Amita Swadhin changed her name in 1998, when she was 20, because she did not want to carry the name of a man who had sexually abused her from age 4 to age 12. On Jan. 11, this Indian-American survivor of years of sexual assault by her father testified in the U.S. Congress at the Senate hearing for confirming President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions.
Sen. Sessions position that he did not understand how the October tapes on Trump’s alleged sexual advances on women, could be considered sexual assault, was “incredibly worrisome,” for an Attorney General, Swadhin said at the hearing. The tapes showed Trump referring to groping women and grabbing their genitals.
In an extensive telephone interview with News India Times after her testimony, Swadhin dwelt on her life experiences and on Indian-Americans’ acceptance of the LGBTQI community. While Indian-Americans have moved forward to an extent in accepting LGBTQI members, it had a lot more work to do to recognize survivors of sexual abuse, especially child survivors.
Born in Columbus, Ohio and brought up in Bergenfield, New Jersey, to Indian-American parents, she began to be assaulted by her father when hardly more than a toddler. Her mother, who will remain unnamed in deference to Swadhin’s wishes, came to the U.S. at age 11. Her father, Swadhin said, probably came around the mid-1970s. They met in Columbus, Ohio.
At 4 years old, Swadhin did tell her mother about the abuse but did not have the right words, she said. Her mother may have understood her, “But she had two children, was unemployed and must have been afraid,” apart from herself being a victim of domestic violence and marital rape, she told News India Times.
Later at age 13, when Swadhin told her mother again about it, she immediately contacted a therapist. That sent the case directly to law enforcement because reporting was “mandated” under the law.
In her testimony on Capitol Hill, Swadhin said prosecutors threatened to prosecute her mother on grounds that she was complicit, and they warned the 13 year old she would be grilled during the trial and did not refer her to any victim support services. Her father received a mere slap on the wrist – five-year probation and no jail time. Her mother suffered 2 more years of abuse before finally managing to leave her husband.
Now at 38, despite appearing as an extremely confident woman, Swadhin continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome. She told News India Times that her tight-knit network of LGBTQI friends in the Indian-American and South Asian communities around the country had been her mainstay.
“Those are people who keep me grounded in my life and in my profession,” Swadhin said.
A graduate of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Swadhin truly recognized her bisexual personality while in London, U.K. as part of her junior year at Georgetown. “So it wasn’t until my father was out of my home and I was in college … in London — being around Desis there who had their own LGBTQI groups and clubs – that it allowed me to see myself reflected, and to go deeper into my sexuality,” Swadhin said, adding, “I had never been around South Asian LGBTQs before.”
Since then she has progressively grown into a well-known advocate and activist on behalf of not just the LGBTQI community, but also against sexual and domestic violence and child sexual abuse.
“I’ve been publicly out and consciously healing since I was 16,” Swadhin said, when she was part of a New Jersey therapy group. In the course of her healing and her advocacy work, she has met “lots of great people,” and also been a motivational speaker. After she moved to Los Angeles five years ago, Swadhin started a meditation and yoga practice. She is the founder of Mirror Memoirs, which also has an online presence. It was started after she became a fellow with Just Beginning Collaborative, an organization for those who have survived child sexual abuse. “It’s hard to say what has helped me, but it has been a combination of all these things,” she said.
This was her first time testifying on Capitol Hill where in a brief speech, she called upon the Senators to reject Sessions’ nomination.
Today, she has a “complicated” relationship with her mother, “But I love my mother very much,” she said. She also kept the name given to her by her mother – Amita — “because it means ‘infinite’ and ‘boundless’,'” she said. “And Swadhin means ‘self-rule’,” which seemed just right to her.