Growing Up as a Rape Survivor in a Filipino and Catholic Household

*Trigger Warning*

By: Elle MKA

When you grow up in a Filipino and Catholic household, there are expectations, which included:

  • Family is everything. Love them no matter what mistakes they make. They’re all you have.

  • Don’t talk about your feelings or problems, especially not to strangers.

  • You need to save face.

  • Religion is important.

But when I was eight years old, I was raped by my 17 year old brother.

Was I supposed to forgive him?

I struggled with this question, and continued to struggle with it well into my 20s.When family was supposed to be everything, what was I supposed to do when someone responsible for protecting me—my kuya (older brother)—violated me?

At the time, I didn’t know what to do. I buried my secret and pretended nothing happened. I wanted to keep the peace, so I never told my parents. I didn’t know how anyone would have reacted, so I kept it to myself. I blamed myself, believed I was at fault and deserved what happened. I kept my silence, and it protected him. It allowed him to live without facing his consequences. In turn, it buried me in his darkness.

In high school, I was devoutly Catholic, and this upbringing taught me that you’re supposed to forgive. I had hate and anger. So I walked into the confessional booth to tell the priest my secret, my hatred for my rapist. By holding onto my hatred, it only solidified it in myself that his crime was mine to carry; that it was my responsibility to face his consequences. Because not being able to forgive him somehow made me the bad person. I somehow believed that not forgiving my rapist was just as heinous as his crime. In Catholicism, confession and being absolved of your sins was supposed to bring you some sense of peace. It didn’t. It never did.

Even during college, I couldn’t escape him. I still lived at my parents’ house, and so did he. I continued to suffer in silence because when you’re Filipino, you didn’t talk about your feelings, especially not to strangers. Saving face was more important. Mental illnesses didn’t exist and weren’t discussed. Feelings were swept under the rug. Other than positive emotions, you were grateful for your parents’ sacrifices which afforded you a better life. As a result, I bottled everything up, internalizing everything and feeling like my hurt didn’t matter until I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I opted for therapy. I saw multiple therapists, and regardless of whether it was successful, each therapist allowed me to peel away at my layers and become more self-aware. I could openly talk about my feelings without being told I was being irrational. But it was something my mom couldn’t understand. Why I needed to talk to a stranger. My dad never expressed what he felt. But therapy, especially my art therapist brought some semblance of light back into my life I thought I had lost, much less never had.

I graduated from college with a job offer hundreds of miles away. Despite the cries of aunties and uncles saying kids should always live close to their parents, I accepted it. It was my opportunity to escape the last 6,000 some days of my life since I was raped and was subjected to seeing my rapist’s face everyday. 

There was something magical in my one bedroom apartment. There were no memories of his presence to tarnish it. For once, I could breathe and feel safe. But I still struggled and fought with my demons. My apartment resounded with a deafening darkness. I began to see a new therapist. I hoped it’d allow more light in, but I struggled to find reasons to live. I found myself with bottles of wine on my nightstand. Used alcohol to help my antidepressants go down. I wanted to forget. I wanted anything that would fix me of all my trauma and anger, and to somehow flip the switch in my head from constantly blaming myself to finally blaming him.

In that small one bedroom apartment, the switch eventually flipped. I quietly revealed the truth to my mom, and the fallout was sudden. She confronted him. He called me. Left his apologies. I didn’t believe any of his apologies to be sincere. I called him. He answered.

I told him I didn’t forgive him. The burden I had carried for most of my life was his crime and responsibility. He enjoyed almost fifteen years of not having to face the consequences of his actions. He lived without having to know how I struggled with nightmares filled with the demons of his actions and likeness. I blamed him for his lack of accountability. His incompetence to fulfill the only responsibility he had regarding me, and that was to protect me. He failed to protect me from the darkness of the world, and he drowned me in his darkness. I told him I never wanted to see his face again before I hung up.

That was almost five years ago.

I wish I could tell you that I’ve found my happily ever after, and justice was served. I wish I could tell you I live and talk my truth everyday. That my extended family doesn’t ask me about him during the holidays, and saying I don’t know suffices.

But here’s the actual reality. I’m happy and somewhat thriving. Justice wasn’t served. I try to live my life as genuinely as I can. I speak my truth in one-on-one conversations. I avoid family parties because saying “I don’t know” doesn’t suffice. And if the village that raised me asks me anything more, I have to fight with myself not to tell them what he did.

I haven’t forgiven him, and I don’t think I ever will. My parents understand why I can never forgive him. Just as I understand why he’s still a part of their lives.

I’ve learned that my parents have struggled to process what I carried on my shoulders for most of my life. They raised us. I can only imagine how difficult and complicated it must be to have their son as the perpetrator while their daughter was his victim. They have to carry this weight on their shoulders, wondering whether they were partly responsible for my rape. I still remember hearing my dad’s voice break as he asked where he went wrong in raising him. I don’t hold my parents responsible. Not for any of it. My rapist made his decision. The consequences are only his to face.

I’m nearing 30 years old now. I feel like the last five years of my life have been my most genuine and fulfilling. I still struggle with my anxiety and panic attacks manage to creep in on occasion. But alongside my struggles, I’m thriving. I’m still learning to love myself a little better everyday. I’m in love and experiencing the love I deserve with someone I can truly call my partner. He sees me as an equal. He accepts that I’m still fighting my way through the darkness, and he sees my light and warmth. I have found my chosen family who hold me and uplift me whenever I feel like I’m losing myself. I’ve achieved so much that I can truly call mine.

I know I’ll never be cured of my mental illnesses. I’ll never wake up to find the memory of my rape erased from my mind. I’ll have my moments where it feels like all hope is lost. But everyday, I’m a little bit better; a little more at peace.

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

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