All of these anecdotes are true, and are things I have experienced or that I have seen the people I love experience. Some depictions may be triggering, so if you are easily triggered by retellings of sexual assaults – please don’t read. This is a serious issue in our world, and I sincerely hope we start treating it as seriously as it is.
I was fortunate. Luck smiled upon me because I knew what to look for, I knew the signs, and I realized what was happening before it had a chance to happen. That one time, I was lucky. There were other times, though, where I was not. Where I didn’t realize I had the power to make my own choices, for my voice to be heard. And there are millions of people everywhere – men and women both – who are not given the respect enough to be heard.
When I was 14 years old, my step-father told me that he had a dream he was dating me and not my mom, and not to tell her. I, of course, immediately told her what he said. She told me to let her know if he did anything else weird, but she stayed. Then, he’d ask me to come and lay in bed with him. I refused to get under the covers, but he would wrap his arms around me and hold me. I thought of it like the way I would cuddle with my actual dad, but suddenly it felt wrong. I was changing, maturing, and he wasn’t my dad. Then he’d start asking me to get under the covers, and I’d make up something to do. I would go into the back field and run and run laps, just trying to make myself less anxious.
It progressed from there to him listening to hear when I would leave the shower and try to come into my room while I was changing to “say goodnight.” I started carrying my clothes into the bathroom with me, changing in the tiny steam-filled area where I knew the lock worked, and then running to my room and locking that door. I couldn’t handle being under the covers, all the lights out, and him coming in at midnight asking “what ya doing?” another time. That same month I found a box of single edge razors in the garage, and took some.
Eventually I told my grandparents and they swept in to save me. Not before the guilt had set in, though. My mother even made it a point to tell me “if you weren’t so promiscuos grown men wouldn’t see you that way. If you’d act more like a child should, you’d be seen as a child.” Little did she know, I’d had to be the adult for myself for so long because she wouldn’t. I didn’t know then that he was already a registered sex offender for having sex with a 16 year old girl when he was in his mid 20s. I didn’t know that she brought him into our home with that knowledge. She made the excuse then that “the girl was slutty, and he didn’t see her as a child.” As if that should have made a difference.
The promiscuos behavior she attributed to me was the fact that at 14, I was not a virgin. I had slept with a boy who was 18. When everyone found out, no one stopped to ask how I felt. No one made sure I was safe, no one took me to the doctor. I was screamed at, told that I should have been smarter. That I was a liar. That I had disappointed God, my family. That I was shameful, disgraceful. They were furious that I refused to file a police report for statutory rape. I didn’t see it as an assault then, I didn’t see it as rape. I didn’t understand that I was a child and he was an adult, because I didn’t feel like a child. I didn’t think that the fact that I wanted to say no but didn’t would matter. The fact that I cried and he ignored it. The fact that he kicked me out after and made me walk through a dangerous neighborhood alone at 3 am. I thought because I had kissed him, I had made the decision to sneak out, that I had given the full consent for him to do whatever he wanted to me.
One of my close friend’s parents still don’t know to this very day that she was sexually assaulted by both her uncle and her brother. They don’t know that she never felt comfortable with her body because of it. They don’t know that it took the fun out of any high school relationships for her. They have no idea that she was chronically molested and even raped once by the men who were supposed to take care of her, and keep her safe. If they did know, would they even care? It was so long ago, and you have to keep up appearances in a small town. Would they believe her? The thought of it makes me sick to my stomach. Remembering all the times I held her as she cried because her body felt foreign, disgusting even. All the times I saw her be forced to sit next to her uncle at a family dinner, the way she cringed away from him.
One of my family members was molested in my house, while I was in another room and I didn’t even realize it. A little girl that we were all friends with had come over for a sleepover. An adult caught her in the bathroom with my family member, years younger than her, with her pants down. She told her that they were playing a game called “touch the tee tee.” I was a child, there was nothing I could have done. But I stop and think sometimes, what if an adult hadn’t intervened?
Another of my best friends was raped by his father as a young boy. He had an incredibly hard time with it, especially in his teenage years. He felt guilty, thinking he had ruined the marriage for his mother. There was as since of guilt that he sent his own father to prison. The fear in his eyes when he told me he had to see him at a funeral haunts me even now. Or how tears streamed down his face as he explained to me how badly he had wanted to punch him for what he did to him when he saw him…
We live in a society where people still think rape and molestation are things to joke about. Victims are still judged and blamed by those who have sworn and have a duty to protect them. Men who were raped are shamed, invalidated, and even made fun of. Our world likes to focus on the good things that these people had done before, making something so life altering for the victim seen as something small. “It was one time, they made one mistake, should they have to lose their freedom for that?” Yes, they should. Why should a rapist get to return to a normal life when their victim can’t look in the mirror anymore without crying. Why should they get to be happy when the person they touched is afraid of leaving their home? It’s infuriating, and sickening. We need to stand up for victims, and make a real change. Rape is not a joke. Molestation is not a joke. Touching another person against their will is not a “lapse of judgement” or a “mistake.” It is a serious offense, and should be treated as such for EVERY perpetrator.