reema zaman
photo: Courtesy of Reema Zaman

*Warning: This post discusses issues of rape and sexual assault. If you or someone you know needs guidance or resources regarding this topic, please visit the National Sexual Assault Resource Center or call its hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

Did you know that one in five American women will be raped in their lifetime? One in three will experience some form of sexual violence. Just over 50% of women report their attackers to law enforcement, and an overwhelming majority of those accused walk free with little or no legal consequence.

We're telling you all of this because it's Sexual Assault Awareness Month. To note such an important month and topic, Revelist is publishing a series of content called I Decided, in which women tell the stories of why they chose whether or not to report their attacks, and how that choice affected them in turn.

On April 12, actress, speaker, and writer Reema Zaman (pictured above) will share her journey in our first I Decided video, which will premier on Revelist's Facebook page. Below, in her own words, Zaman recounts her thoughts and feelings about the damaging marriage she entered into after being attacked by someone else, who she could not report. She'll regale more in her video, debuting tomorrow.

The year was 2011. I was 27 years old, married to a man who had grown to loathe me. 

We lived in a half-burnt barn in upstate Connecticut, surrounded by banks of snow, so remote that we didn’t have cell-reception. We didn’t have indoor plumbing or heating either. The sole light we had came from naked light-bulbs strung from the barn rafters. I had learned how to walk around the light bulbs with my eyes closed because the burning glass promised to singe the skin if touched. Thanks to a fire in the 1980s, there were big black patches of burned wood flanking the barn. It was as though the walls of our lives had been licked by darkness.

We met when I was 25. I fell in love with him with the complete, sudden ease with which a body slips into quicksand.

He was gorgeous, tall, muscled-yet-lean, with brown hair kissed with natural highlights, and eyes as blue as the Pacific Ocean. Born and raised in sunny, wealthy California, he had a temper in addition to an appetite for other women. “Sister-wives,” he called them.

On days that he wasn’t happy with me, he would call me his wife for “greensies,” not for “realsies,” to remind me that my green card had been procured through marriage. To remind me that my ability to live and work depended on him, and that were I to speak up against him, he could compromise my freedom. 

At night, lying beside him, it felt like the walls were inching in toward a slow but certain suffocation.

Trying to fall asleep, I would berate myself with shame, thinking, “How have I gotten myself into this situation? How have I become this woman? How can I possibly leave? If I am so stupid as to get myself to this place, perhaps this is what I deserve.”

But it’s not what I, or anyone, deserved or deserve.

The answer to my questions — and my path to freedom — lay in the decades, the people, the shadows that came years before he crossed my path and I entered the half-burnt barn. A story that began with my parents and the forces that shaped us. A story that began in Bangladesh, crossed to Thailand, before arriving in America.

The story is always the answer and the solution. If I wanted to grow beyond those walls, I had to speak.