The Kavanaugh Hearing and Rape Culture

Believe Survivors. Support Survivors. Portrait of an Activist: Amita Swadhin

Working to end rape culture. Text by and Photo of Amita Swadhin

I’ve been mostly silent about the media coverage of sexual violence around the Kavanaugh hearings, because I’ve been deep in Mirror Memoirs work.
But here’s a snippet of my thoughts.

#IDidDisclose — I was four the first time I told my mom that my dad had “touched me and I didn’t like it.” Which was only because I didn’t have the word “rape” in my vocabulary.

My mom confronted my dad that night, who said he only “exposed himself” to me.

My mom was 23 years old, with a four-year-old, a newborn, no college education, and no job (she worked at the store my dad owned and went to lab tech school at night).

My mom stayed with my dad — for another 12 years.

I was raped by my dad regularly for another 8 years.

There were plenty of ways I told from that day forward — from my anxious habits like biting my nails and even my toenails, to being violent with my sister, to being incredibly withdrawn and nervous at family parties, to being very unwilling to interact with adults who were strangers (having been a very gregarious toddler, this was a marked shift in my behavior).

But I never told in words again until the sexual violence in my life ended. I told when I was 13, to protect my 9 year old sister. I told my mother, hoping she would finally do something.

And she did — she called a therapist.

And the therapist reported.

#IDidntWantToReport the violence to any legal authorities, because I had already been consciously experiencing racism since the age of 6. I knew my family wasn’t white. I knew my parents were immigrants. I knew the system wasn’t set up for us. I knew people would put me on trial and judge me — I knew that because I watched TV. I saw how kids who were rape survivors were pathologized — always victims, always damaged, always treated with pity and never with reverence for our strength, our brilliance, our resilience — and most importantly, never asked what we actually needed or wanted. I didn’t want to end up institutionalized. I didn’t want the violence from my dad to get worse.

But mandated reporting happened. A white therapist who I’d never met decided she knew what was best for me. And then a white social worker. And then a white cop. And then a white prosecutor.

The prosecutors threatened to prosecute my mother for “being complicit” in what happened to me.

My mom WAS complicit, but she was also being raped and tortured and abused in every way imaginable, and that had been happening to her by my father since she was 18. She was also part of an insular Indian American community that stigmatized, judged and disposed of any woman who dared to get divorced.

The prosecutors also told me if I moved forward with prosecution, I should be prepared to be put on trial and called a liar by the defense attorney. They wanted to know if I was ready for that. I WAS 13 YEARS OLD.

So yeah, the #WhyIDidntReport dialogue is leaving so many of us out. So many of us who were harmed by a system that is here to enact state violence and control on communities of color, immigrant communities, LGBTQ communities, under the guise of being here to help us.

Also, like most childhood rape survivors, I have survived countless other instances of sexual harassment on the street and in the workplace and in the classroom and in “community,” and instances of sexual assault — like when a random man at a family friend’s party grabbed my genitals when I was 10. Or when a number of gay cisgender men grabbed my breasts at a nightclub when I was 17. Or when an older white man who was once a television writer in Hollywood told me he could understand why a young woman like me would want to date a man like him (apropos of nothing) while I was there to raise money from him for the nonprofit I was leading, when I was 33. Or…the list is really fucking long, folks.

And I never talk about those other instances of sexual violence because what really is there to say after one survives 400+ instances of rape by their own father, followed by state violence by the criminal legal system?

I was aware at a very young age that we live in a violent world in which rape and sexual violence are literally in the fabric of everything.

These days I am focused on helping all of us understand this — and on building spaces for the survivors who are being left out of every system, every movement, every healing space — or worse, who are being harmed by these spaces and institutions.

Much love to every other survivor who has felt erased or triggered or silenced all over again this week.

I get it. I love you. I love us.

And if you are a queer or transgender or gender non-conforming person of color who survived childhood rape or sexual assault, know that I am helping create space for us, including the October 21 conference Healing Together: for LGBTQ POC Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (and more to come from Mirror Memoirs).

#BelieveSurvivors #SupportSurvivors #IBelieveYou #MeToo #EndRapeCulture

  • I am honored to call Amita friend. They were the first survivor of childhood sexual abuse I met within months of my first remembering my past in 2007. Being in their circle of love and support has taken me on this long and winding journey of recovery and healing over the last 12 years. I am grateful for the insights they have shared, the worlds they have helped open up to me, and the wonderful folx I have met in knowing them. I cannot say enough about the dedication and focus Amita brings to their work in ending rape culture.

To know where you're going find out where you've been. I strive to be joyful. I read. I write. I’m grateful.