Ringing in 2013: Let’s make the world safe for women like Damini, Whitney and Malala
As 2013 begins, I am furious. I am horrified. I am numb. That’s because I am woman. I am also one of too many women who have been or yet will be raped, brutalized or even killed by a man during their lifetime. In 2012, three such poignant cases brought people around the world to their knees. Maybe you heard about them. Maybe you didn’t. Either way, here are the three stories I’ve been following that have left a hole in my heart.
Malala Yousafzai is the 15-year-old Pakistani blogger who was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen in October. Her crime? Malala simply wanted an education, to become a doctor. She was targeted by assassins because she spoke out about her belief that other young girls like her deserve that same right. Malala is recovering in a British hospital—and is well enough she tartly tweeted about “Damini,” the New Dehli gang-rape victim who died Saturday.
Damini sustained serious injuries at the hands of six men on a public bus. She and her boyfriend were both beaten, but the six men then heinously raped her—with a metal rod. Then the bus driver tried to run over her, after the couple was tossed off the bus. We don’t yet know her real name, but the people call her Damani. Sadly, the 23-year-old physiotherapy student’s internal injuries were so traumatic she died Saturday.
Over here on American soil, Oregon resident Whitney Heichel, just 21, was the cheerful Starbucks barista who disappeared October 16 en route to work. Authorities later charged a nearby male neighbor, Jonathan Holt, with Whitney’s kidnapping and rape, as well as her murder.
There are other cases, too, like the Punjabi gang-rape victim who did survive—only to kill herself Wednesday. This anonymous seventeen-year-old girl committed suicide after police refused to investigate the attack, instead telling her to marry one of her rapists.
Or the two-year-old toddler who died Tuesday after her uncle raped her and then threw her into some bushes. Suffice to say that no one can imagine the physical pain and internal damage done to this tiny child, at the hands of a grown man. Nor do we want to, because it sickens us just to think about it.
If I listed every female targeted with violence simply for being a woman in 2012, you wouldn’t be reading this yet—because I’d still be typing a week from now. And my list would include only the women who choose to report their rapes. Most women don’t.
I didn’t. Not until many years later, when I felt safe enough to share my secret and strong enough to withstand the emotional battering I knew I would face inside a courtroom. It takes an inner strength that can endure doubt, belittling, and outright accusations you brought it upon yourself, before a victim can acknowledge she even was raped. It takes time, reflection, therapy and an inordinate amount of personal development to overcome the trauma of rape.
I didn’t address them specifically in my memoir, because I didn’t think the world was ready to hear such personal details about the sexual abuse I survived during my first marriage. Nor was I sure I wanted to share them. But with Damini’s rape and subsequent death, I’d like to say what I’m sure most women must be silently thinking: to be raped is one thing—to be brutalized internally with a tire iron is quite another.
I was fortunate. My ex didn’t use such a deadly weapon on me. But he often did use objects in the rapes I experienced during more than 10 years. It’s not easy to talk about, but I feel I must mention it because the world needs to realize the profound effect these violent actions have on human beings. This type of rape, which the Centers for Disease Control calls “sadistic,” exacts a psychological toll that can be deadly. For the victim. And sometimes, for other people in her path.
I can attest to the physical pain a woman endures when a square object with sharp edges is inserted into the vagina—an opening designed only for a cylindrical object. I’ve chatted with female friends and even interviewed other women during the course of my news reporting work whose experiences were similar to mine. Even if their internal organs were not damaged, their psyche certainly was.
Rape can so badly traumatize a woman’s psyche she might never recover. Like the 17-year-old Punjabi victim. And when an object is used during rape, the shame and humiliation that a woman feels is indescribable. I’ve yet to find the words to describe it—and everyone who knows me knows I usually have no problem carrying on a frank discussion about human genitalia, sex, or violent sex crimes. That I can’t even bring myself now to say publicly what type of objects were used on me, more than two decades ago, should tell you how long-lasting the repercussions from this type of rape can be.
There’s a photo bouncing around the blogosphere now, of Indian protestors holding a sign that highlights the crucial change that needs to occur, before women around the world can feel safe. Can be safe. “Don’t tell ur daughter not to go out. Tell your son to behave properly,” it says. I’d say that pretty much sums it up. Rape is not proper behavior. Raping a woman with an object is much worse than improper. It’s depraved.
And don’t think that because you can’t see any wounds, they’re not there. Because they are—they’re just confined to her mind. So please parents, do your job. Teach your sons about the trauma that occurs when they rape or otherwise use violence against women. Teach them that it’s not okay to use brute force to control and suppress the opposite sex.
Teach them that a woman’s body is her temple, and if they defile it, they will be wreaking havoc not just on her, but on the world, in 2013.
Editor’s note: Please join Daleen Berry when she takes part in “Knowing Who We Are,” part of Penn State’s University’s Cultural Conversations 2013. Berry will present a soliloquy of her memoir, Sister of Silence, Saturday, Feb. 10, 2013, at The Penn State Downtown Theatre Centre on Allen Street. Tickets are $3 at the door.
Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change, for her second book, Lethal Silence, to be published sometime in 2012. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country.
Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.” To read her award-winning memoir, Sister of Silence, in e-book format (or any other e-book), download a free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.
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To view the Sister of Silence book trailer, go to her VintageBerryWine Youtube channel.