by Dina Oganova (Georgia)
According to a national study by UN Women and the National Statistics Office of Georgia, one in five women reported having experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime, 70 % of them in a public space and 10 % at workplace.
In Georgia, public awareness of sexual harassment is very low. We do not really realize what happens and how. We often question ourselves, “Maybe I am mistaken? Maybe this is just my fantasy?”
We are ashamed of our own thoughts, even when we are victims. Maybe this is the reason we do not understand how huge the problem is, how big threat we face.
When I look at the statistics, I feel scared. I am scared for each and every little girl and boy, who’s rights are not protected, for every teen girl, who’s afraid and ashamed of talking about sexual harassment, because of every woman, for whom this is a tabooed topic, who tries to forget everything she has seen. And most of all, I am scared of the women, who pretend that sexual harassment does not exist, who say there is no cause for alarm, though they live with a constant feeling of insecurity, especially when they are alone.
It’s hard and difficult to be a woman in Georgia. Probably, it’s the same in other countries, but I can talk only about my experience and what I see here in, Sakartvelo. What I see here are women who keep collective silence, and this is the biggest crime, for me.
We have to start talking and listening to each other. We have to be braver and we need to learn how to break silence about the sexual harassment around us.
I had been a real victim of violence before I made a decision to leave my husband’s house. It was extremely difficult to escape with two little children. Even now, it’s hard to realize how did I dare this, but living with him was unbearable.
I never loved my husband.
I was 14 when he kidnapped me. We did not have children for a while and I cannot explain what I went through, how humiliated I was, how my husband, my mother-in-law and relatives insulted me.
Our relationship started with violence and so did it continue.
At the beginning, I thought I would get used to my condition, get along with my husband and his family. My mother used to tell me: you are a woman, you are a wife, you have to be patient, this is the way everything should be, he is a man, he is the head of the family, and you should follow his rules. Then our kids – twins were born and he became calmer. I was spending my whole time with children. I had a very difficult pregnancy, my whole body was aching, but all he wanted from me all the time, was sex. I was trying to explain to him how bad my condition was, but he did not want to listen, behaving as a beast, aiming at his own satisfaction only.
Once he came home with friends. He was very drunk. I prepared the table, with food and drinks and went back to the kitchen, wanted to make a cup of coffee for myself. Suddenly my husband’s friend came in and kissed me on the neck. “What are you doing?” – I was shocked. I still do not understand how come that he wasn’t afraid of my husband. Probably he knew that I would not scream, would not be so brave. Friends were the most important in my husband’s life, so, I am not sure if he would believe me if I told him what happened. “Shalva (the name has been changed) says about you, that you are wild in sex,” he laughed, “I have to try you once, when he is gone to Tbilisi. Let’s see how good you are.” Then he stood up and left. I did not sleep at all that night. I made my decision. I escaped.
My car broke along the road. It was a late night and there was not a lot of traffic. I went out, hoping someone would pass by and help. I called to a technical service and was waiting for their people to come. Suddenly a black X5 stopped and its young driver came to me. I was really happy not to be alone any more. I told him what had happened. He listened to me and offered to have a seat in his car and not to freeze. He seemed very attentive and I agreed. I thought he would stay at my car, but he followed me and set in his car from the driver’s side. As soon as he locked the door, he attacked me, trying to touch me under my dress. I started screaming and even scratched him, but he managed to hit me in the face. Meanwhile, the technical service appeared and I think he got afraid, opened the door and pushed me away. He screamed at me, “Why did you get into my car, you, bitch!” I was so happy that he had not killed me than I did not care. I remember that moment clearly and, since then, I never drive alone at night.
I had heard from my friends that this kind of things always happened to them on public transport, but I had not experienced being touched by someone without my permission that’s why I remember this case so well, I say now with a small laugh.
I took my granddaughter to the circus. She loves clowns a lot. We were laughing and enjoying being at the performance bu,t when the lights went off, I felt a strange warmness on my knee. When the lights came on again suddenly, I saw a young man, who was there with a boy, probably his son, was touching my leg. I felt so nervous that I had no idea what to do. I couldn’t really scream in public. I quietly told him to remove his hand. He asked me to give him some time. Can you imagine this kind of insolence?
I’m laughing now, but then… My granddaughter and I left immediately, without watching the show until the end.
I am not sure, if this is sexual harassment or not. He did not even touch me, but touching is not the only way of harassing someone, right?
Usually, I finish my work quite late and if it’s winter time, I walk home in complete darkness. That’s why I always take the same path. Lights come from the windows and it’s not so scary. One evening, when I was on my way, I heard somebody calling my name. First I was a bit afraid. It was dark and I couldn’t see the face. Then I recognized my neighbor. “It’s me,” he said, “why are you walking alone in this darkness, wait for me, I’ll come with you…” I stopped, but he did not change the place, standing sided to the shadows, he was looking at me and making strange moves. Then he turned, zipped up his trousers and headed towards me. I felt so stressed, as I remember, I even stepped backwards. “What’s wrong?” he laughed, “did I fuck you? No. I was just jacking off.” I ran, not looking back.
I love night clubs and nobody believes that I go there just for listening music and dancing. This is the only way for me to refresh and revive myself. For five days a week I work not remembering myself and, on Friday evenings, I go to clubs to rest. But I have experienced my time when I danced on my own and someone came, embraced my waist or kissed my neck. This is so unpleasant. I do not know why people in Tbilisi have the perception that if a girl goes to clubs alone, she is looking for a one night stand and this is bad. If men have a right to club alone and nobody will think something wrong of them, why can’t we? I do not understand.
My best friend and I used to walk in our neighborhood in the evening. It was the time of our university entry exams, both of us were very worried about the grades and to embolden ourselves, we used to say to each other that we would enter the faculties we wanted the most.
One evening, after leaving my best friend at her house, I continued walking. When I was close to my home, I heard a car following me, very slowly. I remember myself walking with this strange feeling that someone was spying on me. I looked back and saw a guy with dark sun glasses staring at me from the window. It was an evening and his sun glasses looked funny. I laughed quietly. “Don’t you want me to drive you home? Come with me, sit in the car!” he shouted. I looked scowled at him, If he had a bit of honor, I was sure he would drive the car very fast and disappear but he was a blockhead, “Are you untouchable or what?” I realized it would be better not to talk to him at all. I was thinking that he was a maniac. Also, not even one person was around. “You’re looking so good. Don’t be stupid. Sit in the car. How many times should I repeat?” he continued. Suddenly I saw my neighbor, a boy who was older than me. He was coming from the neighboring house. I barely knew him but decided to call him by name, run to him and hug, “Oh, how happy I am to see you!” pretending he was my boyfriend. I couldn’t find any other solution. I was hoping that the harasser would leave. My trick worked. “Sorry, bro, I had no idea she was your girl!” he shouted and drove away. Today I am laughing when I remember this accident, but I was really ashamed with the neighbor for a long time. I am sure he did not realize what was going on.
I was walking home late. There were no people around but cars were driving as usual. I was crossing a bridge that for my whole childhood was horrifying for me. Suddenly I saw a shadow and realized that I wasn’t alone. In a few seconds he was ahead of me. He pinched my leg and ran away. I yelled something to him. Then I saw the second shadow. I decided to take another road, which was longer but safer, with more lights. I realized that there were already two shadows instead of one. They were following me. I was terrified. When I turned to my street, there was a total darkness. I took my phone and pretended to call my husband, that I was close and it would be great if could meet me at the entrance. Speaking loudly, I was trying to make the “shadows” hear me. When I reached the building, my neighbor was coming out to take his dog for a walk. I was lucky. Already at home, I started thinking if it really happened or I made up this situation in my head. I looked from the window and saw two men, standing, smoking and staring at the building.
My friend had a birthday and rented a big house outside the city. I joined the party. I was going to stay overnight, but when I arrive and saw many people I did not know, I decided to stay until midnight and then find someone who would drive me to the city. I had a feeling that something bad would happened and was in a hurry to get to home. I was asking everybody if they were going to Tbilisi and could I go with them but they were partying hard and nobody cared for me.
An unknown young guy approached me. I had noticed him. He was staring at me but I was trying to avoid eye contact. “I was told you want to go to Tbilisi. I’m leaving soon. Should I drive you?” I was so happy I nearly hugged him. I collected my belongings and we left. As soon as we got into the car and he locked the door, my bad feelings came back. I wanted to reach home so badly. My heart was beating loudly. I remember when he asked, “Are you afraid of me?” I knew that you should not let people know when you are really afraid of them. “No, why should I be?”I laughed. “Smart girl,” he laughed too.
The road was terrible. Not a soul was around, only woods. Suddenly he turned the car from the main road. “What are you doing?” I asked. “I want to show you something, you will like it,” he responded and put his hand on my knee, trying to lift my dress up. I was terrified, had no idea what to do. It was his playground. He stopped the car and tried to kiss me. I realized it was not in my power to do anything. Even if I screamed, nobody would hear and who knows, maybe he would kill me. Maybe he was a maniac. Suddenly I decided to tell him that we could not do it there and it was a better to go to my place, as family members were not at home. Surprisingly, my plan worked. He turned the car again and we continued our ride to the main road. He told me that he felt my gaze at the party, “I knew you wanted me, that’s why you accepted my offer.” I nodded on every sentence. When we reached the city and “my house”, I told him it would be good to buy some wine or other alcohol, as I had nothing at home. He gladly agreed and stopped the car in front of a supermarket. When he was leaving he asked if I would go with him. I said I trusted his choice. “Just bring a bit more,” I added with laughter. I couldn’t believe it, but as soon as he entered the store, I freed myself, escaped the car, fled and caught a cab – all in one breath.
I used to stay at the church to offer some help. They always had a lot of things to do. I’ve been an orthodox Christian for my whole life. Even now, I believe in God but I seldom go to church. God lives inside all of us, not in the buildings, which grow in Georgia like mushrooms. But sometimes I miss the smell of the church, so I simply sneak in, stand silently in my favorite corner for a while, but I try my best not to meet the priest and leave quickly. I have seen him only few times and from distance since that day.
Even now, it is quite hard for me to realize what has happened and I do my best not to talk about it, not to remember that awful day, or days, to be more exact. But do you know what is the most painful here? When I told everything to my family members, they did not believe me. “How dare you? Aren’t you ashamed? Be afraid of God for saying such a huge lie in front of him,“ my father said. He was so angry, I almost thought he would beat me and for what? For admitting truth, for telling them what I had experienced, when I was 15, that a man would tell me to touch strange parts of his body. I hadn’t even kissed a boy and he knew it. I had told him everything in my confessions. When we would go to the yard of the church and sit on the bench, he would strangely put my hand on his legs and tell me that I would become a woman soon and, even though I was beautiful, who would want me without any experience? He would say he wanted to help me, as I was like a daughter to him. I really thought my mind was making up something. When I told everything to my friends, they laughed and said that maybe he was talking about my love story. I had a crush on a guy then and used to tell to the priest about him. He reacted very badly and demonized that guy in our conversations, even forbid me to have any contact with him. And as I did exactly what he told me I am very angry with myself now.
So many years have passed but,¬¬ when I’m looking back to those days, I still have goosebumps. I can’t forget what has happened.