WARNING: This post contains graphic language and situations.
When I saw what was happening, I tried to hide.
But they found me anyways.
I was a young, insecure, shy teenage girl and it was “boys being boys.”
I was overpowered by several of them. I begged and begged for them not to do it but they were laughing. I couldn’t do anything to stop them. My arms and legs were held down. And even though I struggled to kick & scream, I was defenseless.
I was violated and humiliated. And I was fucking scared.
Once they grabbed me, it happened fairly quickly. And once they got what they wanted, they let me go.
But I couldn’t go anywhere – I was trapped there, so after it was over, I just hid away again and cried. One of the boys came up to me to "apologize." He let me know it was just fun and I had “nothing to be ashamed of.” I guess it was because they all liked what they saw. He had no idea why I was really crying.
But I didn’t feel better. And I didn’t know how to process what just happened.
Was it an assault? Does it count if I wasn’t penetrated?
Plus, I don’t want anyone to be mad at me. And I really want them to like me so, I guess I should feel good that they were curious, right? They obviously weren’t trying to hurt me because they were laughing.
It was just a joke…
Come Monday morning, I took cues from everyone around me. They seemed fine. No big deal. We were all still friends afterwards. I’m still friends with several of them today. And to be honest, as far as I know, none of them turned out to be serial sex predators. And if someone did something like that to their daughters, they’d be unglued. And if I told them how much they hurt me, they’d feel bad today. I know it because I know them.
So, I guess that means what happened was okay, right?
I am 46 years old today and few things in my life during that time have the same vivid detail in my memory as that event - because that's what trauma does. And despite my steady journal writing I did at this time, I was too ashamed to even write about that night. But because I didn't write it down doesn't mean it didn't happen and didn't mean I couldn't forget it.
Further, the ultimate litmus test - if my daughter came home today and told me the same thing happened to her, you better fucking believe I’d be doing something about it and there would be a collective outrage amongst other parents.
So I guess it really was something back then.
But I didn’t report it.
And then there was that one time a boyfriend went too far.
We’d been drinking. And it started out all good until it wasn’t any more. He became aggressive. And his demeanor changed. And what was happening next wasn’t consensual.
I was frozen. Hazy. I was overpowered again, like I had been before but by confusion and sadness and I just waited for it to be over.
But what just happened? Is it wrong if we’re boyfriend and girlfriend and had a sexual relationship? Is it assault if I consented before and then changed my mind when he started doing things I didn’t like? What if he restrained me to keep from fighting back when I tried to stop him - was that wrong or was that just "kinky"? Was it his fault if he’d been drunk? If I’d been drinking too?
This time, I spent weeks afterwards feeling humiliated every time I looked at the marks from the incident that were left behind on my body. Again, I had been invaded. And once again, I was ashamed. And still today, I have been surprisingly confronted by the invisible boundary that the incident established when an intimate moment quickly moves from pleasure to sadness (or rage) and tears down my face. Can you imagine that buzz-kill in bed? Fortunately, I figured out what the triggers are and have safely navigated my sex life around them.
But I didn’t report it.
I’m not alone here with this one either - I have had my crotch grabbed. My boobs grabbed. My ass grabbed. Forcibly kissed – all by men who didn’t ask me if it was okay with me. All excused by everyone around because they were drunk. Or I was “hot.” And further, who thought that since I was in a bar or at a party, that I wanted it. I mean, why else am I there if not to be preyed on by men, right?
And that’s a sad “fact of life,” right? Figure that into the life of a woman, and I bet 1 out of 5 starts to be a lot higher because that isn’t really an assault, is it?
“I mean, sweetie, aren’t you overreacting here…? It means he likes you…”
It’s just boys being boys. Men being men.
And I never reported any of it.
But as I got older, I got bolder. I unapologetic-ally would grab the hand seeking to plunder something that didn’t belong to them mid-squeeze, crush their fingers in my vise grip and shove it back at their face. I wasn’t being gracious, or holding their tender ego in my hands by just letting it happen. And if they thought I was sexy before, the words “Fuck off!” hissing through my teeth probably killed their erection. But every once in a while, a few idiots became more aroused by me “putting up a fight” and so they would be more aggressive. I just countered with more power until they got the point to leave me alone.
But I never reported it.
When I saw a friend once being “escorted” out of bar against her will by two men much larger than her who trying to convince her as they tugged her along she’d “have a good time,” I stepped in and stopped it. No one else seemed to care because they were popular football players.
We didn’t report it.
One friend told me that she liked being around me because I made her feel safe when we were out. I guess my resting bitch face and my “don’t fuck with me” posturing I developed was good for something.
It also must be why so many men would tell me to smile. It must’ve been so they’d feel safe around me too. But I wasn’t concerned about making them feel safe. It was mine that mattered now.
And yet, I am constantly reminded in my memories that there were times I couldn’t protect myself.
These memories have been stirred even more so in the last several days as the country watches and wonders why a woman would wait decades to talk about her assault. And then see so many people – the other 4 out of 5 and many men - regard her with complete skepticism.
"If it was really that bad or if it actually happened, she would have told someone back then..."
I think I know why.
Because I’m telling you now – I have been assaulted. I have been hurt. But I never reported it.
When you hear that 1 out of every 5 women have been assaulted at some point in their life, maybe you didn’t know what that looked like. Maybe you thought it was committed by strangers. And likely you thought that every time it happened, justice was served. Or maybe you thought, because of your own skewed tuning, it "wasn't that big of deal."
But I have friends who have had far worse committed against them than me. Some were raped. Others molested. By strangers, family members and maybe even friends. Sometimes boyfriends.
Sometimes it was reported. Sometimes it wasn’t. Sometimes criminals went to jail. And sometimes they didn’t.
And damn - some have been through unspeakable pain & suffering and I am in NO WAY thinking my story is the worst there is. No. My story is not exceptional. What makes it troubling is that it's common.
Now, before you think otherwise, I want to be crystal clear that I have no agenda for revenge or seeking apologies from anyone by writing this. I certainly am not doing this for your sympathy or condolences. So, don’t ask me to give dates or name names. I don't want them to be afraid of me right now.
This is not about them.
Heck, it’s not even about me.
It’s about everyone who is still too afraid to speak up. Who may not find their voice for years to come and have to be believed – or at least listened to respectfully - because they may be due justice. And this is for the people who don’t understand a muteness that takes decades to let go if it ever does. Because this shit really does happen.
I want someone out there who can’t believe why even an outspoken, confident woman like me can have secrets and to see it's possible. Secrets I would have continued to store if not for the fact I am watching women being bullied for speaking up by people who don’t understand. Well, thank god you don’t understand!
Because I wasn’t always this way. I grew and matured. My confidence is something I have earned through my life. And when I was hurt by someone else, I was young and uncertain.
See, shame is the cruel cousin of embarrassment. I have been embarrassed many times by stupid things I’ve done or mistakes I’ve made. We all have. Sometimes it’s warranted and apologies have to be handed out because, for example, you were caught telling a lie. Or whatever happened gets laughed off, like tripping in front of a group of people.
But shame is personal and private. No one can take that away from you. And not everyone has really felt it. And while fear is fleeting, shame is lingering.
Because, when you take a woman or a girl and strip her of her humanity and dignity and her sense of safety and trust, hurt her physically and emotionally, violate her and then when you’re done, plant the cultural seeds of doubt in her mind that conflict with how she feels about what happened, you have cultivated shame - the most powerful gag in the world.
And I’m only removing mine now because I know others can’t. It’s too hard. Hell, I even contemplated this for days myself but felt that more stories and awareness is how we drive away the darkness that ignorance holds over our eyes. Because, in the end, I can’t stand watching women being abused all over again.
And I believe in us – all of us, men and women alike. So, if I’m not sitting in front of Senate committee with political consequences or gains to be had by doing this, perhaps some people should reconsider what the collective conversation that is happening now is really about.
This isn't a discussion about whether men (or anyone for that matter) should be held fully accountable for their mistakes & misdeeds when they were young. I'm conflicted about that, especially given what I know about childhood and adolescent brain development. I think this topic, rightfully, should be left to discussion and debate as the neuroscience continues to unfold and everything should be a case by case basis.
Nor is this a discussion on what is the appropriate response if confronted with an accusation of wrong-doing that you may or may not remember. And that's because we can't always come to quick & decisive judgments about why someone is responding the way they are and apply uniform standards to everyone. It just isn't that simple.
Nor is this a sweeping policy statement that all people who come forward with allegations of wrong-doing should be believed. I believe legitimate scrutiny is required. But that's NOT what has been happening in this situation - or what happens many times when women report it.
This is simply an exercise in telling another story about what a woman went through and why, despite assumptions, kept it to herself so that you may fill in your own understanding of the world around us and the people we think we know. That is because story-telling is how empathy is taught. And having empathy is one way to end assaults and violence.
And so here is mine.