I am Reyhaneh Jabbari and am 26 years old. I confess that I am no longer willing to continue this way of life. It feels as if the meaning of life is only breathing and sewing the seams of day to the seams of night. Repetition and expectation has worn out my spirit—like sand paper on my soul. At the moment both my body and my soul are bloodied and wounded. I feel like those soldiers fighting in battle. They use all their energy defeating the enemy. The ways to destroy the enemy occupies their mind so much that they no longer think of those at home. But soon if they do not achieve anything in battle, they become defeated. Stillness of expectation eats a man like termites from within. Most long wars end because the soldiers’ spirits are broken– on both sides. No matter what the leaders of a country say, no matter who they name the winner and the loser, the civilians know how much they suffered. The graveyards of both countries bare witness—chock full of pieces of their youth. Houses without roofs.
I am Reyhaneh, 26, and I am tired of the grueling war I have been fighting with the Sarbandi family, for my freedom—a family that I do not hate. After all the years that have passed after the incident I have realized that although Sarbandi was not a young man, he had not learned many lessons from life. Like the fact that he had no right to lure me to a place and he had no right to force himself on me. He had no rights to me. Why did this have to happen? I thought about this day and night. Why did he attack me and how was it that a man of such stature fell to such low levels? Ours was the opposite sides of fate. I came to a conclusion that he wanted nothing more than pleasure for himself and he wanted it by force and I wanted nothing more than to break away from him— by force. I came to that discovery while speaking to my cellmates one day, yes a conclusion that the courts were not able to deduce.
For the first time in 2008, I sat and listened to the life story of one the prisoners who was there for prostitution. I used to hate her and look down on her. I hated the vile language she used and how she had lured young girls into her profession. When I used to pass her in the corridor I refused to look at her; I hated the way she walked, the way she ate even the way she slept. I hated everything about her. Even while she was in prison she was looking for new girls to recruit, because she knew soon she would be freed and would have to return to that awful profession. I looked at her like a vile, wild animal. It turned out that one day circumstances put me in a position that I got to sit with her and listen to her story. I will call her by a pseudo name: Mina M.
In 1979, as the revolution happened Mina was going to grade school. Her father had a hard time feeding his family as he had odd, seasonal jobs like shoveling snow. He left for the city of Bandar Abbas to find a job. While he was gone and the family was waiting for him to send money, the poor mother resorted to stealing food from small stores to feed her children; all in the hopes that the father will return with some money. But he never returned. Mina had two brothers and one sister. Soon the mother could not provide for schooling and Mina had to stop going to school. She would see her mother leave the house every day at sun down like clockwork. Soon her older sister started following her mother. Mina would find out the true significance of sun set.
I am Reyhaneh and I know that environment and family can influence a person’s path outside that person’s control. I know that without knowing the situation inside and out one cannot sit in judgement of another. I learned from speaking with Mina that if anyone was put in her situation they would turn out exactly like her. I realized no one in her situation could have escaped selling herself. Unless one day as they were being slaves to others, they deeply and truly wanted to escape and then a door may have opened for them to flee. Mina told me everything about her profession. She said that as soon a woman of the night is all dried up, she is tossed away like garbage with contempt. Either she is killed by someone or she kills herself. Rarely do prostitutes die a natural death or live a long, natural life.
Mina told me that her mother worked her sister and herself to death, forcing them to sell their bodies so that her two brothers could have a good, easy life. Mina hated her mother for putting such a difference between the boys and the girls. She hated her brothers. Maybe she even hated her only son who was a product of rape and only 17 years younger than her. Her son demanded that her mother still provide for him even while she was in prison! Mina told me about the first time she was “sold” to a middle aged man by a corrupt, criminal man who took part of her mother and sister’s earnings. She remembered wailing and begging for them to let her be. She was 12 and was raped. She said after that anytime she was with a man her face would be soaked in tears. She would curse her parents while she trembled and wished for death. But after a while it all became normal to her to a degree that she learned how to use special tricks to enslave other girls into the profession. I realized that the victims become the hunters after they lost all hope and start hunting for their own pray. Girls like young Mahsa, who was raped by her crack addict brother from the time she 12 years old until she was 16. She was in prison now in a Ward dubbed “flower buds”. She tried to kill herself many times even in front of people she would take broken glass and cut her wrists. Had it not been for a few kind hearted prisoners she would had died. Neesha was another young girl in prison. After her parents divorced neither wanted her. She was six and went to live with her grandmother where she was beaten and humiliated repeatedly. She was raped by her uncle many times until she was 15 so she decided to run away from that situation—a noble and right thing to do. Neesha went to live with a friend where she met a man named Ali offered to pay for her to go to beauty school. Everything was going well for Neesha until Ali introduced her to Tina—a drug addict. So this runaway who was raped by her uncle became addicted to drugs. Ali let her go but she had nowhere to go. She lived in public toilets of city parks. Sad thing is predators are not only the rapists but the police and park authorities are also predators. Out of hunger she ended up selling drugs for Tina to clients in order to survive and the end is clear. Prison.
I, Reyaenh, have a question. Where can these girls turn to when they are sexually threatened, harassed and enslaved? To whom do they turn? The government, organizations or normal citizens? Who is available to help them? I am reminded of Soheila Ghaderi [old cellmate] who lived on the street for 13 years. No easy task while being beaten. What happens to girls who are raped and become pregnant as a result? They will either have to have an abortion in rather unsanitary way or like Soheila they feel the maternal instinct and decide to have the baby just to give birth on the street bleeding and in pain. Just to have the child and realize there is no way to take of it and nowhere that their baby belongs—no way to feed it, no future, no support. So they end up killing their baby as Soheila did. Then suddenly all the organizations and people who were invisible and unavailable to these women appear out of nowhere blaming her, damning her and pointing fingers. She is arrested, prosecuted and the noose awaits her. Reporters keep on scribbling without knowing. The authorities keep on speaking like commanders in battle. No one looks into what happened or why these women turned out the way they did. Is there no one there to ask what really happened in their lives? The society keeps on reading books….The truth is that society creates a stigma around these women but never asks what could have happened to a young girl so that she started selling her body or why she became homeless on the street? They do not ask if they had a hand in their fates or if they could have done something.
I am Reyhaneh Jabbari, 26. I shall carry the burden of their stories with me. I feel responsible and sad that I had to learn all of this in prison from the women themselves. Maybe I can do my share now to help them by shedding light on their plights. The fact is no woman will start selling her body unless she has been raped. I have felt the fear of rape first hand. Sarbandi was no different than Mahsa’s brother or Neesha’s uncle. I trusted his fatherly face. But he had other plans for me. But our cold hearted laws defends the man in cases of rape. A man cannot understand the crushed, devastated soul of a girl after she has been raped nor can he understand her frozen, shocked mind and body when she is in the hands of an aroused man who wants to rape her. How can a man feel the disgust the woman feels when the rapist’s hands touch her body? The laws are written from the perspective of men. There are kind and supportive men in society but those men are not the ones who have written the laws regarding rape.
When I was 21 years old, I realized that my defending myself against rape from Sarbandi did not sit well with the courts. Without listening to my story, my lawyer and my defense and what had actually happened that day, they started to prosecute me in court. The sessions lasted only one hour, most just minutes and I was asked only one question. I soon gave up on the courts. Anytime I heard my name called on the PA system to appear in court for the next morning, I only dreamt of being free on the streets among normal, random people. The presiding judge, Tardasti, would speak to me with such hate and intimidating tone in his voice. In one session he went so far to tell me that I should have let Sarbandi rape me and then filed a complaint later .Every question was asked of me with a tone as if I was from a ring of prostitutes—his remarks were so humiliating that my ears burned from hearing them and I would be so ashamed that I would start to sweat.
I knew my parents were just outside the courtroom and I only hoped they could not hear my humiliation. I just hoped that I had not brought such shame to them. They always came accompanied by the authorities. They always brought me food and even sometimes my mother would bring me her home cooking—meals that I could no longer eat in good conscience without sharing with other prisoners. I wanted them to have some small pleasure such a home cooked meal. My parents wanted to donate meat to the prison kitchen but the prison does not accept donations of meat. I was shocked why these rules denied poor prisoners from some simple pleasure like a good meal.
I am Reyhaneh, 26 and I am living just a few steps away from death—a death that Judge Tardasti created for me. I am not afraid of death as I have lived through things much worse than death…but what I cannot tolerate is the injustice I have been treated with which onto itself is worse than death itself……