Surviving sexual abuse — and the surrounding silence.
I have been sexually abused by two family members in my life. Two!
When I tell people of my story, I always leave one out because you wouldn’t want to overwhelm others, would you? One is “normal,” it’s possible to handle. Two makes it look like I’m part of a vicious cycle — which I am.
But it took me 13 years to realize so.
I’ve never had to deal with trauma. My relationships with men are normal, I’m not scared to be touched or to have sexual relations with men. None of my experiences have somehow laid a large imprint on how I would go into one. I always wondered why.
I went through a nightmare and yet, as a child I was able to tell my story without tears. I asked my mother once why that is. Why can some people deal with awful situations differently to others? She explained to me that some are simply stronger.
I look at men walking down the streets of Kosovo and wonder if they’ve ever forcibly laid a hand on someone’s body.
I still get that comment sometimes — that I’m strong. But how could I be, if I’ve never consciously felt the need to be?
With age, my experience has made me more observant of people. I look at men walking down the streets of Kosovo and wonder if they’ve ever forcibly laid a hand on someone’s body. I can’t trust anyone here anymore. But how could I, if my cousin and father have been able to continue their lives as if nothing is holding them back? They are able to blend in perfectly.
How could anyone believe that a successful, smart man had once laid his hands on his daughter? None of their current partners know what they have done to me, of course. Would it make a difference if they did? We see men as the perpetrators in this story, which they are, but it is also us women who step into the blood of our sisters without a single care.
I told my cousins as a child. I cried and told them my story. They looked at me not with empathy or understanding but rather with fear. We were still children but yet their immediate instinct was to shut me down. “Be quiet. Stop crying. What if someone hears you?”
And that was it.
Later that evening, my cousin confronted me, accused me of lying, “My uncle would never do such a thing. Never,” she said.
And so I let it be. I did tell her of our cousin’s hand slipping down my shirt and with that she could agree with me. “I know. He did the same thing to me.”
And again, that was it.
It almost felt as if it was a normal part of our life, nothing worth making a fuss about. Just the daily life of an Albanian woman. Care to join us?
My life turned a 180 when the news was reported that a 16-year-old Albanian girl had been sexually abused by her school teacher and a policeman. That’s when everything, all the pain that I’ve somehow been able to dodge all this time, came pouring down on me.
Because of what my father had done to me, I stopped coming to Kosovo for seven years.
I always knew there were others just like me. Girls and women who suffer at the hands of our cousins, fathers, uncles, grandfathers and strangers. Yet, now we were going to talk about it. Women who’ve suffered silently for years wrote poems on social media. Poems that I could relate to so well.
Yet, despite all of this, the fear of one’s family finding out is still lingering in everyone’s mind and it will continue for a long time coming.
Because of what my father had done to me, I stopped coming to Kosovo for seven years. My mother and I moved to Canada to start a new life for ourselves. One where I would not constantly be reminded of what I had to go through.
The day I stepped foot into this country again was a beautiful one. I woke up to the sound of the Azan in the background. Something I haven’t heard since my childhood. Pure nostalgia. This continued for the next two years. Every street, every corner, every person brought me back to when I was a child. I had loved it here! As many others I would visit my family four times a year, minimum. My childhood memories are only filled with Kosovo — nothing else.
But this only lasted for so long and with time I had started to see Kosovo and its people for what we really are. Sexist, racist, homophobic… the list goes on. And so, with every stay, I grew hatred for us. I would listen to my family talk and be ashamed of what I was part of. It’s mentally draining to be in an environment where you’re constantly reminded that you’re nothing but a body. A body that cooks, cleans and serves others.
As part of the diaspora, we have been raised in countries where gender equality is a given. To be sexist is to be wrong. In Kosovo, you have to be lucky to meet people who not only say they are for gender equality but also genuinely advocate for it. I often feel as if our anger and screams are brushed off as something laughable. “Ah, you shacis you’ve got money! What are you complaining about?”
Are they right? Do we have anything to complain about?
I was given an option to not have to surround myself with a culture that is so vile toward its women.
We were not raised in Kosovo. The majority of us weren’t. I, personally, was “lucky” enough to be also raised by a German mother, and because of this I was listened to when I spoke up about the sexual abuse I had to experience. I was given an option to not have to surround myself with a culture that is so vile toward its women.
As a result, I will never know what it is like to be a woman in Kosovo. I don’t know what it’s like to not be listened to my entire life. To live in constant fear of my cousin, uncle, father and men in general. What if he will touch me AGAIN? What if people will ignore my cry for help, AGAIN? That was not an issue for me because I was able to leave.
But because of my ability to speak up when I want to and my ability to not live in fear or worry that I will one day be “thrown out” of my family, I owe every Albanian woman my power and strength. I owe it to them to not only speak up, but to scream for us. I owe it to them to give a face to our suffering and to the scars we continuously have to carry.
But most importantly, I owe them my name: Arnina Beciri.
Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.