Reem al-Hajj, Sexual Assault Victim, Urges Women To Confront Society To Recover From Trauma

Sexual assault victim Reem al-Hajj describes the journey recovering from her trauma, writes Zaman Al-Wasl.

After I was raped in 2010, the most painful thing for me was people’s insistence that I undergo a hymen repair operation to hide the crime committed against me and that I should not talk about the injustice that I had experienced. Of course, I understood that my mother, my lawyer, and my friends were saying this so that I forget what has happened and that life goes on.

I lived in Syrian society, a society of appearances that are rotten underneath. I know what it means to be raped in the Arab world, and I know the corruption of this country and the extent of hatred against women in it. I know the extent of injustice and tyranny against me and against my sisters, and how everything that we experience is used against us. There is no logic, justice, fairness, truth, or moral law that accepts this.

But because I know this does not mean I accept it or accept taking part in the injustice directed towards myself. Just as I rejected the injustice against my mother from her family and environment, I also rejected the injustice that has befallen other women. I had decided then that if no one would stand by me, I would stand by myself. And indeed, because I stood with truth and against social corruption, I was able, in a few months, to overcome the pain of the incident.

I was and am still fair to myself. I healed myself, and I learned to acknowledge the truth and stand proudly as a person full of life, strength, and hope despite everything that has happened. I faced this indignity and did not allow it to make me doubt the value of myself, the importance of my life, the necessity of my voice, and my thinking.

I stand against the crime that was committed against me, and most importantly, I reject any blame for another’s crime against me. For this, with truth and awareness and without any hesitation, I answered my mother, when she asked me if I was going to undergo the operation: “If it is marriage you are worried about, if it is with a corrupt and unjust person who would blame me for my misfortune, I do not want it at all. If I cannot share with my husband one of the most difficult experiences of my life, I do not want such a husband. I want a partner with whom I can share the laughter and the tears, the joy, and the sadness. Someone to stand by me… So no, a thousand times no, I will not go through this operation to hide such a crime… I am who I am and I will not change for anyone.”

Sexual assault is a painful traumatic experience, but it gave me a new and clear insight into the corruption around me. Freedom was, and still is for me, freedom from corruption, from disease, and from the Syrian and Arab social dogma. Freedom is also freedom of justice and thought, freedom of the path to truth, and the path to a better future despite all circumstances.

Through my freedom, a few months after the incident in 2010, I reconciled with the idea that I will not be able to build a happy and healthy life in such an environment. Of course, at that time I thought that I would be spending my whole life in Syria because I was not financially able to go abroad. And yet, I lived with tolerance and love towards myself, and fairness towards everyone else, both men and women. I did not allow a sick criminal to distort my image. Since the age of 21, I have been an intellectually independent person who lived on the principle of freedom.

The crime itself is just that, a crime, which demands punishment for the criminal, not the victim. The truth is clear. Do not believe anyone who tells you that you are just a victim or a survivor of rape. Do not allow anyone to convince you that you are just a reaction to a crime. You are not broken, you are a whole person, despite and in spite of your experiences. You are thoughts, feelings, strength, weakness, life, and much more. One event does not make up the story of your life.

 

This article was edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.

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