12/15/2014 05:31 EST | Updated 02/14/2015 05:59 EST

My Neighbour Thought Skimpy Clothes Invited Rape. I Hope She Reads This


"It's the way these girls dress Manju -- it's just an invitation for a man to come on over and rape them."

I was 16 years old, lounging on the front steps and listening to my mom chat with our neighbour about a rape case dominating the local news cycle.

As they spoke, I saw my mom's worried eyes repeatedly dart over to me and anxiously frown.

My "look" that summer -- tiny cut offs, fitted tank tops and lots of mascara -- was an increasing source of tension with my South Asian parents who regularly warned that I was "asking" for trouble.

Two days after that conversation a friend from my field hockey team was raped at a house party. I remember noting that she had actually been one of the few girls at the party wearing an outfit that both my parents would have actually approved of and I wondered what my neighbour would have said about that.

A couple of months later my family moved and I never saw or spoke with that neighbour again .

But oddly, I thought of her often.

She raised three boys -- and I wondered if they had formed their own views on women and sex or just defaulted to hers.

I wondered how someone who was in so many ways a genuinely warm and caring person could also hold such hateful and poisonous beliefs about other women.

I thought of her in law school when we discussed how women often don't make supportive jurors on sexual assault or rape cases.

It seems completely counter-intuitive, but apparently it's about control: women often have an unconscious desire to distance themselves from the victim and so focus on the different choices that they would have made.

And it was neighbour Brenda who once again came to mind when I decided to share my experience in the Huffington Post about being sexually assaulted by Jian Ghomeshi.

I have never written anything as fast (in my PJs and on the floor) and I submitted it almost immediately -- out of fear that if I didn't, I would change my mind.

I had done my best to prepare for the trolls, critics and even the inevitable perverts, but I hadn't anticipated other aspects of my decision: how hard it would be for my parents; how the only food that would seem edible in the days after was a healthy diet of Nutella, lattes and almonds.

But I also hadn't anticipated the incredible amount of support and kind words that I would receive: honestly, it was genuinely overwhelming.

Thank you.

At a time when I felt raw, exposed and incredibly vulnerable, your messages, notes and even retweets really helped.

(A side note: if you've wondered whether or not should reach out to support someone but weren't sure if it was worth it, do it. We so often underestimate how powerful just a few words can be.)

So many people also shared with me their own stories of sexual violence in all it's forms -- horrific, heartbreaking and clearly all too common. Thank you for your trust, solidarity and for reaching out.

One of the most common questions I get asked is whether I think anything has genuinely changed as a result of the conversations, media analysis and personal stories that have emerged over the past six weeks. I'm undecided and think it's most likely too early to really tell. But I will say that although I am very ready to draw a double line under this year, I do feel very hopeful for the year ahead.


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