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“Get down on your knees!” he threatened in Chinese. I still remember every threat that he made to me during the whole year: during classes, during lunch hours, during bus rides. I was sexually harassed for a little over half a year, but I never had the courage to tell anyone—not my parents or teachers. On the 14th of February, 2007, Valentine’s Day, my voice finally came out with the support of my family and school.
During the last class on Valentine’s day, which was held just two hours after I had again been sexually harassed in a bathroom on the third floor of my school, I walked into my English classroom and started reading the South China Morning Post. I began writing notes on the side of the articles, talking to the friends beside me, acting like it was a day just like any other. Then, someone knocked on the door of the classroom and came in. She was a woman from the principal’s office. I watched as she slipped a note to the teacher and then asked me, in a friendly tone, to go downstairs to the principal’s office. I had never been asked to go there.
As I walked down the two flights of stairs, my mind raced. What could the principal possibly need from me? I thought it must be something extremely serious. At that point, I honestly did not know the reason. I kept walking slowly and steadily. I reached the bottom of the staircase, took a deep breath, and turned to the left slowly, walked by the different offices and finally reached the principal’s office. I pushed the door open, and told the assistant “I am Winnie,” and she brought me into the principal’s office.
Dr. Y was the principal at that time. I do not know old she was, but she had gray hair, deep set wrinkles. She was short and round. She gestured for me to sit down. She then asked what had I been doing during lunch. I suddenly knew that my life was finally saved.
Earlier that afternoon, someone had seen me being harassed but I couldn’t say anything—I was too scared. Dr. Y asked me if I went to the bathroom on the third floor and then the questions kept coming. Slowly I started talking as she led me to reveal more about what had transpired over the last year by asking me more questions. By that evening, my mom, the school, and I decided to report this case to the police.
At the police station, I felt alone. My mom and the counselor were sitting outside of the room. This was the first time that I had been in a police office. The room the police put me in was cold, or maybe it just seemed cold because I was scared. An officer came in and asked me a lot of questions about what happened in a short amount of time. Then, we immediately drove back to school. We stood in the breeze outside one of the “crime scenes” while the police took pictures with different types of cameras and scavenged for evidence. They searched for evidence that one can see with their bare eyes on the bathroom trash can to the tiniest things that require more than a microscope to search for, evidence between the small tiles of the floor. Next, the police went to all the other scenes with their cameras, gloves and machines so that they might be able to find the smallest piece of evidence.
After that, we got back into the car and drove to a building where the walls were painted white and the carpet was a dark color. The police took my mother and me into another room. There were two women in this room. They wore masks and examined me. They took away all of my clothes as evidence. Then they sent us back to the police.
The police now drove us home. Right before I got out of the car, one of the policemen said to me in Cantonese, “You better stay up all night to figure out what you want to say tomorrow morning at the recording studio.” I lost my words again. The fear grew in me. I didn’t know what to do. I was lost.
It was two in the morning by the time I got back home. My dad was sitting in his chair waiting nervously. His eyes were red. He couldn’t make eye contact with me. I knew that it wasn’t because he was no longer proud of me. It was because he was trying to hide the fact that he had been crying. The only other time I have ever seen my dad cry was at his father’s funeral. I knew at that moment my dad’s heart was shattered because of what had happened to me. I went over to him and gave him a really tight, warm hug trying to hint to him that I was all right. He held me tightly, but I could feel his hands were shaking.
I looked over to my mom and saw her face. I knew in that instant that her heart was broken too. I didn’t know what to do, so I just said good night and went to my room. When I was in my room, alone in the dark, I tried to take the policeman's advice. I struggled to think about what I was going to say the next morning. In the end though, I stayed up for what small piece of the night remained, coming to terms with the fact that tomorrow, when I walked out of my room, I would no longer be the same person. I knew that I had to be strong and courageous, so that my family would not fall apart.
Three school days later, I was done with most of the process involving the police. I was finally able to go back to school. Going back to class was strange. It was much harder than I expected. People kept asking questions everywhere I went, in the bathroom, classrooms, hallways, lockers, basketball court, cafeteria—everywhere. I could hear some people say, “She’s the one, isn’t she?” as they gave me a disgusted look. They looked at me like I was the dirtiest person on earth. Thankfully all of my closest friends stood by me. They didn’t ask questions; instead they tried to distract me. We became even closer friends than before.
The counselors and teachers felt like spies. They were checking to make sure that I was ok, but it felt like they were in every corner, in every corridor. Even though they were so obvious, I appreciated the fact that they cared. Eventually the school toned down a little. Things at home, however, were different.
No one at home could speak about what happened. My parents and I made the difficult decision not to tell my grandmother, who lives with us, and my nanny, who has been taking care of me since I was born. We just couldn't bear to hurt them. My dad just continued working, and I will never know how he dealt with this trauma. My mom and I both decided to go to therapy sessions but, by that time, my mom needed much more therapy then I did.
Not long after this turning point in my life, I started to see this experience differently. I turned it into an opportunity to help others. Now, instead of focusing on my trauma, I look at everything that happened to me as a teaching experience, one that can help other people overcome their own trauma. This past summer, there was a mother who was worried that her daughter was going to commit suicide. She came to my mom for help. I offered to tell this mother my story and how I dealt with it. I told her how I became stronger, how facing the problem can bring everyone closer to each other. After I talked to her, she felt more comfortable and stronger. She understood that therapy could help her daughter and her family.
Through the darkness of the past, I have found stars that shine brightly. Each of these stars represents the things that I have gained from this experience. One star represents that I no longer care what happens to the person that hurt me. One star represents my strength. One star represents real friendship and the bonds we share. Another represents my family, which is now closer than ever. This experience is no longer trauma, it is a now a mission to help others.