When I was younger, I wasn’t allowed to go to sleepovers. My mother had always been worried, especially as most of the invitations I got were from gwer and she had no trust in them. She told me that they came from a different world and culture from us and so they don’t pay as much attention to their kids and what they’re up to as we do.
When I was ten, she finally allowed me to go to one; the niece of a family friend – who was Algerian – invited me to stay at her aunts house with her. My mother still wasn’t happy about it but since it didn’t break any of the rules she had imposed regarding sleepovers, she had no choice but to let me go.
I stayed at their house for three days. On the third day, the girl’s aunt had to work and so she called her uncle to look after us until her shift was done. I’d never liked her uncle, he made me uncomfortable and judging by the way my mum often spoke about him, she felt the same way about him too. I didn’t see much of him though, he spent the day in the living room watching TV whilst the girl, her brothers and I spent it upstairs playing.
At some point, she disappeared; so I decided to go looking for her. I found her in the living room with her uncle playing what she said was a game. She looked happy, she told me she had to go to the bathroom, she told me I could have a turn if I wanted to; I didn’t. But her uncle extended a hand and so, not wanting to embarrass myself or my mother by disobeying or disrespecting an elder, I abided.
I didn’t know what to do afterwards, I felt strange; my mind was a muddle. I felt like I had to tell my mother but what could I even tell her? I didn’t possess the vocabulary needed for me to describe how I felt; I didn’t even know how I felt. I could accuse him, but what of? And who would believe me, I didn’t even know what had happened or even if it was wrong; but I knew it felt wrong.
When I was fourteen, I learned the term used for what had happened to me; sexual assault. It was like my entire world had been turned upside down. At first, I wanted to deny it. Maybe I had been overreacting, maybe it really had been a game and I just didn’t like it because his general presence made me uncomfortable. But the revelation made everything that had happened right after and in the years since make so much sense, it wasn’t something I could deny even if I wanted to.
I remembered that right after it had happened, I had felt dirty and wanted to shower, I remember her brothers trying to get me to play a game but when one of them tried to touch my arm I pulled away from them. I remember taking a shower and triple checking to make sure the door was locked in case he came in.
I remember the drive home with my mother that night, and her asking me if I’d had a good time; I remember his game being the first thing that came to mind and I so badly wanted to tell her that something had happened to me, something wrong, but I was so scared I said nothing.
Mostly, I remembered being eleven and reading a submission on rape in one of my uncle’s girlfriend’s magazines. The rape victim had been drugged and followed home, she had no memory of the assault but when she woke up the next morning she found blood and bruising around her thighs. And so, after that, I would have trouble sleeping because what if I didn’t really need to sleep and someone had just drugged me. What if someone came into my room in the middle of the night and raped me and I wouldn’t have any memory of it. I would wake up every morning for the next two years and check my thighs for bruising and my underwear for blood stains just incase.
I couldn’t deny it, because it had happened. I didn’t tell my mother, I didn’t tell anyone. I kept it to myself for years. I pretended nothing had happened, I even went to his wedding – to a girl who was barely eighteen when he was nearing fourty – and danced the night away.
When I was seventeen, I blurted it out. My mother and I had to gone to Paris for the weekend. We were sitting on the first floor of a scruffy KFC in Clingnancourt when it all came out. My mother was worried about me spending time in a house of a friend of mine as she didn’t trust her father; she told me that there were rumors flying around that he had sexually assaulted a twenty-one year old woman. I don’t know what it was exactly that made me tell her but I did; and it felt like every single cinder-block I’d been carrying on my shoulder since it had happened, and since I learned what it was, disintegrated right then and there.
I will never forget that day. My mother was shocked, both by the fact that it had happened and that I had never told her. She asked me why I never told her, I explained that I felt like it had been my fault because I was the one who insisted on going to the sleepover despite her initial discomfort at the idea. She called me a hmara. She told me she wished I would have told her when it had happened so she could have made sure he ended up in jail. She asked me if I was okay now. She told me it wasn’t my fault. It was all I’d ever wanted to hear.
But that isn’t all. She told me that not long after I’d been assaulted, there was a scandal in the Algerian community regarding this very man. One night, he had gone out clubbing and met a women who liked the look of him and invited him back to her place. The woman had an eleven year old daughter. He spent the night with the woman, waited until she fell asleep and then entered her daughter’s room. Her daughter woke up before he could touch her; she screamed. Police were called. He missed out on being convicted because he hadn’t actually done anything to the girl and he had been let into the house by her mother. Hearing that, I felt regret at having kept quiet.
Unfortunately, it was too late for me to report anything. It was nearly a decade after the assault and I no longer lived, or had access to, the country where it had happened. It still affects me to this day and probably will for years to come, but I refuse to let it have any power over me or the way I live my life.
I still live with the trauma of my assault. I still have my triggers and as I grow older, I’ve come to realize just how much it affects my relationship with men. I have a lot of intimacy issues; I have difficulty allowing men to touch me no matter how much I like them or want them to. I can never relax, I can never let go; but I’m working on it, because I am bigger than what happened to me.
These are not things I am comfortable with remembering or discussing but I hope that one day it will get easier, because it is something that women, especially those from my culture, need to speak about; this subject is very much a taboo when it shouldn’t be, as it silences survivors.
It is important to talk about rape and sexual assault, especially in communities where it is considered to be a major taboo. For years, I felt alone and at fault for something I had no control over and it wasn’t until I encountered other survivors that I started to heal. It is something that is not spoken about enough considering how common it is. Up until recently, I had only ever told a handful of people; every single one of them then told me they were survivors too. Many had never been able to freely talk about it as they came from communities and cultures that shame and silence survivors when they should support them.
It takes a lot out of you to talk about something so traumatic, so the fact that survivors often have to face criticism or worse for being assaulted is disgusting. It has now been twelve years since my assault and I felt that it was finally time to talk about it. I’m lucky enough to have the freedom to do that; many people don’t.