Touched Without Touching

*** I am very happy with this piece and don’t have a lot of edits for it! 

Dear Chhaya,

I did the best I could at saying goodbye to you in a way you’d understand, but it feels like something was missing without a hug. I know I was not allowed to hug you but I have always thought about how it would have felt being able to fully embrace you in my arms. For me a hug was normal, for me, a goodbye always happened with a hug. But your normal is different than mine. We are both girls and teenagers but, one of us is part of the 98% of victims of trafficking and one of us never had to experience anything like that.

I’d arrived at the safe way house knowing I came to help you, spend time with you, give you something to look forward to every day and give love to you. I expected to form relationships, teach you some things but also learn from you; through my time in the home, I learned more in my ten days with you, than I ever have before. More about the power of strength and courage, the power of affection and empathy. But what is left unsaid is the hug I couldn’t give you, the hug that embodied how proud I was of how you survived the adverse conditions you never asked for, how you emerged as a young woman committed to becoming a successful contributor to your community. I was proud that you endured and surpassed society’s expectations of what you statistically could have become. An estimated 35.8 million people are in forced labour (including sexual exploitation). Most females age 13-17 experience at least one form of sexual abuse, you are only 11 years old and are already free from the  55% of girls and women who are still being trafficked. I wanted to hug you, but what you had experienced as a sex slave prevented me from saying what I wanted in a physical way.

I was anxiously waiting to leave. My first instinct was to hug you and the rest of the girls. Hugging is natural to me but to victims of sexual assault, hugging can be traumatic. They experience insecure attachment patterns, struggle with intimacy or are too eager to form close attachments. Sarah, the woman who runs the safe home said to me, “Remember, do not hug the girls, do not let them hug you. Push them away if they try to and grab their wrists while shaking them instead.” I could not hug you? Okay… My mom always told me to hug people when saying hello or goodbye but Sarah told me not to.

Sarah, the woman who runs the safe home said to me, “Remember, do not hug the girls, do not let them hug you. Push them away if they try to and grab their wrists while shaking them instead.” I could not hug you? Okay… My mom always told me to hug people when saying hello or goodbye but Sarah told me not to.

My whole life, hugs were an integral part of my daily communication. Every morning I woke up for school, my mom would come in and kiss me on the forehead, symbolizing that it was time to wake up and expressing to me how much she loved me. I would slowly but surely get ready to leave for school. I put my uniform on, brushed my teeth, ate my breakfast and every day at the door my mom would be waiting to give me a hug goodbye. She never missed a good morning kiss or a goodbye hug. Even on days when I was running late, she would chase me out the door with her arms open, screaming, “I LOVE YOU” and insisting we hug.

“The girls are going to come say goodbye now,” Sarah told me as I stood still entangled in my own thoughts. “When will they be able to hug someone without feeling confused or distressed?” I asked myself.

I go about most of my days hugging friends and family without thinking about how a simple hug affects you and the 20 other girls. Almost one third of all rape victims develop PTSD sometime during their lifetime; and more than one in ten rape victims still have PTSD today.

When I had to say goodbye and was told that I couldn’t hug you, I didn’t know how else I could express the overwhelming emotions encompassing me. I never realized that hugging was so ingrained in my culture but was something so rare in yours. We became so close in the short time we spent together, a hug only seemed like the right thing to do. When you came running up to me with your arms wide open, and that big bright smile on your face, all I wanted was to hug you and I’m sorry I couldn’t.

More girls tried to hug me. I didn’t hug them back but I realized even though I did not get the feeling I love while hugging you, you did, you found the trust and comfort that you had once lost, in me.

In the end, I learned that hugs come in all kinds of different forms, just as all people do. I want this letter to act as a hug from me to you that you can pull out and read whenever you need a hug, a reminder that you are loved, that you are enough and that you are more than your circumstances.

With love and hugs,



The structure I chose for this story is “The whorl of reflection” because I feel as if my piece is a reflective one. This specific moment in my life has always been one that I reflect on and think about but something I have always wanted to write about. The structure of the whorl allows me “to circle a subject, ‘wheeling and diving like a hawk.’”Because this piece was so reflective, it has allowed me to make a “wide range of realizations” which is why I chose to write with inquiry initially. I chose this structure because I needed a way for me to self-reflect while also speak to a certain audience. After reading Taylor Brorby’s letter to his godchild and seeing the impact it had on me from a reader’s perspective to follow a close relationship with two people, I was inspired to write my project in the form of a letter. I thought that both a letter form and whorl of reflection structure would work the best since both address a specific audience but also leave room for interpretations. I wanted to be very personal in my writing and bring the reader into a close relationship I had with a specific girl. Because I chose to write to her, it made me open up and go more in depth with what I wanted to say. The letter form opens a personal relationship I had with one of the girls and enables me to really write for just her. 


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