear that they are not alone, and that there is a good chance that they will be believed.
It is clear that people like Trump become emboldened with every encounter that goes unchallenged. There will be people in positions of power worldwide who are every day messing with lives and heads of people, simply because they can. There are people in positions of great responsibility in whose care are left vulnerable people who may also be subjected to sexual abuse. It shouldn’t take a leaked video tape with incriminating lewd comments to make us sit up and take note. Sexual predators are not that hard to spot. Their survivors are because they are so much better at keeping secrets.