Trigger warning: mentions of sexual assault and PTSD

On October 10th, 2017, my whole life changed. I remember each of me social media feeds being bombarded with the breaking news that Harvey Weinstein – arguably one of the most powerful men in Hollywood – had been accused of sexually assaulting over eighty women.

I couldn’t identify what I was feeling then, but as I read each name and each interview, I felt like throwing up. But that was nothing compared to what was going on inside my head. While I ruminated over the article, I remember all my group chats that day pinging with coverage updates and as I read every message coming in – I still couldn’t process it.

Later on, when I think back to where I was in October 2017 when the reckoning began (I call this movement a reckoning because I regard it as one of the recent watershed movements in women’s history across the world), I always remember it as an out of body experience.

The names play on a loop, phrases jump out at random and each recollection felt like being dealt physical blows. Repressed feelings and memories began to surface, things I thought I had buried for good, leapt out. Feelings that I internalized because I couldn’t process them started to bubble within.

I began to spiral, and I let myself drown.

The year I turned 8 or 9 (I can’t remember the exact age, the years blur as I get older, but I was in elementary school), something bad happened to me.

I was assaulted in an apartment elevator while coming back from our local grocery store. I can clearly remember what I was wearing (it’s not lost on me that these are details I choose to fixate on), they were clothes my mother had recently bought for me.

A teenage boy from my building got into the elevator with me and ran his hands up my thigh while the elevator went up. I remember it so vividly at times that I wish I could forget how many times his hand slipped under my shirt. I don’t know how I managed to compose myself after my assault but when I got home, it was as if nothing happened.

I can’t understand why I never told my parents about what happened; I just pretended it never happened. But I remembered rushing to my room and changing immediately. After that, I only wore skirts to school, because it was a part of my school uniform and that outfit would mysteriously vanish weeks later. I stopped going to the grocery store and running errands for my parents. I avoided leaving home unless it was absolutely necessary.

And there began my complicated relationship with my gender and sexuality.

I began to resent being a woman. I told myself that if you were a boy. You were safe. You were fine.

I was wrong.

That wasn’t the last time I was assaulted and I developed unhealthy coping mechanisms. But to survive, I buried my feelings and carried on – it would be years later before I confronted any of those feelings.

In university, I took a class called ‘Film Studies’ as part of my degree and in this class, we studied the history of film, auteurs and their respective schools of thought. I had always felt a kinship for television and film. Art, especially of the cinematic kind, was a safe space for me. In a way it nurtures me.

My professor took us through a time machine and showed us everything from Godard to Soderbergh, when he spoke to us about Wong Kar Wai and Akira Kurosawa, it was like coming home.

Nothing quite got me like cinema, and I was in love with films and all that they stood for.

Which is why nothing quite prepared me for the rage I felt every time Roman Polanski or Woody Allen showed up in a lecture. I had complicated feelings about both, especially after watching The Pianist and having my heart broken over the movie. The more they were praised and the more they were revered by my professor and classmates alike, the more that same out of body experience returned.

I never put a name to that feeling but when that viral op-ed by Dylan Farrow was published on the Woody Allen allegations, I couldn’t bring myself to support or care for either of the directors. People would argue with me, “You have to separate the art from the artist.” and would eye-roll anytime I voiced how problematic they were.

Eventually, Weinstein popped up in the syllabus too, because, how could he not?

He’s produced over three hundred films that have all been Oscar-nominated and has had his finger in nearly everything I love. This was around the time in which rumors about him were circulating on the internet but there wasn’t anything concrete. Harvey was skeevy but he didn’t mean any harm, after all he voted for Obama and did fund-raisers for Hillary Clinton. The #MeToo article wouldn’t break for another four years and while we watched Weinstein Company funded movies, I couldn’t help but feel torn.

In retrospect, I wondered how much longer would it be okay to study people like this? How long would we have to disregard their stains because the legacy was so addictive.

Can we really divorce art from the artist?

I had so many questions at the time and I was just beginning to grapple with my identity as a feminist. The more “woke” I became, the more I found myself at war with the way the pop culture and society as a whole, cushioned abusers, made them seem above reproach just because they gave us excellence.

The more I asked questions, the stronger the legacy grew to protect them.

Is this how we treat victims?

When disgraced comedian Louis C.K decided to come back nine months after being outed as a sexual predator, there were of course, a set of people online who told all the women he abused that he’s been cancelled enough, let him be.

Isn’t nearly a year enough to forget the horrible things he did?

Do we really have to cancel everyone?

I found myself thinking about my role in society as a child sexual assault survivor, I thought of the secrets I carried within me, the years that were taken from me and the way I am today because of all my experiences.

How do you heal when the court of public opinion asks you to be magnanimous? If we’re trying to move past cancel culture, how do we then hold people accountable for their actions? I don’t think cancel culture is a wrong thing per se, I think we should have actual consequences for actions.

Feminist author Roxane Gay penned an excellent op-ed in the New York Times titled “Louis C.K. and Men Who Think Justice Takes as Long as They Want It To” which I find myself thinking about a lot and going back to. “Should a man pay for his misdeeds for the rest of his life?” she asks.

Yes, I think that whether you confront, come forward, forgive or don’t forgive your abuser is entirely up to the survivors’ discretion. There’s no statute of limitations with how long you can carry your trauma; we all heal differently but we can’t let these people live the lives they had and influence the ecosystem they exist in.

We should be paid reparations for the number of invisible scars we live with – our stories matter, and we aren’t just statistics or a cautionary tale told to young children. The Boogeyman is real and we’re all living with them, Weinstein maybe rotting in jail but what about Bryan Singer? What about all those academics named in Raya Sarkar’s #MeToo list? What about Alok Nath?

There should be no statue of limitations for consequences. Your story matters. You matter.

You can take as long as you want to forgive (or not) your abuser, you can implode the world till you are heard. There’s no turning back now, not anymore. We must speak-up, even if it hurts. We must make sure that there are no more ‘#MeToos’ and we’re just starting out.

 

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  • Sharanya Paulraj is a third culture Gulf kid who aspires to be a writer and filmmaker. Sharanya loves taking photos, chatting about pop culture, memes and engaging in America's Next Top Model discourse. In an alternate universe, she ended up going to Area 51 to Naruto run and went viral.

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