“I am one in three, and I WILL BE the one who yells from the rooftops until those numbers change” – Teri Hatcher
Date: Tuesday, November 25, 2014
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Your Excellency Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations,
Your Excellency Ms. Lana Nusseibeh, Permanent Representative of United Arab Emirates to the United Nations,
Madam Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women,
Distinguished Delegates, distinguished panelists, and dear guests,
My name is Teri Hatcher.
I am honoured to be here today to recognize the International Day to End Violence against Women, followed by the 16 days of Activism against Gender Violence and the “Orange Your Neighbourhood” campaign. The colour orange is bright and optimistic and symbolizes a hope for a better world without the continued human rights violations against women and girls around the world. The status of violence against women continues to be calamitous. 120 million girls have experienced forced sexual acts, and it is estimated that half of all women killed each year are killed at the hand of an intimate partner or family member.
My story sheds light on another grim statistic. This is a story about the dangers of silence. When I was seven years old I was sexually abused by my uncle. Convinced that it was my fault, that I had somehow caused this to happen, I never told anyone. I was silent. I did however, unsurprisingly, begin to act out. As a result, my mother made sure we didn’t see my uncle anymore, but no one ever asked exactly what had happened. We maintained silence.
Finally, at 18, still too ashamed to say the words aloud, I wrote them in a journal for my mother to read. She confessed that she and my father had suspected something but had felt a mixture of anger and helplessness that paralyzed them into remaining silent. For years my family lived with this permeating guilt, anger and sadness. I was silent, they were silent and he, my uncle, was free and unaccountable.
Jump ahead a few years to me in my 30’s… I was helping my parents pack up my childhood home and came across a current newspaper article about a beautiful 11-year-old girl named Sarah from my hometown. The story recounted how she had wrapped her head in a towel (in order to avoid making a mess) and shot herself in the head. Her reason? In her suicide note she implicated MY uncle who’d been sexually abusing her for some time. I was shocked, devastated, and overwhelmed by the idea that he had continued his abuse and now, even as he was well into his 60’s, he was the cause of this young girl’s pain and resulting death. How could this have happened?
I thought. I reached out to the DA of the case, anonymously at first, another way to keep silent. But I wanted to see that my uncle would be held accountable and would go to jail. But as it turned out the case against him was anything but iron-clad. Sarah couldn’t testify against him, because of course, she was dead. They only had her letter. So the DA asked me to tell my story to help validate Sarah’s. My case could not be prosecuted, it was far passed the statute of limitations, but my deposition would establish a pattern and credibility. He wanted me to break my silence. And so I did. Tell my story. Out loud. For the world to hear. When my deposition was read in court, my uncle took a plea deal. He went to prison and died there. He was convicted and sentenced but nothing could undo the devastating violence this man left in his wake. I survived this abuse, and I helped Sarah’s family to feel some sense of victory and closure, but that doesn’t make me a hero or a victim. It only makes me one of three.
I am simply one in three women who is forced to accept violence as a part of her life story. I am one of three women who for the rest of her life battles the voice in her head that accepts blame for abuse, a voice that is antithetical to self-esteem, self-worth and happiness.
This is a statistic that has to change! One in three women can no longer have to face the stigma or fear that prevent them from seeking help. One in three women should NOT feel afraid to report it, as they too often do, because they are not believed or taken seriously. When society further shames the victim by asking “Why did the victim stay? Why didn’t she say anything?” instead of asking “Why did HE abuse her?,” we empower the abusers to continue their abuse. That one in three could be your mother, your daughter, your sister. It is unacceptable to not actively and passionately work to change a society in which ANY woman is violated, injured, tortured or killed. Everyone everywhere has a responsibility to end violence.
I am one in three, and I WILL BE the one who yells from the rooftops until those numbers change. Until every woman who has faced abuse feels less alone and safe enough to have the courage to find her own voice – until violence against women is no longer a part of any woman’s story – silence will not be a part of mine.