There is a new phenomena amongst Russian and Ukrainian Facebook users. Young woman named Anastasia Melnichenko, a Ukrainian activist and community organizer, started a flashmob under hashtags #яНеБоюсьСказати и #яНеБоюсьСказать (#IamNotAfraidToTell). If you type those words into search, you'll find hundreds of terrifying, sad, but also inspiring stories from both men and women, who've been victims to sexual and/or mental abuse, violence, were raped or assaulted,etc.
Anastasia started the discussion on her own Facebook page, bringing to attention the fact that in Post-Soviet Union states, women are always blamed for simply being victims to certain crimes. The post sparked a heated discussion and draw a lot of attention in the media.
Today, inspired by all those confessions I scrolled through in the recent days, I would like to share my own story, and maybe to inspire others to speak up. I'm doing this under hashtag #IamNotAfraidToTell, although I am honestly terrified of opening up to so many people, because it took me six years to come to terms with myself and my past.
I don't like the word "victim." Yes, I was raped, and it crushed me mentally to my core, but I do not want to look down on myself and tell someone -- anyone -- that I'm a victim. I am a survivor. And every girl, boy, woman or man who've been through hell is a survivor. Everything that happens afterwords in life, is NOT because of the abuse and tears and struggle, BUT in spite of that.
I grew up in the Southern part of Russia, known as North Caucasus. I have an amazing family and trusting parents and was always a free bird, although many people back home have somewhat conservative views on life and especially on the way girls should behave.
Growing up in this mixed environment, I was a town boy. I was interested in spending my time with friends at the skate-shop, in the mountains, or in the parks. I was not interested at all in dating, and by the time I was 19 I was never in a relationship of any sort.
That's when it all happen. I think I was 19, and I'd spent my first summer in the United States and it was great. Back home I was enrolled in the university, third year studying international relations. One evening me and my friend went out to the party at one of our small town clubs. It was nothing extraordinary. I was wearing jeans, sneakers, white shirt and a jacket. Mascara was the only make-up I used at the time.
The club looked more like what is called lounge in United States. Small stage with a DJ, even smaller dance floor, and tables around it. We got a table all the way at the end of the room and ordered beers (in Russia, the legal drinking age is 18). Not long after, maybe two sips of beer after, two older guys came up, introduced themselves. They brought a bottle of champagne with them.
I really enjoyed the conversation with one of them. He was a bit older, also had gone to the U.S. before, so we had enough in common to keep talking. I was not at all attracted to him, as I said before, being with a boy was not on my mind at all.
Right after the first glass, my head was spinning. I do not remember much. I did not know at the time there were drugs boys used to spill into your drink. I just remember not being in control of my own body.
The guy helped me to go outside to "get some air." Next thing I knew we were in a taxi, heading through the empty streets. It was probably not even midnight.
We got to his apartment where he undressed me in front of the mirror. And then he raped me. It was my first time. I think sometime in the middle of all of this the drug started to wear off, because I finally got my own body back and tried to push him off of me.
He was very disappointed. His words are stuck in my head to this day.
"I thought we were gonna have fun. Dirty bitch. It's all your fault."
He kept blaming me for everything. For the fact that I was a virgin, for fighting him and then, for the fact that his girlfriend was about to come back home and he needed to do something with me, because I was in no state to get home by myself.
Then I remember him dropping me off at his friend's house, where I was raped once again. I think by that time I pretty much fainted, because I can't remember any details.
I woke up in the morning, confused and ashamed, grabbed my stuff and run off.
I never told my family or my friends. How could I? I knew I'd be blamed for going to the club in the first place. A couple of months later, I packed my bags and left for the United States for good.
I buried this experience far, far away in my mind and pretended none of this ever happened.
Only five years later, sitting in the psychologist's office I went back to that night and tried to put blurry memories together. It took me couple of sessions to remember exactly what year this happened in. Many details are still nowhere to be found. But at least I've accepted this experience as part of my own and stopped running away from memories.
I still have a long way to go and I still have a lot of issues to work on -- like trusting a man and letting someone into my life and accepting intimacy as part of life, not as a torture technique.
I started my new journey as a Sexual and Reproductive Rights Advocate Trainer at Amnesty International this year, so I could reach out to more women and men, especially college kids, share knowledge and experience with them. Because back home I knew nothing about reproductive justice and had no idea human rights include access to birth control and safety from sexual violence. We don't talk about sex back home. Ever. People I meet through out this journey are also helping me to get stronger, more positive and more confident than ever.
After six years, I am able to declare that #IamNotAfraidToTell. Through speaking up I found new alleys, I helped myself and others, and I realized I am not alone. Scary number of people across the globe have the same experiences that you do. By bringing more awareness to the issue we can fight for a safer world for those, who are growing up behind us.
Please share your own stories, small or big. You never know how it might affect those watching and listening.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.