Breaking the Silence on family violence

I want to share a story in hope of breaking the cycle of unspeakable violence we unleash on women and expect them to stay silent about. The story involves family violence, but I am not talking about domestic violence that we usually hear about between spouses. This is a case of unimaginable violence between siblings and extended family members.

Recently, I was home in Bangladesh when I had a terrorizing experience with someone in my family. This experience was so violent that as a 41 year-old woman, and as a mother of two little girls, I had to speak out.

On the evening of February 22, 2021, a heated verbal confrontation occurred, in front of multiple witnesses, on a ferry from Pirojpur to Dhaka. Upset over my being back in Bangladesh, this family member, who is just under the age of 18 years old, began to curse me out in front of the most senior member of the family.

I was explicitly told, in shocking and graphic detail, how I would be raped, mutilated, and killed during my stay in Bangladesh. The amount of thought and detail given to how I would be murdered and assaulted was so frightening, it silenced me. I stopped speaking because I feared for my life.

This person screamed that a pole would be inserted into my vagina after I was sexually assaulted. This person detailed how my body would be found on the side of the street. I did not say a word. I thought about recording the incident but my phone was out of battery.

After the ferry finally arrived at our destination, we parted ways in separate cars. In the days that followed, there was initially silence. But after I left Bangladesh and returned to the U.S., the mother of this disturbed teenager responded with even more horrific violence over false allegations and rumors against senior members of the family.

This family member’s response was to vandalize the ancestral home of my grandfather in Dhanmondi. It is the home where I grew up in Bangladesh. Ironically, it is also the childhood home of the family member who violently attacked it while her armed husband, a current Member of Parliament (MP), watched.

Luckily, no family members were home when this violence and terror were unleashed. One elderly member was out of town. The other elderly member luckily escaped through a side-entrance just in the knick of time.

In our culture, we don’t talk about these things. I understand that. But today I am writing to expose the terror of family violence that women experience from other family members often in their own homes. Who are we really protecting with our silence? Why?

I want to end with a perfect and famous quote by the late, great Egyptian feminist, Nawal El-Saadawi: “They said, “You are a savage and dangerous woman.” I am speaking the truth. And the truth is savage and dangerous.”

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