Why I wrote a novel about abuse…
When I was four years old, I found out that my best friend was being sexually abused by her father. I felt her distress more than I was able to understand her words. She was the first person I ever loved outside my own family unit. When my mom separated us I was devastated. I felt helpless. I wanted to help her. I wanted my mom to help her. Yet, back then in the 80s, there were no child abuse organisations in small towns in South Africa. I never really forgot her and this heartbreak left a mark on my life that I was only able to express fully through writing this novel.
Ever since this early childhood experience, women have come to me to open up about abusive situations, as though they could intuitively sense that I would understand and treat them with the respect and kindness that they needed to feel safe. It became a major theme in my life and over the years the stories multiplied. I collected ever-more women around me who needed to be heard and understood. They were abuse survivors looking for answers, bravely holding on to whatever beauty they could find in this world.
As a teenager I remember a beautiful girl who was labelled a slut by just about everyone at school and yet when I got to know her I discovered a precious soul who was pressured into unwanted sexual situations and did not have the life skills she needed to defend her innocence.
At University, some of the girls in my group got raped and had a desperate need to talk about it but was afraid of what others might think of them. Their stories were confusing and hard to follow. The emotional distress was visible. Each one of them felt like they were the only one and that it was their fault. That there was something fundamentally wrong with them as women.
At one of my first jobs, a guy in my team refused to regard the contribution of females and consistently sent me porn as attachments to business emails. When the situation blew up into a legal case, my professional network became wary of me. Speaking up for myself was affecting my career options. Other women were coerced into taking it in their stride.
Then I quit office work to start travelling and the stories multiplied even further. From emotional situations such as gaslighting to full-blown domestic violence, as soon as I thought I had heard it all, more situations started surfacing. I myself encountered sleek sexual predators and also men who had no idea that they were pushing boundaries because it is all they have ever known. This was no longer isolated incidents that affects individuals I know, but a wide spread global issue.
Yet it wasn’t until my own life was put in danger by a stalker at a much later stage, that I actively started looking for ways to help women. I realised that it is only by helping others that I would ever be able to help myself to navigate this world. I got involved with charities that support women. I listened to their stories. I learned so much about bravery and what is required to truly stand in your power and own yourself as a woman. I started recognising patterns in circumstances and reactions and how ridiculous some of the most destructive behaviour really is.
That’s when all the stories started blurring into one and I decided to write my first work of fiction, based on the inspiration from real-life stories that have accumulated over the course of my life. I wanted to be able to share this story with all women so that we can make the changes we need to make. Once and for all, without expecting the world around us to change.
For all the women who have shared your stories with me. You deserve to be heard. For those who cannot speak up. Know that you are not alone. You are beautiful, worthy and loved. I hope you find that safe place inside yourself.
This is not my story. It is all of our stories.