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April 20, 2021

How I Walk the Path of Healing after My Sexual Abuse

Being a sexual abuse survivor means being a part of the wider web of survivors and to walk the path of healing that so many have walked before.

by Sebastian Partogi
Kekerasan_Pelecehan seksual_KarinaTungari

I did not make this up. It was not a false memory. Nor was this a piece of fiction. This really happened to me. Yet, having seen just how badly survivors of sexual abuse were being blamed and doubted for their own experiences, I was highly hesitant about sharing this story. Would anyone believe my testimony?

I was in a deep sleep and out of the blue, like a thief who (of course) showed up unannounced in the night, I saw that man again. He suddenly appeared in front of me when I thought I was safe in my room, in my house.

I could see him very vividly. I retained all the bits and pieces of what he looked like; his face, his height, his weight. I saw this man before. Seeing the man in front of me again, a primal animal instinct kicked in: fear. Tremendous fear. Something in me screamed at me, telling me to run for my life. So, I ran. I remember that my body was trembling in terror but all that came out of my mouth were muted screams: no, no, no.

I remember running out of my room, trying to find my parents, whom I hoped could save me. Unfortunately, they were not there. They had died many years before. Then, the man showed up in front of me again. The sight of him prompted me to run outside my house and on to the streets, trying desperately to find help. But again, no one was there to help me and the sky was pitch black. I was thinking of some people whom I thought were my friends and was hoping to reach out to them but none of them was available.

Finally, the man cornered me on a roadside in the dead of the night. He smiled at me but that was a sinister smile, as if he was implying: what are you afraid of? I am no evil man.. Yet I could tell from his face that he was also ready to pounce on me, to devour me.

Also read: Surviving Sexual Violence is a Messy Journey, Yet I Endure

I remember reaching inside my denim pocket, hoping to access a jackknife, anything which I could use to attack him and save myself. But nothing was there. I was defenseless. Then, I thought to myself: okay, this was it, I was done for.

Then I woke up and it was still 4:30 a.m., predawn time.

The first thing I did after waking up was running to the bathroom because I had felt a strong urge to pee, partly driven by the terror. My body was tense, my chest was constricted. I returned to my bed, hoping to return to sleep but instead I could only toss and turn, my mind and body were hypervigilant, my eyes open so wide that my eyeballs almost popped out of the sockets.

With horror, I recalled once again the sexual abuse that happened to me. It was not even a distant past. It just happened to me early last year, when I had just hit the age of 30. And if it could happen to me, it could surely happen to anybody.

Being Adult Sexual Abuse Survivor

The man was much older than me and he was supposed to be my ally. From the beginning of our meeting, he promised me lots of things, he promised that he could help me launch an international career as an English-language writer and as a native English speaker who had an international network—“friends in high places”, as he called them—it would be easy for him to make that dream come true for me. Should I tell you that he also happened to be a white guy, attributes which could surely earn him some gravitas? Of course, I was lured by his promises. He even called me his own son early in our meeting.

I had no idea that I was being groomed as his sexual victim. When he said that he was willing to do anything I wanted, little did I realize that that included sexual favors. I found out about this only later, when he started fondling me and kissing me against my consent. I was nauseous and wanted to throw up right after that. I had thought that he was a heterosexual man. After all, I had met his son and seen his wife. So, despite my nausea, I thought, he was merely being friendly?

But he was merely camouflaging. Later he told me he was a gay man and he married his wife merely for her money and status. That did it. I cut off all my contacts with him.

What was sadder than the incidents themselves were the abject loneliness and isolation I felt in the aftermath of the experience. A (perhaps well-intentioned) friend of mine even told me that maybe I should be grateful for the experience, since it only went to show that someone still considered me attractive. Yet being treated as a sexual object was a very demeaning and traumatic experience.

Also read: The Sexual Life of a Molested Child

I put on Tori Amos’ 2001 Strange Little Girls record for comfort. Amos herself is a sexual assault survivor. Then, all the pieces began to fit. I know why I’ve been feeling lonely, worthless and cynical about other people recently. The sexual abuse I experienced in adulthood also triggered in me a sense of worthlessness I had experienced witnessing my own mother being battered and raped by my own father when I was still a child.

The sense of worthlessness, loneliness and cynicism were further exacerbated by the physical, mental and social assaults I went through by junior high school bullies. Finally, of course, similar experience of sexual abuse had also already happened to me in my adolescence, when a medical doctor was fondling my genitals.

Suddenly, all the pieces fit. No wonder I am emotionally reactive and quick to anger as an adult. Then I remembered that I’m not the only one experiencing this. I think of Tori Amos, as well as countless other women and gay men who have recounted of their experiences of sexual violence and how the trauma affected their psyche. With tears in my eyes, I remember my late mentor Margaret “Maggie” Agusta, a beacon of light in post-abuse healing and empowerment.

Also read: House of the Unsilenced: Giving Voices to Sexual Violence Survivors through Arts

I stopped feeling sorry for myself. Instead, I felt myself becoming a part of this wider web of sexual abuse survivors. I am humbled to actually be able to walk the path of healing that so many women and gay men have walked before me. To heal the wound, you have to experience the dark night of the soul.

Finally, I no longer need for other people to approve of, or validate or maybe even sympathize with my traumatic experience. I have reconnected with it on a visceral level through the nightmare, through Amos’ music, through recollections of so many other people’s traumatic stories... I am able to own my own shit now. I’m proud to be a survivor. I’m wearing my pride on my sleeve. And that is more than enough.

Having reconnected with my own body and this vast tapestry of human experience, I feel less alone and isolated now.

Ilustrasi oleh Karina Tungari 

If you come and hangout in Jakarta’s cinemas, cultural centers and cafés, and see a man with shaved head man sitting by himself in the corner, he is probably Sebastian Partogi. He works as a journalist, commercial and fiction writer, as well as Indonesian-English translator and interpreter on the side.