She called me late at night, she was extremely emotional and said she needed to see and talk to me right away. I couldn’t refuse. It was evident by the torment in the woman’s voice that she was on the edge and any refusal could cost a life. We met the next morning. She was a middle-aged woman with a delicate frame, eyes full of suffering and humiliation. She apologized that she would be taking up several hours of my time, however, she said she needed to start from the beginning, from her childhood, otherwise I would not understand all that she had endured.
And the prelude to a cruel and long history began:
We were four siblings. We had a very comfortable life, had want of nothing. My father made a good living and my mother, a cultured and gentle woman, was always home. She would help us with our homework. Our immaculate home, executed to perfection, would prompt anyone who entered to exclaim with envy and reverence, how happy we were. I was a good student at school, pretty and caught people’s attention. You would think that I had such a good childhood, Zara jan, but there was another side to all of this which I didn’t see or perhaps I did, but couldn’t really see because there was so much I did not understand. My father was a very strict man. As soon as he got home, we all had to be prepared to greet him and when the time would get to his arrival, my mother would begin to fall apart, her whole body would tremble and shake. I thought it came from a place of extraordinary respect, however, one day when I saw my mother’s lifeless body on the floor of the hallway, I realized what had really been taking place in our house and the severity of his cruelty toward the woman who had given me, my sister and two brothers life.
I came home from school…the police were examining the bruises covering my mother’s body, while my father, without a single facial expression, was insisting that his wife had betrayed him. He was telling the police how he followed my mother and discovered that she was with some man, that they would meet often…
I was listening to what he was saying, but couldn’t imagine when, with who and how my mother could have been with another man when she didn’t have the right to leave the house, she wouldn’t accompany us to school, when she couldn’t go to the store alone. We lived in a detached home, surrounded with the homes of our relatives in one courtyard. But my father’s reputation and authority stifled all these questions within me, it wouldn’t allow me to place his words under suspicion. I was sitting speechless on the kitchen chair, when one of our relatives who lived next door came and said that I could stay at their house so that I wouldn’t have to hear everything and become upset, so that I could be diverted from everything that was going on. I was 11. I ran outside and into their courtyard. The only person in that house was their eldest son, who was tinkering with a car. When he saw me, he quickly grabbed my hand and took me inside. For an instant, I felt an internal resistance as if I had received a sign of danger, however, in that severely exhausted and confused state, I didn’t realize what was going on. He quickly threw me on the sofa, locked the door and ripped off my white socks. I was muted by fear, tears were bursting out of my eyes, I tried to scream but he roughly covered my mouth and then…unbearable pain between my legs, it was as though I was being ripped in half.
He had covered my mouth with such force that I could barely breathe. I was in such pain that I was flailing about like a wounded beast, but he continued and as soon as he was finished, he stood up, threw my underwear and socks on me and threatened me… “Don’t you dare try telling anyone. Everyone knows your mother was a whore, no one will believe you, they’ll say she’s exactly like her mother.” I somehow managed to put on my white socks as the blood was spilling down my legs and left the house. There were people gathered in the courtyard, but no one noticed me. They were speaking in heated voices, about how tragic it was that my father had been taken to the police station because of my mother. I was taking wide steps so I would not die from the pain and managed to get into my house. My mother’s body was no longer in the hallway, only my little brother was on the floor, playing on the carpet. There was no one to at least hold me, wash me, so that I could weep in their arms. I would have told my mother, for sure I would have told her, but she was no longer here. Even if my father had been home, I would never have told him, I would have been scared. I gathered my strength, changed my clothes. I was disgusted by my own body. I didn’t know what to do, where to go. The pain of loss, motherless, raped, injured and alone…
My father’s mother came to live with us. She never liked my mother and had very little relations with us. She lived with her other son. She didn’t love us either, especially me, because I looked a lot like my mother. My grandmother would blame my mother and in me, she would see her.
When they were questioning me in the courtroom, asking if I had seen my mother with another man and I was protecting her, my grandmother would become angry. She would tell me that they are going to imprison my father, and then who is going to take care of us and anyway, our mother was a loose woman, and that I had taken after her. My other siblings were little, they weren’t questioned in court, and I was the only one who was being “attacked” by my father’s relatives. They gave my father a light sentence, as the father of several underaged children, and also because all the neighbors submitted letters to the court, attesting to his character, even the one that raped me.
I was scared to go to school. I would return home unnoticed so that I would not fall prey to that man’s tight grip; my injuries had barely begun to heal. My whole body would shake when I would see the shadow of any man.
So, I stayed alone, my body and spirit had become numb. I no longer allowed anyone to get close to me; a man’s image has become one of a monster, someone who will only cause pain and suffering.
As the woman left, I thought about how many children’s lives have been wrecked, how no one listens to them, how they have been left alone in the pain and suffering. Her mother is no longer there to listen to her. Perhaps if her mother had been alive, she would have protected her and made sure no one dared touch her.
I was awoken by a phone call. It was 7 a.m., a cloudy day. The girl was sobbing, saying that she could no longer live this way. I tried to calm her down and promised that I would listen to her.
An hour later we met. She was 23 and looked very tired. She had undoubtedly not slept the night before. Her eyes were swollen, her skin sallow.
Don’t be surprised. I work at night, I am a sex worker so that I can pay off my partner’s debts. He is a gambler. Everytime he goes to the casino, I beg him not to place bets on me, but nothing ever changes. I am then forced to go, to be subjected to that humiliation…I can no longer do this, I can’t stand it.
We’ve been together for eight years now. I was 14 when my mother remarried, because my father had left us long ago, and my mom was really lonely. She raised me by herself and when I was older and more independent, she met a man, who was quite courteous, attentive. He moved in with us, but I never could get accustomed to his presence. A strange man in our small apartment…my mom was already preoccupied with him. At any rate, it was difficult for me, but I never complained, I thought mother would get upset, she was finally happy. For one year we lived together, there were no issues, but that man’s looks would make me nervous, especially when mother wasn’t present, or when she was in the kitchen. I would try very hard not to meet his gaze, there was a kind of dishonor in that look. I would try not to come home when mom wasn’t there, not to be in the same space as he was. But one day, when I was home alone, the front door suddenly opened in the middle of the day and my stepfather walked in.
I was alarmed beyond words when he locked the door from the inside and came toward the sofa where I was sitting watching TV. He stood in front of me and placing his hand on my head, said, “I know you want it, it’s interesting for you, no one will ever know and even if they know, they will never believe you…” I didn’t manage to get up, I couldn’t make a decision, I had turned to stone. In one swift move, he took off my top and started to caress my breasts. I tried to escape, I screamed, but I knew no one would hear me, there was no one living next door, and the upstairs neighbor came home late from work. There would be no one to help, I knew that, but I was trying to escape from his hands.
He knew that he had to handle things in such a way as to not leave a trace, so that I would not be able to prove what he had done and that is exactly what he did. Squeezing my head in his hands, he came in my mouth. I ran to the bathroom horrified and threw up. My life turned upside down…when mother came home, he told her I wasn’t well, that I had probably caught a bug, he spoke with such caring about me. I didn’t eat for two days, or sleep, I wanted to die, but I gathered up all my strength and told my mother.
The most painful thing was that my mother didn’t believe it, she said that I was going through a transitional phase, that most probably sexual fantasies were developing in me, and also that I was possibly in love with her husband and wanted to destroy their relationship. My mother’s attitude toward me changed abruptly. I could no longer stay in that house. I decided to run away and never return. There was a boy I knew with whom I was in touch on the Internet. He was older than me, but was a good listener. I wrote to him that I wanted to run away. He told me that I could come to his house and live with him. I gathered my belongings and went to a place, where they would constantly sell me whenever they lost a bet…..Till this day, I think that if mother had believed me, I wouldn’t find myself in this situation. I want to run away again, but every escape ends up becoming more dangerous for me, I am pleading for help.
Escape. Escape from a childhood that had been stolen; escape from an inescapable trauma, that these women have hidden inside them for years, they have been left alone with their pain – with the deep feeling of injustice, of being left helpless against an unpunished crime. As numerous as these exposed cases are, there are just as many that we don’t know about, women who remain silent, children who have been subjected to sexual abuse by acquaintances or those closest to them do not have the space to talk, to speak up about what has been done to them, they are either afraid or are silenced, in their broken destinies. If a child was lucky and their parent believed them, or any other caring adult – neighbor, acquaintance or a teacher who realized what was happening and raised the alarm, perhaps the crime would be exposed, would not go unpunished, but this seldom happens.
The numbers speak for themselves.
In the first half of 2015, 38 criminal cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault were registered, 47 percent of which was committed by a member of the family. In 2016, compared to 2015, the number of cases of sexual assault against children significantly increased – in 2015 it was 131, in 2016 that number had risen to 157.
The share of children among victims of sexual crimes in the Republic of Armenia still remains high; in 2017, of the 164 cases of sexual crimes, 113 were children – additionally, two of the victims were 5 years old; one was 6 years of age; five of the children were 7 years old; three of them were 8 years of age; one was 9; three were ten years of age; two were 11; another two were 12; five of them were 13; 15 of the victims were 14 years of age; 20 were 15 years old; 28 were 16; and 17 were 17 years of age.
Women of Armenia
Almost a third of families living in rural Armenia are female-headed households, a UN Report in 2017 found. These households are more likely to be in extreme poverty than male-headed households. This film by Tsovinar Hakobyan and Joe Nerssessian focuses on the lives of five women from Syunik.Read more
Sexual Discourse: Speaking About the Unspeakable
In the public discourse, sex is often seen as being diametrically opposed to almost everything - religion, love, traditional values, even the motherland. With this in mind, many will be shocked to hear that sex does exist in Armenia, Sona Martirosyan writes.Read more
Dr. Aram Hovsepyan examines how people can sometimes fall victim to hidden violence by those closest to them. While this case study is an extreme one that led to implausible results, it highlights the need for education, awareness and most of all, compassion.Read more
If I Could Go Back in Time
For International Women’s Day, we asked women what they would tell their younger selves. While their answers weren’t always surprising, they were emblematic of the difficult choices women are often forced to make.Read more
Leave A Comment