Sherna Benjamin

Sherna Benjamin

Sherna Alexander Benjamin is an activist for the prevention, reduction, and elimination of all forms of gender-based violence against women and girls. She writes a weekly column titled “Inside Paradise” for an online newspaper, and is also the holder of a National Youth Award and a thriving survivor of childhood emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. Today she dedicates her time to the organization and center which she founded to empower women and girls to live, lives free from violence and abuse.

 
April 08 2016

The Frontlines of My Life: Moving beyond Hate

Sherna Benjamin

Thomas Paine once said, “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.” My day of trouble seems to never end. It seems to intensify with each passing hour, and at times, the path which chose me by force seems to overwhelm me and cause me to shout, “Oh Violence! Thou has conquered!”

In such times, something unseen, something mystical pushes me through the darkness, pushes me to hold on, and pushes me to continue being a pioneer and voice for change.

It is said that the pioneers get the beatings and the settlers get the rewards. If this is true, then the victims of violence who now advocate for change have walked into a different level of abuse and victimization by a society which often lacks empathy, seeks to hold fast to generational norms, and draws the strings to the purses of change and resources tightly.

Sometimes I think to myself that, if this is the price to have a society which is free from violence against women and girls, then I would rather not have peace. This may seem to be a harsh statement, however many victims who lived in the in the midst of this war have been conditioned to know nothing else. Because violence and chaos touched our lives, at times of war, we feel strangely at peace, but also insanely uncomfortable and cry out for help.

When I reflect upon the emotional, psychological, physical, and sexual damage which wrecked my life as a child, I see that the day my innocence was violently stolen from me in plain sight, it set me on a self-destructive path. I’d rather fight. I’d rather pioneer. I’d rather use the debris of my life to make a positive change and touch lives. I’d rather work toward the prevention of violence against women and girls, and I’d rather feel the sting of a society which is often times uncaring.

A child’s life must never hurt.

A child must never be forced to grow up before their time, and a child must never be a sexual object for the self-gratification of the perverted appetite of men whose uncontrolled passions are governed by lustful desires to control, hurt, and perpetuate violence without a second thought for the lifelong damage their acts leave behind.

At times, I’d rather forget my pain, forget that childhood emotional, physical and sexual abuse touched my life and marred it. I’d rather forget and just live. I’d rather forget the psychological problems I endured, the depression which took over my life and caused me to feel immobilized and fearful at times, even at the voices of people—the depression that moved me to be a loner and isolate myself, even among and within the crowd.

I’d rather forget the outburst of anger and life of living with rage, the inability to trust completely, the unavailability of authentic love and the self-harm which, at times, caused me to think about, and even try to take my own life. I would rather forget the unborn lives I took because of fear, shame, and guilt—acts that still haunt me to this day.

I would rather forget the seductive pull of being torn between hating the abuse and my abusers, and the teenage yearning for sexual touch. Still, I despised it, and often washed my skin so hard that it blistered.

I’d rather forget the façades I had to create to be able to survive the next day, the next touch, and to face society. I would rather forget the bouts of shame that moved me to make up stories of grandeur so that no one could call me incomplete, flawed, or the cause of the abuse, and also to protect the abusers while wishing they were caught or dead.

Can a child six and half to seven years old truly lure a mature man, who can be her father or grandfather, to rape her and continue to do so for nine years? Mentally, this child slowly begins to hate the world and life. She hates her body and is ashamed of it, and holds creeping thoughts of hate enveloped in her mind against those who stood on the sidelines and did nothing.

She holds the passion of hate for a society that told her, “Girls should be seen and not heard,” and a growing despise against, yet a yearning for, the very touch of a man.

Can a child truly lure a man to strip her of her identity so that, her entire life, she continues to search to find herself and understand who she is.

While my life is continually one of transition, one of growth and one of acceptance, I cannot and will not allow society to say to me, “Hush! Girls should be seen and not heard!” I will not allow those in authority to say, “Break your silence, but we cannot support you,” and I will not be re-traumatized and re-victimized by those who believe that victims of violence make too much noise, require too much support, and continue to keep this family secret in a public space.

One lesson I have bitterly learned is that I, too, was forgotten. I was not believed when I broke my silence, and I was left alone to try to heal and try to reclaim my sanity. The thing is, if I forget the millions of victims out there, I, too, will continue to be forgotten. I, too, will become irrelevant. I, too, will not even be a memory.

Pain passes the comprehension of the mind and stings like a craved demon, and for the victims of violence, pain leaves lingering pangs that sometimes only the darkness of night can help. In the sun of the day, faces and voices that we see and hear add more pain to the sorrows of our hearts.

Because pain is still alive, because abuse is still relevant, because women are still hated just because they are women, and because children are daily violated and sold as pieces of merchandise to the highest bidder for the sexual gratification of unwise and foolish men, because policy makers and governments do not see the issue of child abuse and domestic violence as a national issue, and because women and girls are very slowly becoming endangered, I will not keep silent. I will stand with leaders across the globe face to face and online in defense of our sisters, daughters, mothers, friends and ourselves.

I will take the shame, I will accept the ridicule and I will fight using non-violent protest and the power of the Internet, the power of the pen, and the power of my voice. Though my voice can be feeble, I will let it be a voice for the protection of women and girls in the current generation, past generations, and future generations.

Violence against women and girls must never be allowed to rear its ugly head in the lives of our nation’s future leaders. As Thomas Paine said, if there must be trouble, let it be in my day so that my children may have peace; if there must be trouble let us all face it today so that future generations may know peace.

We must never forget! If we forget, we too shall be forgotten. We must never rob the present and the future of our collective memory, and we must never cheapen or make banal our experiences with violence. We must forever remember those who died, for we are their memory, our hearts their museum, and our voices their justice. We must forge ahead.

Because violence touched my life, it must never be perpetuated and allowed to touch theirs. It ends now!

But I cannot forget the glimpses of hope in the midst of darkness: the voices of men rising to support women and be agents of change, the increasing amount of women who are finding their voices and breaking their silence, the power of the Internet to facilitate an environment where women can be trained, lead and be empowered to sustain change, and the empowerment of our young people who are the leaders for tomorrow.

Can more be done? We have only just begin to scratch the surface. So much more needs to be done. And we all must get involved.