Andrea Bharatt's murder awakened a trauma for many women who were victims of violent attacks. One of them, who is now married, shares her challenges today, 20 years after she was raped, with WMN writer Carol Quash.
“I always wonder what is so special about me. Why me and not Pixie Lakhan, Ashanti Riley, Shannon Banfield and all the others who have been raped and brutally murdered? Why am I alive today, and they are not?”
Dianne (not her real name) closed her eyes in an attempt to hold back the tears that were forming. But they eventually seeped out and slowly rolled down her cheeks. For even though more than two decades have passed since she was raped by someone whom she had met about a month earlier, she relives that experience almost every day, and that one question keeps popping up.
“Why didn’t he kill me?”
Now in her 40s, Dianne has kept abreast of cases of rape and murder over the years, to the point where it has now become an obsession and she feels a sense of survivor’s guilt.
“Every time there is a report that a young woman is missing, I completely break down. I listen to the news all day to find out whether or not she has been found. I keep wondering ‘Will she be found alive? Was she raped?’”
She told WMN every time her worst fear becomes a reality, she feels the victim’s pain long after their death.
“Every stab, every blow that is brought to light by the autopsy, I feel it.
"I was literally in pain for weeks after Ashanti’s body was found (in early January)and the autopsy report indicated that she was badly beaten. I wanted to die just like she was dead.
"'Why am I alive and she isn’t? What gave me the right to be alive while her body was lying in a cold morgue?’ I asked myself over and over” – more tears, this time accompanied by loud sobbing.
Psychologist Dr Katija Khan told WMN survivor’s guilt can surface after a traumatic experience such as an accident, natural disaster or, as in Dianne’s case, sexual assault.
“The victim may feel guilty for having survived and may experience flashbacks, anxiety, a feeling of helplessness, problems sleeping. Some of these feeling may even be physical, like stomachaches and increase in heart rate.”
She said because there are individual factors involved, such as a person’s ability to cope with trauma, therapy may not be as effective for one person as for another.
“Therapy is not a perfect process. And because her (Dianne’s) tragic issue is prominent right now, it can evoke some of these feelings again.”
Dianne said because of the prevalence of sexual abuse of women in TT, she can’t seem to escape her experience, even after years of therapy. She said there was a time, years ago, whenever someone was held in connection with a similar crime, she would wonder if it was the same perpetrator. Hers was a handsome young man who had approached her as she sat reading while having lunch at a food court in 1998.
“He seemed like a decent guy. He wore a nice shirt and pants. He spoke well. But I can’t recall him telling me where he lived or giving me his phone number – a red flag I didn’t pay attention to. I gave him my number, though. I was young and naive.”
They talked a few times, mainly on the phone, when he called, and eventually she felt comfortable enough to accept an invitation to a party. When he picked her up he told her he had to drop off something for his cousin first, but she became a bit nervous when he headed to a dark, lonely area in Valencia.
She instinctively went into survival mode and started to scream and tried to get out of the car. He stopped the car, grabbed her by her hair, reached over and reclined her seat.
“It all happened so fast, and I was terrified. I just felt the seat drop back and he was on top of me pulling up my dress and literally ripping off my panty. I tried to fight him off and he cuffed and slapped me. Eventually, I gave up and he just forced himself inside me, calling me the nastiest of names.
"I closed my eyes until he was finished. I thought death was next, but he opened the door and shoved me out of the car and sped off. I wanted to die. Many times I still want to.”
She reported the attack to the police, but he was never found, and she never saw him again.
But even though he was gone, he was still everywhere.
“I saw his eyes in every man who looked at me after that, whether or not they were interested in me. Felt his touch in every man who accidentally brushed against me.”
Even today, the dread and lack of trust that comes from being sexually violated is still there.
“It took my husband a long time to even get me to go out with him in a group setting, more so alone.
"He had even more of a challenge when it was time for us to have sex. He was so patient, and he understands that during sexual intercourse he has to always be gentle and that I have to always feel like I’m in control. I am grateful for him and that he is so understanding, which has helped me make significant headway in getting off the ‘all men are dangerous’ wagon.”
Dianne said it is unfortunate that she had allowed the man who forced himself on her also to make her to change her mind about one of the most important decisions in life – having children.
“I’ve always wanted children, but after I was raped I couldn’t bring myself to want to bring children into this terrible world.
"My husband has two children from a previous relationship and said he wouldn’t mind if we didn’t have any together, so it made the decision a little bit easier.” She smiled briefly.
“If I had children of my own, I know I would always be fearful for them to the point of paranoia, daughters or sons. Yes, sons too. Look what happened to Akiel Chambers and Sean Luke: innocent little boys who never got the opportunity to experience being teenagers, young adults and manhood.”
The recent kidnapping and murder of 23-year-old Bharatt sparked a series of protests and vigils throughout TT. Dianne applauds the action but believes it took way too long for people to take collective public action against gender-based violence.
“This has been going on way before I became a victim. Maybe if we had stood up like this before, more of our girls and women would have been spared these brutal experiences, more families would have been spared the unbearable grief, and I would have had to ask, ‘Why is she dead and I am still alive?’ fewer times.”
For Dianne, Khan said some more therapy might be helpful, along with some proactive steps.
“Be kind to yourself. Even with professional help the effects of trauma do not always get to a 'zero state' (where the effects of the trauma never go away)."
She said it would have been useful if there were more support groups in TT, as opening up to someone who has had a similar experience helps a great deal.
But the situation has improved. Now, she pointed out, "You don’t even have to leave your home to attend, because support groups can be done virtually.”
It’s uncomfortable but normal…But if it is affecting your daily functioning, get some help, allow yourself to grieve again if you need to, do something positive, forgive yourself.”