TRIGGER WARNING: This article references sexual assault and the language surrounding sexual assault.
Most of my female friends have been victims of some form of sexual assault or harrassment. It would probably be faster for me to list the friends that haven’t experienced it.
We’ve sat among one another holding the darkest of secrets, afraid to share that which makes us feel ashamed, disgusted, objectified and defeated.
We have stories of Aunts telling us not to wear shorts in the house around our male cousins and our Uncles. We’ve heard comments made about toddlers indicating the “shape” they’re gonna have on them.
School uniforms have never been a deterrent for the adult male gaze, and if anything they have made us an even bigger target. On our walks to highschool, almost all of us have heard “I’ll bring lunch to school for you” come out of the mouths of strange men old enough to be our fathers.
These actions transition into an adulthood where men who’ve never been taught to respect the boundaries of women become advanced predators. Their training grounds were schools, book clubs, Junior Achievement and Technical Cadets. So while we, their female counterparts, were dodging the advances of a world that doesn’t prioritize us, we also were being hounded and preyed upon by boys that were raised by this very world. Two fronts and two attacks of the same nature. Our formative years were spent with us feeling uncomfortable in our surroundings, learning how to ward off possible attacks while trying to make said attackers comfortable enough to not attack us. Their formative years were spent with them learning that the world is indeed their oyster and they have no control over the hormones running rampant throughout their bodies. While we navigated the complexities of striking the delicate balance between prude and slut, they learnt that it was ok to weaponize both words.
It should be of no surprise then that a generation of young Bahamian women raised in the digital age have seen movements like Time’s Up and Me Too and decided that they too should be able to tell their stories. Stories of very real trauma that they’ve had to carry around for most of their adult lives.
On June 3rd 2020, Bahamian Twitter became the pyre on which the shame of many women was burnt and they proceeded to tell their stories of assault and harassment. I’m still trying to find the initial tweet that sparked this Genesis of bravery but sifting through the timeline I encountered story after story of women who have been hounded by well known men.
On the surface, no one is a supporter of sexual assault and violence. We’ve heard news of rapists and we’ve condemned them publicly, as we should. But as the screenshots begin to surface, the names begin to drop and the stories begin to unfold, we start to realize that we house monsters in our presence. Certain things they would have said before begin to take on new meaning. You yourself begin to feel ashamed for your proximity to someone who can possibly be a monster and as such, in an act of self defence you question the valid accounts and in many cases proof of various women, because you find it too difficult to face your own lack of judgement in character. In some cases you may have even read screenshots and saw similarities between the actions of these men and that of your own.
Assault in The Bahamas is seen through one lens. It’s easier for you to condemn men from lower income neighborhoods because in your privilege there is a degree of separation that makes you a lot more comfortable. Our assailants can’t be prominent Members of Parliament with 16 year old girlfriends. They can’t be well known comedians who fail to make statements on alleged rape accusations. Our abusers cannot be business owners and Youth Organizers and NGO Founders. They can only be residents of certain communities. They can’t be your friends.
But assault, whether harassment or overt violence, is pervasive throughout our society and language matters. When we see posters of Missing Girls plastered across Facebook we do these little girls a great injustice when we say things like “She by man”. We do these very young girls a great injustice when the men they were with share the child pornography that they made with them and we in turn call these little girls “fast”.
Those little girls see us failing to prosecute these men.
We created the society where on March 30th 2014, 15 year old Alexis Smith was shot by her boyfriend in front of a nightclub. We created the society where no one in the media mentioned her age in relation to the then 32 year old man that was touted as her boyfriend. In a country where the age of consent is 16, no one pieced together that this 15 year old girl was groomed by a 32 year old man. He was arrested for her murder and never charged for having an inappropriate relationship with a minor.
Those little girls see you blaming them for the attraction older men have towards them.
Those little girls grow up to be women ashamed of themselves and too frightened to tell their stories. They grow up to be further harassed and as such they continue to say nothing because they were raised in environments where we were either overreacting or we “wanted it”.
Many of the screenshots shared on Twitter over the past few days showcased the harassment that Bahamian women face every day in both the digital world and the real one. We are told that we should just ignore what is said, block them if we can. But what repercussion is there for the men who never learnt boundaries? Sexual harassment is the precursor that creates the environment where we make sexual assault acceptable.
We are entering into an era where women are not only finding their strength in numbers, They are finding strength in the similarity of their stories. That strength is accompanied by decades of pent up rage; rage that we are allowed to express. That rage represents nights spent feeling unsafe, abusive words hurled at us, ass grabs we didn’t want and attention we never sought. It represents everything from unsolicited dick pics to revenge porn used against us.
Whether or not your stories took place 2 years ago or 20, they are still allowed to see the light of day.