QUEENS, NY- I first met Samiha about twelve years ago when I was waiting at a Q104 bus stop, exhausted and not very enthusiastic about having to spend my summer attending a Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) preparatory class. Samiha, on the other hand, shone under the warm, summer sun. She had these big, beautiful, bright brown eyes, and a welcoming, though introverted, smile.We became friends from the moment I asked her for directions to the class. We began meeting for lunch every day and she quickly became my best friend, my confidant, and the person who made me feel most whole. She was a genuine,empathetic, and extremely intelligent woman who had a passion for music, and cooked a damn good meal. Samiha Khan was the type of Brown girl everyone wanted to be around.
Samiha told me about the abuse she endured late in our friendship. She told me how you would violate her. She told me how you put your hands in intimate places she had never explored herself; parts of her body you taught her to be ashamed of. You were sexually abusing her since she was eight years old. When she finally had the courage to speak out, you threatened to murder her. You threatened her with words such as, “You won’t find a good husband” or “who will want to marry a stained girl?” You made her feel pain. You caused her pain. You were the source of her pain. You made her hate herself. When she first confided all of this to me, I held her fragile body in my arms for hours as she wept softly. There wasn’t enough love in my heart or prayer in my soul that could make her feel whole after what you did to her. She tried to kill herself that night.
Still embedded in a twisted manifestation of orthodox South Asian and Muslim culture, she received no support from her community. Instead, she was made to feel ashamed of her feelings, of her body and of her mental health issues. She tried to kill herself every time she remembered what you did, but she was able to pull through She was the strongest woman I have ever known.
You see, Samiha was amazing, but she could not live in a world that neglected her experience, a world that made her, as a victim of sexual abuse, feel deeply misplaced and ashamed for having been a victim. She was left with no choice. She would rather feel the pain of a train running over her body and take her life, than to continue to experience a world that normalizes and tolerates violence against women.
Samiha’s first couple of suicide attempts were heartbreaking desperate cries for help. Her last one was a devastating tragic act that sends an important message to women who experience these forms of gender based violence, especially South Asian and Muslim women.
Unfortunately, the story of Samiha is not isolated. This didn’t just happen to her. Samiha is everywhere and our society is always ignoring the gendered forms of violence that are perpetuated against our bodies. In fact, one in five children in the U.S. is a victim of sexual abuse.
This is why we won’t let fathers, brothers, husbands, partners, and men like you continue to try to defeat women, who look like us. This is why Brown, South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and women of color don’t care about our prospects for marriage. We’re going to create communities of our own in her name, in Samiha’s name and the many others out there who are nameless and forgotten. We’re going to fight against your shaming of rape survivors and the larger culture of victim blaming to honor her struggle and in her name. We’re going to genuinely and deeply love one another in her name, love rooted in collective liberation, transparency, and a culture of accountability. We’ll find the resources. We’ll speak out, until men like you stop and another Samiha’s life isn’t taken by gender-based violence. Screw your respectability politics. Samiha is a fighter. Her suicide could have been prevented if she had not been violated, if her pain was acknowledged and if she was given the resources to heal. As we grieve for our sister, this is our message to you, to a society that upholds rape culture. This was her message and we won’t let it go unheard.
Speak up for Samiha. Speak up for people with mental health issues. Speak up for people who are victims of sexual abuse. Speak up for anyone who needs help.
Women do not need to suffer alone. There are safe zones for people to speak up in. There are resources for immediate and long term help. If you or someone you know is facing the types of aforementioned violence, check out these important resources for support:
Turning Point, WISE, Safe Horizon, Sakhi.
Exactly one month before she killed herself, Samiha posted this message to Instagram. This is what Samiha’s legacy looks like:
“i never speak publicly about this, but recently my anxiety and depression has gotten worse. some days are better than others. i was supposed to go out earlier today but ended up feeling like absolute shit, crying, and ruining my makeup. but i feel a lot better now after crying! i just want to remind everyone - especially those with mental illness - that it's okay to let yourself cry, get sad about things, and feel things intensely. it doesn't make you weak or pathetic and letting it all out helps you keep on keepin' on. it's okay to not want to get out of bed or socialize if you don't feel well. i also want to remind everyone to be more understanding of those with mental illness. herbal tea and saying others have it worse doesn't fix anything. and just because you can't see the pain, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. everyone experiences it differently and the way we talk about it can have a significant effect on someone's well being. so always be kind and empathetic. #personal”