Why would I add my voice to the swelling crowd of women who have experienced the trauma of sexual assault? Because I believe it’s important to stand in solidarity with the courageous women who have never before told their stories. I’ve made the decision that keeping quiet isn’t helping anyone.
My perpetrator is deceased. He died a few years ago at a relatively young age. Oddly, I felt nothing when I learned of his passing.
I know at the time, he thought nothing of what happened. Most guys don’t. That’s why they can’t remember years later. Because it’s nothing to them. But the women remember.
“The ax forgets. The tree remembers.” – African proverb
We’ve all heard the statistics, which are staggering. One in five women will be raped at some point in her life. In eight out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the person who sexually assaulted them. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 (National Sexual Violence Resource Center).
It all started with the damn high school prom. That ridiculously hyped event which has become, in our culture, not only a rite of passage, but a “pre-wedding” of sorts in terms of preparation and expense, especially for girls. It wasn’t that way when I was in high school, but it was still a big deal. And it became an even bigger deal if no one had ever asked you to prom. With my self-esteem and sense of worth already shaky at best, I allowed myself to feel even worse as the big event drew closer. When a favorite teacher of mine learned that I hadn’t been asked, she encouraged me to ask someone myself. I thought about it and decided to take her advice.
There was a kid on my bus who was kind of cute. He was two years younger than I was and in 10th grade, so I thought my chances of being turned down might be less. I worked up my courage and asked him. Flattered and surprised to be asked to the prom by a senior girl, he said yes, he’d go with me to the prom.
We had a nice time that evening. He was funny and seemed proud to be with me, which I lapped up. We started dating that summer.
It wasn’t long before he started pressuring me for sex. I was completely inexperienced and he seemed to know everything about it, including the fact that if I wasn’t interested, there was something seriously wrong with me. He made it abundantly clear that he not only wanted sex, but expected it, and if I wasn’t agreeable, his patience would soon run out and he’d be gone.
This was a guy who was proud to be with me and wanted me to be his girlfriend and date me exclusively, so I couldn’t risk losing him! He was very convincing when he said that sex is the most natural and wonderful act between two people. We often fought about it, which I hated, especially when I was clearly in the wrong, and probably even abnormal, as he suggested.
So I gave in. It was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. I cried and asked him to stop, but he wouldn’t. He kept going, telling me it would get better. If you’ve ever passed out, you know that your peripheral vision is the first to go. I lost my peripheral vision and saw stars on several occasions while begging him to please hurry because the pain was so intense I was afraid I would pass out. I kept thinking that each time would get easier, like he said it would, but somehow it never did. He’d get furious with me if I said I didn’t want to have sex. And he would never stop.
Believe me, the fact that I lost my virginity against my will does not make me unique. Far from it. Some might wonder why I didn’t report it. At that time, there was no term for date rape. The concept of sexual abuse was rarely talked about and statistics were virtually unknown to the general public. It never even occurred to me to report it. In my mind, there was nothing to report, except maybe that there was something wrong with ME.
After a traumatic and very painful summer that year, my relationship with that guy didn’t last much beyond my first few weeks of college in the fall. But the damage was extensive and would require years of therapy later to repair. Nowadays, I am passionate about building up young girls so that if they ever find themselves in a similar situation, they have the strength and self-possession to say “No!” and mean it. It’s why I’m so passionate about self-care, healthy boundaries, and listening to that gut instinct to protect oneself.
As more and more women tell their stories, I fear that we as a society may develop compassion fatigue and become numb to the trauma they’ve experienced. So many are already numb from the constant bombardment of the news cycle — crime, natural disasters, the daily shit-show in Washington, as well as whatever upheaval they’re dealing with in their own lives. But I hope that for the sake of our children, our daughters in particular, we start to rethink behavior and what messages we’re sending.