I have never heard of these things happen in Indian culture. Do you think maybe these girls are lying?
A statement I heard from a male acquaintance from India a few years ago. Just because you don’t hear people talking about it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. Point blank.
Being a brown girl and a survivor of sexual assault is a double-edged sword. When you grow up being told that “these things don’t happen amongst desis,” you may feel anxious about sharing your experience. You may worry about not being believed. You may worry about shaming your own family (who wants to be the topic of unwanted gossip?). You may feel obligated to protect the model minority reputation of desis.
You may be dependent on your perpetrator. You may be told that you’re unmarriageable. You may worry about other people judging you. You may worry about looking weak. Or, you may be a very private brown girl who doesn’t know how to put her experiences into words (and that’s okay). With all of that in mind, it’s no wonder why some brown girls keep their abuse a secret.
If you reach a point where you are ready to process what’s happened to you, what to do first can feel overwhelming. Based on my professional experience, here are five things to keep in mind.
1. Express how you feel to the right people.
Who are you hanging around with? Some brown people who I have worked with weren’t taught healthy boundaries, nor were they taught how to recognize abusive relationships. Unfortunately, survivors of sexual assault can find themselves in a string of abusive and manipulative situations.
Predators and toxic people prey on the vulnerability and isolation of a survivor. Survivors may then feel obligated to stay with people, who mistreat them. When you feel stuck with the wrong people, it’s no surprise why a survivor may feel like they can’t get over things. Healing happens when you open up to kind and respectful people, who validate you.
2. Accept that your current feelings are a normal reaction to sexual assault.
Mental health issues are taboo to talk about in the South Asian community. A lot of brown girls are under intense pressure to look like the perfect daughter with the good grades, a great career and a line of marriage proposals. But, you may be dealing with an eating disorder, extreme anxiety, suicidal thoughts, people-pleasing, rage or low self-esteem. Whatever you’re experiencing is your brain’s way of adapting to the trauma that you experienced. Dealing with mental health issues doesn’t mean that you’re a bad brown girl, crazy, weird or not trying hard enough.
3. Let go of any blame or shame.
You may struggle with beating yourself up for going along with the sexual assault, not fighting back or ruminating over whatever decision you made when the assault happened. Maybe you have internalized the message that you’re damaged goods. Maybe you’re worried about how your partner will view you. Despite what victim-blamers say, it’s never the victim’s fault. The blame goes back to the person who sexually assaulted you. When you admit to yourself that you didn’t deserve what happened to you, it’s easier to give yourself the compassion that you need.
4. Find a culturally competent therapist, who specializes in sexual trauma.
If you’re ready to talk to a professional, please be aware that not all therapists specialize in sexual assault, nor are they all familiar with South Asian culture. Some survivors may turn to life coaches, astrologers and priests, only to also find out that these people give damaging advice. It’s important to seek help from someone who has the expertise that you’re looking for. If you’re not connecting with a therapist, you are well within your rights to find a new therapist. Working with a knowledgeable and insightful therapist is a key factor in your recovery.
5. Trust yourself.
Being a brown girl with immigrant parents is hard as it is. You get strict messages from Indian culture, yet your non-brown friends tell you something totally different. Add sexual assault to your minority color experience. Your identity gets shattered. This leads survivors to ignore and second-guess their feelings, opinions, needs, and thoughts.
When survivors don’t trust themselves, they may feel like they have to accommodate to what other people want them to do. Realize that you have the right to be your own person, who can trust her instincts, her perceptions, how she feels about things, and the choices she makes. Trust yourself, because nobody knows yourself as well as you do.
With that all being said, remember that every survivor of sexual assault is unique. There is no wrong or right way to react to trauma, nor is recovery a linear process. It’s up to you to find out what works for you, and what doesn’t work for you. Moving on from sexual assault can have it’s ups, downs and feelings of giving up. But, know that you are strong enough to overcome whatever has happened to you. If other survivors of sexual assault can heal and feel happy again, brown girls can do it too.