Writing is terrifying

but not for the reasons you think…

My friends ask why I don’t write about my experiences. I’ve seen what happens when people do that, and it’s terrifying.

Some writers fear the blank page, the pressure to find words; I’m just afraid of the consequences. It’s not the social stigma, it’s the threat of being sued for defamation. The threat of violence.

I’m the product of my experiences, just as you’re the product of yours. But if there were no witnesses, if you can’t prove it, did it really happen?

I can’t prove it, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, it just means I can’t write about it in public. I can write of the consequences, of the years of being afraid to turn my back on anyone, the years of being afraid to stand up for myself. I can write about wrestling with the belief that males are a threat, my battles with my inability to trust anyone, to relax around others. The years of learning to fight, of sleeping with a knife, a hatch bar in my bunk, just to even the odds next time.

It’s not true that there were never witnesses. Once, in port, a contractor saw it. He called the police — they did nothing. The children on a remote island saw it — they assumed we were married. I felt sad for them: what must it be like to grow up in a world where beatings are a sign of marriage. The crew saw it — they thought it was funny. Except that time with the knife. And the time one of them helped me clean up the blood. And the time with the crocodile, but I shouldn’t write about that.

It took me years to realise that it wasn’t normal, that the death threats and physical violence are not a normal crew dynamic. But I can’t write about that.

There were no witnesses, so it didn’t happen.

But in this world, even when there are witnesses, we still claim it didn’t happen — there’s always an excuse. They were the wrong witnesses. They were biased. Journalists can’t be trusted. That race, that religion, that gender, that political party can’t be trusted. You should have chosen real witnesses if you wanted to be believed.

People say the victims should have filmed it. Or, if they did film it, people say it didn’t show the whole story. If it did show the whole story, people say there’s nothing wrong with the behaviour — it was the victim’s fault. They were dressed wrong. They were the wrong gender. They were in the wrong part of town. They had the wrong skin colour. They looked at someone the wrong way. They asked for it. They got what they deserved. And they lied about it. People know they’re lying, because there are no real witnesses.

And my friends ask why I don’t write about my experiences.

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