By Gabrielle Campbell • June 12, 2020
Silence has always been a defining factor of who I was. I knew that I had a voice, but I did not think it deserved to be heard. As a Jamaican woman, my society ensured that our voices were only relevant in circumstances that did not address the discrimination or abuse we endured. I was allowed to have a voice in the classroom and the board room, but not when confronting misogyny or violence perpetuated against me. My society created a bubble where women were made ignorant to the very issues that hurt us by invalidating our experiences. How were we to speak up against something we did not understand?
I finally broke my silence when I was in college. In 2016 I accepted a position as a Title IX peer educator. While in this position, I realized that the majority of situations that we were taught as women to ignore or not to “overreact” to were wrong. In that moment, a veil was torn from my eyes and when I thought about what myself and many other women endured and was silent about for years, I had to make a change.
For two years, I underwent a journey towards uncovering what contributes to our silence and how we can go about changing that narrative. In 2019, I started a blog and held several formal and informal discussions addressing the systematic and physical violence against women, specifically women of color from the Caribbean. I even confronted my own fear of vulnerability by presenting a capstone on my experiences as a Jamaican woman who was forced into silence for most of my life. My goal was not only to normalize these conversations, but to also spread awareness on how concealing this pain can oftentimes lead to a life of unconfronted mental issues.
I determined that most of us are scared and silence seemed to be our only means of survival. We are scared that if we speak up about our abuse our abuser would come back to hurt us, which is common in my society. There was also the fear of being told that we were lying or victimizing ourselves, resulting in isolation from our families and friends which is difficult in a communal society like Jamaica. To make things worse, for those who did have the privilege of breaking their silence, the lack of public interest attorneys in Jamaica who primarily focused on issues affecting women meant that most of these cases went unheard and ultimately unresolved.
Although there is progress being made with more women breaking their silence on what they have been forced to endure, there is something within the system that needs to be shifted. My decision to go to law school was based on the necessity for this shift. I am on a road towards advocating for women who are victims of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence within the United States and Jamaica. My goal is to focus on the communities that were built on the silence of women, which are primarily communities of color.
I refuse to continue to live in a society where women are continuously invalidated. I refuse to continue to live in a society where our silence is seen as a choice after years of being forced into complicity. The future of these women is dependent on my future as a public interest attorney to fight against their oppression. Someone fought for me, so it is my duty to fight for someone else.