Women, It’s Time to End Our Silence

Sexual assault is too common a phenomenon for us to continue keeping silent or to talk about in hushed tones with a feeling of shame hovering it all.

It was when I was 11 and a half, a day before the annual class trip. One of the teachers thrust his hands under my school shirt. He touched, he fondled, he stuck his tongue in and he kissed. A few minutes of resistance and it was over. Then it happened several more times. How many exactly? I don’t remember. The 24 years that have elapsed have already blurred the small details, the memories and the feelings. That’s it. Not a violent rape in the dark, not a ruined childhood, not even depression. Just a scratch etched deep in the soul. I assume I am not the only one that teacher left with a scratch like this. I hope there weren’t many other girls like me.

I didn’t do anything with this. I didn’t complain to the police and I didn’t tell anyone. Life went on and I kept it inside me. I was ashamed. Why was I ashamed? I don’t know. Maybe precisely because I didn’t complain and I didn’t talk. Maybe.

And what has changed now? It started a month and a half ago, when I was interviewing young women who had made complaints of harassment by the journalist Emmanuel Rosen, in preparation for a news report on the issue ‏(with Gili Izikovich, April 28‏). The report exposed me to personal stories − both heavy and less heavy − from other women, including one who told about a teacher who touched her in elementary school. ‏(She was in fact courageous and complained‏). The urge to tell increased when I saw the women journalists group’s struggle against sex offenders in the world of media. The peak came when I read Ariana Melamed’s column on Ynet in which she opened up about a nightmarish rape she had endured. Their confessions gave me strength.

I asked myself why I should reveal my experience in the newspaper and not make do with just telling the people close to me. However, this is too common a phenomenon for us to continue keeping silent or to talk about only behind closed doors with a feeling of shame hovering it all. Daylight is the best disinfectant and its role is not only to disinfect the soul but also to ensure that the topic does not fall off the agenda, and that young girls and boys will know they must not be ashamed and they must not keep silent. If they learn this at an early age, perhaps they will refuse to be silent when they grow up as well − not about rape, not about indecent acts and not about physical or verbal sexual harassment. Perhaps in this way, instead of the scandal of the day about sexual violence exploding each time anew and turning out to have gone on for years and to have hurt dozens of people, it will be possible to put an end to it right at the start, with the first victim.

At the first stage we need not necessarily involve the police or the courts, which will rummage in our psyches, our sexual habits and our degree of permissiveness. We do not need police or judges who will wonder whether or not we enjoyed it. What we do need now is just to spit it out, each of us her own story. To show, quite simply, that this is a nationwide plague. To make everyone understand that we are fed up with being like the women in “Mad Men” and that this is not the 1950s. And there is nothing like the social networks for a revolution.

Ariana Melamed has made a beginning; now it is our turn. Stand up and be counted.