This topic is profoundly personal. It takes me back to 13 (some 20 plus years ago). At 13, I still believed in innocent friendships between “boys” and “girls.” I danced with flirtation, but hadn’t given more than a moment’s thought to intimacy or sex. Back then, I was oblivious to objectification and the over-sexualized patriarchal culture saturated with it. Women were whole human beings, just as men were. We were equals, with hearts beating in our chests, and blood pulsing through our veins. In that age of innocence, I wasn’t just a body, I was also a soul and a spirit.
All that shifted after sexual assault. Violation has a way of redefining everything. Coloring everything anew. Violation alters reality. For me, it had created a push and pull; a tug of war. Sometimes I wanted to be feminine, but I didn’t want to send the wrong signals. In those moments, I cloaked myself in skirts to my ankles and never dared expose a shoulder. At other times, I felt rebellious, and refused to have one moment in my life change everything. In those moments, I put on the shortest skirt I could find and danced the night away. No matter how I looked or what I was wearing, one thing was clear, a significant part of our population (particularly di “man” part) saw only the external and had little interest in who I was deep down inside. It is this disconnection, I believe, that remains at the root of violence against women.
In our upcoming episode of Ennufff we’ll talk through our personal experiences with objectification, discuss articles like Shocking attitudes point to deep misogyny in Congo, and The Macho Paradox, a book written by Jackson Katz, which insists we need to see violence against women as a man’s issue. Nelson Mandela tweeted recently, “As long as we take the view that these are problems 4 women alone 2 solve, we cannot expect to reverse the high incidence of rape.” With time, I’ve come to understand exactly that. We have to tackle this issue together. We have to talk about objectification and how culture and tradition normalize it. We have to ask our brothers to talk to one another, to remind one another that women (all women – not just their mothers, sisters, and daughters) are more than bodies, they are souls and spirits (like I was at 13; like I am again now that I’ve reclaimed my power).
Despite life’s challenges as a survivor, lover of life unfolding my wings, I am free, happy, and at peace. My journey continues through my purpose and role as a wife, mother of six, grandmother of four, friends to many, and guide to few.. My humbleness leaves me in obscurity based on my past, because the less said is the more heard. Reading is my passion, helping others is a given, and loving is a natural. The mission is the purpose and the purpose is from the experience. Encouraging and empowering victims and survivors are one of the ways I personally learn and heal. As I move forward letting go of my pieces, it allows me the freedom to feel the next breath of fresh air. Life with post trauma is difficult but discipline of staying your course in the process of its ups and downs – it is staying real with the man in the mirror!
Karen Ayee is a sexual abuse advocate, community leader/volunteer, radio co-host, writer, storyteller, and a graduate student pursuing holistic psychology for complimentary therapy. It is the mind, body and soul that are injured when sexual violence occurs. Despite her own issues and pursuits, her greatest challenge is the balance of seeing her children, all happy, healthy in their growth, and established in their well-being.
Presently, looking into the various situations, stages of sexual violence from a deep perspective, allows me to think first before I make decisions. This journey of my life has been an experience of good and poor choices. With no guidance or belonging, I had to raise myself like so many others who relate to feel the pain gain lesson. Oftentimes I am caught in an awe-belonging moment where the ah ha is faced with the disbelief that someone else shares similar experiences such as, insecurities, fear, pain, shame, and confusion despite diverse backgrounds. It takes someone to be pro active, or supportive based on how each person relates to sharing. The ‘You too? Me too!’ campaign is one of relativity of interest because that is how I was introduced to my kindred spirit, sister, friend, and business partner – Damali Robertson. While Damali’s background is not similar to mine, (she had her parents, no poverty issues and more stable upbringing). Our partnership is about doing what is necessary to end the crimes of Rape, Sexual Assault, Violence, and Abuse. We both were brought together intentionally by a mutual special friend we shared. He told me we could be powerful together and I always felt he was right, hence the power strengthened later when we reconnected and launched our talk radio show, ENNUFFF and the organization for US Rising, (Universal Survivors Rising). The necessity of these forums and platforms bring us to sharing the challenges we face and the skills needed in our lives. I recently read Damali’s blog post on her journey to healing and the importance of that journey as it unfolds. I totally support that journey. It is how we get to see the raw unfolding of our wings and the freedom to fly with truth, (it really sets you free from the trauma; giving us techniques to help heal).
Being raped and molested by my caregiver was the beginning of my hell journey. After being abandoned by my parents breaking apart, I was soon sent to live with strangers (by my mother who had no knowledge of their children or family, only their educational and financial stability). At the age of twelve, it was difficult to understand the class prejudice in Jamaica. Though I did know there was ‘Uptown’ and ‘Downtown’ – the rich and poor, respectively. I did not know where I belonged so I stayed in obscurity with the shame of not having a family. I never envied anyone and their family because I only experienced sexual terror everywhere I went. My first experience was watching my friend cry to her father when he embarrassed her in front of me by asking us for sex. It was truly my first devastation of witnessing a father saying this to his daughter and her only response was that he embarrassed her. The mother was more caught up, asking us if we had seen him with any other women. Until today, when I see him, he still licks his lips at me in a sexually suggestive manner and I am disgusted. He is now an old man.
Witnessing this form of hypocrisy and silence made me rebel from the so called ‘uptowners,’ and led me to find comfort in the injustice of the ghetto of Kingston, with a sister my father had left behind too. The greatest barrier of this terrible class distinction is opportunity. The ‘uptowners’ had opportunity and ‘downtowners’ had none. Many of my uptown friends came on my escapades to see my sister in the ghetto. Ghetto people are real and speak what is on their mind despite the thick refrain from rape and sexual assault popular in the same ghetto, but in a more gang like way or if I may say, ‘gansta’ way. My sister is a very happy delightful person despite all her horrific atrocities and experiences. I love her strength when I am stressed, as she laughs. Anyhow, we (my friends and I) would attend all the dances, old hit sessions, favourite fish spots, and just a normal ghetto hang out, my sister’s bar. Observing and learning from both environments still had me in the middle of nowhere. I witnessed the village uptown families that were broken but posed with false hypocritical lives. They acted as if their families were together – giving false impressions. Having seen this behavior, I constructed my own values and standards. I used discipline as one of my personal guards and protections. I also mastered the art of support. I extended support to everyone else except myself. This was soon discovered because I suffered and knew pain, so I was always willing to help or support others in pain. I learned to put that guard around myself by being obscure because, well, look at it, all we got was what the duck got. Was it because my head was stuck in the water? Or was I down trying to get me some water and I was taken suddenly without warning.
This is a brief story of my living in obscurity – trying my best in all manner of the word obscure. My first struggle was my sense of who I was. Where I felt I belonged was so painful [for me] it left me insecure, with shame to keep myself in the shadows. Despite my strong personality and adversities, in the past, my sense of belonging led to my seeking a family and acceptance in all the wrong places, living among so called “respectable people” in society who were my caregivers. Then entering early marriage as a young girl, and starting a family when I had no idea what I was doing. However, the thought of having my own family began with three beautiful daughters.
The second was my relationship with my mother. I struggled with it for many years – I misunderstood her, I mothered her, and finally had to release her. The family dynamics and the brokenness left a lot of us alone from different backgrounds to face the same situation, and that is child sexual molestation, rape, and abuse. My broken family left me desolate, abandoned, and poverty stricken. My family was poor and the help of strangers was my rescue. I felt ashamed of my poverty and the disadvantages that came with it. Everyone assumed I was okay, but more on that will be in my book currently being edited.
A five part series that takes you on my journey – by Karen Ayee
How can I go looking for happiness when I am hurting so much inside? Especially when I look around and there is hurt all around me masked in various styles, shapes, and forms. Having no idea, I thought I could find this happiness outside of myself from someone else. It began with NOT loving myself, because the people who were supposed to be responsible for me as a little girl had left me behind, abandoned me in a world that only sought gratification from the less fortunate. In my book, Telling my Story, I have so many things to say about the multi-traumatic events throughout my young developing life. I hid behind the dark shadow of secrets – behind my devastation, pain, and shame. Having children from two husbands could not be as bad as the addictions some of my fellow victims suffered, but two lonely marriages is easier to describe. I know it takes a process in understanding the dysfunctions of marriage, relationships, but the journey of forgiveness was the beginning to my healing.
To be continued…tomorrow….