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Friday, November 27, 2020

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Friday, October 4, 2013

It happened over a year ago. 

It took another month to realize I had been raped, another 3 months to begin processing it. That’s nothing compared to 8 months before I could talk to anyone about it.

Because my rape wasn’t violent, it wasn’t a stranger. It was a night in a college dorm room where I wasn’t heard when I said no, I was too scared to make noise and attract any attention. To have to explain how I got into this situation, a night where everything happened too fast to react to before it was over.

“You don’t want this to end here, do you?” 

But I did.

I hate that I didn’t say more, louder, fight back. I hate that I kept it to myself for eight months because I was too ashamed to go to anyone, too scared to talk about it, because once it’s aloud, it’s real. I hate that I didn’t have the courage to confront him, to tell him that I consider him a rapist when he probably sees me as “that Bitch that led him on.”

He contacted me for half a year afterwards. That’s half a year to confront him about that night. Six months of chances I didn’t take. It’s a full year for him to do this to someone else. That’s hard to get over, I’m not sure I ever will.

That night in Fall 2012 taught me how dangerous the world is. It’s the night that causes me to walk at night with a can of pepper spray in one hand and my keys Wolverined in the other. Even though if I were really in a serious situation, neither of these will be of much use. At least now I can even walk alone from Morrison to Davis at 8 pm on a well lit street without inducing a full on panic attack.

That night has made me so paranoid about my surroundings that when I had the opportunity to spend 3.5 weeks in Bangkok, the number one tourist destination in the world, I spent a total of 5 nights out of the dorms past 10. Of which only two were spent in the actual city. Because Bangkok might be a tourist hotspot, but it’s also #1 in sex trafficking, a threat that all of a sudden seems much more tangible.

There are nights I wake up in a panic wondering if what I had experienced was really rape or if it’s a sick, desperate, ploy for attention. That the identity that has been forced upon me, the one that I’ve been slaving away to accept is completely artificial. Because no matter how many times I remind myself that mainstream media’s definition of rape is limited, that bruises and scars aren’t necessary to be violated, it doesn’t stick. 

I’ve lost friends because of this. Friends that I loved for years that couldn’t understand what I went through and why all of a sudden I acted so differently. Friends that simply didn’t want to hear it.

But I’ve also become so much closer to many other people. People willing to buy pregnancy tests at 8 on a Wednesday morning to help me deal with my paranoia, Friends that were okay with me showing up at their door unannounced and sitting in their rooms for hours without any explanation. People who still sit me down and remind me constantly that it wasn’t my fault, that I’m worth something, friends that insist on walking me home even though it’ll add an extra twenty minutes to their own commute. 

Many terrible things happened that night in Fall 2012, but I’m sick of obsessing over them. Sick of the nervous ticks that appear every time I try to tell this story, the fear that I’ll be rejected for what has happened to me. 

I’m done with it. I’m done being a victim. I’m tired of living in fear of a memory and an overactive imagination that has constructed each and every way I can be taken advantaged of. I’m fortunate enough to have the support of some of the beautiful people in the world, and this really strange sense of empowerment, the knowledge that I can face anything because I’ve already been through one of the most terrifying things that can happen to a person. I’ve seen evidence of my own healing. The anxiety isn’t nearly as bad as before. I’m learning to control it. Fall 2012 is a sick place to draw strength from, but better me than him. It’s been a year. I’m ready for change. 
I honestly have no idea when the molestation started but I didn't realize what was happening until I was in High School. I remember always noticing something was off, like my closet light being on when I woke up in the morning and knowing that it wasn't on when I went to sleep. Then I would wake up and he would be in my room just staring at me. I would tell my mom about it and she would talk to him about it. I noticed a hole in my shower that could be peered in to. Then one night I woke up to him pulling the covers off of me and I knew. I knew that everything I had been feeling in my gut was right, I finally had the proof I needed. I went to my mom and other people who I felt were supposed to protect me. My mom said that he had denied it so vehemently that I must have dreamed it.
After that I couldn't sleep. I swear that if someone so much as touched my doorknob I would wake up. It got to where I couldn't handle people touching me, even a pat on the arm would freak me out. I would sleep under my sheets with them safety pinned to the bed around me so that there was no way he could touch me. I begged and begged my mom for a new door knob that locked and for my birthday one year I finally got it. I started to feel safe again. I could sleep through the night. Then I noticed the lock pin missing from my door. So I started using the handle of a small paint brush to lock my door. I didn’t realize how good he was at picking locks. I woke up to him grabbing me, I yelled and started crying. 
He tried to comfort me.
I asked him why he did it.
He told me I had a nightmare.
My mom came in. 
The next day I came home from school with a deadbolt on my door. I cried. I cried with a relief that I cannot describe.
And I slept.
Though knowing that I was safe, I feared for future girls, future victims. I wondered at what my responsibility was to these nameless girls who did not yet exist, but could. I felt that I could not get my true justice, being that my own attacker was a member of my family. A family that I was unwilling to test and see on whose side they would stand. My biggest fear is that he would be able to take all that was good from me. 
I am lucky that shortly after I left home my abuser was arrested for a victimless crime and is now a registered sex offender. Now he will be required to let people know who his truly is and what he is capable of wherever he goes. 
So now my work begins on the other parts of me he twisted. I wish I could say he was the only one who twisted me, but that would be a lie as there has been another since. I have to learn to trust people. I have to develop a comfort with my sexuality instead of fear. I have to learn to not be afraid of what is in the dark. But I do know that I never wanted or asked for any abuse I have received, just as no woman ever has. We are not just the victims of these abusers; we are the victims of a society that perpetuates a dialogue that females should be on constant guard from every possible threat, even while sleeping and that if something happens then we didn’t have a good enough guard up. We are victims of a society that perpetuates sex as a valuable rite of passage for manhood and as a woman’s disgrace. 
I pray that one day I can walk down the street without purposefully avoiding groups of men and that one day catcalls won’t make me want to vomit. I pray that one day everyone will truly understand the damage done through sexual abuse. Whether that abuse is violent, brief, seemingly gentle or lasts for years, it is abuse and will take much longer to recover from than the time it took to inflict it.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

I’ve been thinking about what men I identify as perpetrators of violence against me and what the process of identifying them as such entails. For a long time I identified one man, the most obvious, as my perpetrator, identifying him as such made sense because of the extent of his violence, and it took me just a couple months after breaking up with him to admit to myself in full what he had done and what I had understood was going on for around a year—rape, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and verbal abuse. The year after leaving him- the only “romantic” partner I’d ever been with- consisted of vulnerable, damaged, lost me trying to find my way, to gain control over my body, to find happiness and myself somewhere. And looking back, to my horror, I am faced with a handful of other men who I met after I left my “main perpetrator” who fit the same category—maybe “perpetrator,” maybe not, but regardless men who have seen my body as a field for conquest ripe for the taking, who have looked at me and seen not a human being with feelings and a history and passion and a hell of a lot of drive, but a little girl who they want to fuck who dare not challenge their right to her body.

I went to a club with a couple girlfriends and a man came up to me and started hitting on me. He was slurring and whispering in my ear. I couldn’t understand him because he was so drunk. He looked like he might have been in his mid 20s. I was 18. He asked me for my number and when I told him I didn’t give it out he got angry and kept insisting, so I gave it to him. He texted me constantly for the next week. He told me I was beautiful, the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen, and that he loved me. I was mortified and got sick to my stomach. I didn’t know how to make him stop. He sent me pictures of himself masturbating and told me that he wanted to tie me up and masturbate to the sounds of me struggling to get free. He told me to come have a sleepover with him. I told him he sounded like a rapist and that I didn’t want to talk to him. He threatened to drive to me and find me. I was horrified, but I knew he didn’t know where I lived. Finally, when I stopped protesting, when I stopped responding, he stopped contacting me. 
I’ve never told this to anyone. How could I? It was my fault. I gave him my number. I shouldn’t have ever texted him back. I should have told him I was calling the police. But I didn’t. It was all my fault. The amount of shame and guilt I feel by even writing this story down is enough to keep me glued in my bed, to make me cry, to make me wonder how, even after being raped more times than I can remember by a man I trusted, I gave another man access to me who wanted to do the same thing.

Another night, another club, this time in [______]. I’m with another abusive man and his girlfriend. A stranger gives me [a drug] and I take it because he’s with his girlfriend and therefore has no incentive to drug and rape me. I start hanging out with a girl who I think is cute. She’s nice and we talk and stand around and smoke together. Then a man comes up to me and starts hitting on me. He says I’m the most beautiful girl there that night, he says he wants to dance with me. He offers me some white powder he says is molly but I’m skeptical because he’s with his brother and neither of them will leave me alone, keep following me everywhere I walk. I say no thanks and he gets mad, says “How dare you think I’m gonna drug you,” he gets offended but won’t leave me alone. He follows me around all night. The other girl says he’s cute, you should hang out with him. But I don’t want to, and I think she’s cute, not him, but he keeps following me and won’t leave me alone. I am so mad because I want to dance and have fun without this guy bothering me and making me uncomfortable and scared. He asks me for my number, he says that I should go back with him. I say no. He says if I give him my number he will leave me alone to hang out with my friends. I give him my number and he walks away and immediately texts me, he says I’m beautiful and sexy and he wants to take me back to his hotel. He walks by with an opened bottle of something and offers it to me. I don’t drink it because I think he’s probably put the white powder he showed me earlier in it. He gets offended again.

I’m at a party in an apartment on campus. Everyone is really drunk. I’m about at black out level and I’m crying about something or another. A guy I recognize comes up to me and takes my hand. I’m getting ready to leave the party and walk home. He takes my hand and tries to lead me to a bedroom a few feet away. My friend says “She’s too drunk!” and takes me out the door.

Walking down Franklin Street, arms full of grocery bags. Man on the street: “Need any help with that, sugar?” “No, I’m good.” “I bet you are.” Laughter.

None of this is as bad as being raped every couple days. None of this is that bad at all. It should be expected when you’re a girl, and I should know better than to put myself in such dangerous situations. That’s why these men aren’t perpetrators.


Enter the first man I had “consensual” sex with. Looking back, I know that right after coming out of a year of sexual and emotional abuse I was in no way ready or prepared to give full/true consent to sex, but because I did consent, it wasn’t rape (and truly, even though the man turned out to be violent emotionally and verbally, it was nothing like rape). I couldn’t believe this guy liked me. My abusive boyfriend told me I was ugly, that I shouldn’t wear too much makeup because it made me look slutty, that my clothes were outrageous, so I just wore jeans and t-shirts most of the time. But I wasn’t dating him anymore—I had left him because of the abuse—and this new guy, this guy who is actually attractive and has somewhat functional social skills actually likes me?! It was crazy. I couldn’t believe it. So when he made it clear he wanted to have sex, I was game. And that went on for a while, even though he called me a slut, even though he made fun of me and used me and treated me like shit and made rape jokes and treated my history as a rape survivor as nothing serious. But then I found out he had a girlfriend, and when I was honest with her about what he’d been doing (he was sleeping with a bunch of other women too), he lost it. He threatened me. He sent me hundreds of angry text messages, saying the worst things imaginable—things so similar to what my rapist had said to me. Saying I was worthless and a slut and that I was a terrible person, all because I refused to lie about what he had done. Because I dared challenge his power. I dared to defy him. He told me he hoped my rapist found a way to hurt me. 

How could I let it happen to me again? What is it about me? Is there something about me that makes me a target for these men? Am I ugly and therefore an easy target? Am I beautiful and therefore have to deal with men trying to get a piece of me? Or is this normal? Does this happen to every woman and we’re all just afraid to talk about it? Was I a slut, like they said I was? Was I wrong to be honest about the types of men they were—to call them out on what they did? 

I wish I knew the answer.
I've found that people don't enjoy hearing these stories. They don't like hearing that I was molested by my uncle. They don't like hearing that I was drugged and raped upon entering college, and that I vaguely remember the experience. And they certainly don't like hearing that I have flashbacks to those events throughout my daily life, at night, during exams, while talking to friends, while cuddling with boyfriends…



You see, we live in a society where rape is the victims fault. "How many boys have you slept with?" "Were you intoxicated?" or my personal favorite: "Are you sure you said no?"



I was a freshman in high school in March of 2008 when my uncle began touching me. He snuck into my room at night, he pretended to tickle me, and he was doing it to my cousin, too. He would lay beside me and rub his erect penis on my thigh… He would grab and fondle my breast and vaginal areas. This continued until September of 2008. In December of that year, my cousin spoke out about it. Until then, the only people who knew were my best friend and my boyfriend. Nobody else. Long story short, word got back to my father who insisted we press charges. So we did.



Everything after that was a blur. All of the questions. All of the trial dates. All of the appearances. Two things stand out in my mind: the detective saying my uncle was preparing me for rape.. and the judge saying “guilty.”



I testified for over an hour. Question after question. Having to tell every gruesome detail with my grandmother, mother, father, two uncles, two aunts, and three younger cousins all in the courtroom. I had to listen to my uncles and aunts and cousins testify against me. I had to watch my mother silently cry as I recapped how he would touch me. I had to comfort my father as to prevent him from committing a homicide. And I had to watch my uncle walk out of the courtroom after just being found guilty of two counts of sexual battery. You see, the way the law works, since he did not ever make skin to skin contact, he was granted a PJC. Meaning it is no longer on his record, and he suffered no consequences other than a pat on the hand.



He friend requested me on facebook a couple weeks later. He left voicemails on my phone during trial season. He would text my father requesting we drop the charges. And end the end he was granted a PJC because the judge didn’t want me to have to go to a higher level of court. I was diagnosed with chronic PTSD, and quit going to therapy after I asked my pastor for prayers and he responded with “this is something you should be ashamed of. Don’t tell anybody else.” So I didn’t speak of it again. To anybody. Until now. 



He gets to go on with his life and I am left with nightmares and daily reminders of what happened. He won. I don’t feel like a survivor because he killed so much of me with a simple touch. Maybe one day I’ll be able to let my boyfriend tickle me. Maybe one day I’ll be able to cuddle. Maybe one day it won’t freak me out for someone to randomly touch my arm or leg. Maybe one day I will sleep for more than 2 hours without waking up from a nightmare. Maybe one day he will disappear from my memory. Maybe one day I’ll be able to talk to those with the same name as his. Maybe one day I’ll be able to look my mother in the eyes without remembering the pain I caused her. Maybe one day I’ll be able to visit my father’s home again, a place I haven’t been since the abuse because it’s too painful to sleep in that bed and sit on that couch and cuddle under those blankets. Maybe one day…. 



But tonight I will lie down. I will silently cry until I can stay awake no longer. I will again try to convince myself that it wasn’t my fault. I will wake up often, sweaty, crying, trying to escape. I will realize that my nightmares are based off of reality. And tomorrow I will put on a smile and walk around as if nothing is wrong, only to have memories of him touching me pervading through my brain. 



I am numb… I am broken… But I will not be silent any longer.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

My sophomore year of high school, I was sexually assaulted. The odd thing about this incident is that I didn’t even realize it until I got to college. At a youth group dance in Charlotte, I was dancing with a boy. The things I remember about him are that he was an obnoxious kid and very drunk that night. All of a sudden, he deliberately put both of his hands on my boobs. I immediately moved his hands away but I’m pretty sure I didn’t say anything. At the end of the song, I grabbed my friend’s hand and quickly walked away, commenting how weird and annoying that was. But, I danced with that kid until the end of the song. After he had essentially groped me. 

The reason I didn’t remember this happening wasn’t because my brain blocked it out due to extreme psychological distress. I simply forgot about it because it really didn’t have any major effect on me. 

This is my third time attending SpeakOut, and every year, I debate whether or not to submit this story. I have previously and repeatedly decided against it because it doesn’t even compare to the pain shared by the other survivors of rape and repeated sexual abuse that submit to this blog. However, I finally decided that my story is important. 

Now, as a passion feminist and advocate for survivors of all forms of sexual and interpersonal violence, I wish that I had become angry at this boy. I wish that I had turned around and yelled at him. I wish that I had yelled for everyone to hear, and I wish that he had become so embarrassed that he never touched anyone inappropriately again, and I wish that I had talked to my fellow chapter of girls about it later. 

The reason that these things didn’t happen was because I didn’t know it was that bad. Annoying and inappropriate, yes, but not bad enough to warrant the label “sexual assault.” I didn’t realize that this one incident reflected the power dynamics between men and women, and that observers would probably blame alcohol or my low-cut dress for his inability to control his sexual urges. I am upset at myself that I, as a smart, confident, and educated teenager, didn’t recognize the oppression acting directly upon me. I am upset that high school students, especially in a youth group setting that is highly-educated about topics such as alcohol abuse, HIV/AIDS, homelessness, and body image, are not educated about sexual assault prevention and support for survivors. I am upset that we are socialized to think that behavior like boob-grabbing and cat-calling is okay under the excuse that it’s just “guys being guys.” 

I now realize that it’s important to speak out even against seemingly insignificant incidents like mine, because if they go unnoticed and unacknowledged, violence is perpetuated in our society. If we educate our world, and especially young people, about sexual and interpersonal violence, talk back to individuals who commit these acts, and empower survivors to share their stories, eventually we can stop these incidents from happening.
I wasn't raped -- or at least I don't like to think I was. I have told myself for years that I wasn't. What happened to me was something that I didn't consent to, but I hesitate to call it rape because I feel like what happened to me wasn't worthy of being called rape. Perhaps sexual assault is a better word for what happened (not to say that sexual assault is in any way lesser than rape, but what I mean is that I feel my experience better fits the definition of sexual assault). Continuous, on going, non-consented sexual assault.

He first started paying attention to me during my 8th grade year. I was 13. He was known as one of the most popular boys in school -- he was on the football team, flipped his hair around a lot, and had the most piercing blue eyes I've ever seen. I grew to hate those eyes.

In the spring of my 8th grade year, he asked me to be his girlfriend. He told me that there were lots of girls he could date, but that he "chose me" -- almost as if I had no say in it. I was young, inexperienced -- I had never dated anyone before. I had never kissed anyone before. I had never been touched before. I had never been forced to touch before.

I was told that he was too good for me. He was handsome, popular, everyone wanted him -- I was just the girl who was smart, kind of nerdy, and wasn't "pretty enough" to be with someone like him. And to be honest, I believed most of the things I was told, both by him and by my classmates. I never felt very pretty, or even very smart. I couldn't understand why anyone would ever be interested in me, but I didn't want to say any of this because I was "lucky" to be with a guy like him. I was told to count my blessings while I still had them.

We stayed together for a few years. For the first year or so, he was my backbone. I was a blossoming teenager overwhelmed by hormones and my own conflicting emotions and beliefs. I hated myself, but he never seemed to hate me. At least, he never told me he hated me. I guess I'll never quite know if he did or not.

About a year and a half into our relationship, things started to change. I was 15 and still felt pretty damn lucky to be with a guy like him -- up to this point, he had been the model boyfriend. My friends liked him, my family loved him, and he genuinely seemed to care about me -- or so I thought. I never really questioned his motives for anything he did, because I always felt inferior to him. The cool kid/nerd stereotype dominated our relationship, so I never felt that it was my place to stand up to him. Over anything.

At 15 (he was 16 at the time), he started telling me how attractive I was, but in a way much different than before. Words like "beautiful" and "pretty" turned into "sexy" and "bangable". I noticed this change, but again, I never felt that it was my place to question it. I didn't want to upset him.

Soon after, I noticed he wanted to spend more and more time in his room. "I just want to cuddle", he'd say. He'd always make sure his door was shut and locked because he "didn't want anyone to take a second of time he had with me away from him." Again, I didn't question it. This continued for awhile before he proposed, "maybe we should cuddle naked." I wasn't comfortable with my body, nor was I comfortable with him seeing it. I was 15, and I knew I had no business being naked in front of a boy I didn't want to be naked in front of. For awhile, he listed to my "no's" and "not now's", but this didn't last long. Suddenly, my "no's" weren't nearly enough.

He never saw anything wrong in what he did. To him, it wasn't wrong that he'd pull at my shirt, sometimes popping threads and leaving me fearful that my mother would notice the small tears in the seams of my clothing. He didn't think it was wrong that he'd grab my hands, forcefully holding one over his ever-present erection and holding the other away so I couldn't resist. Sometimes he'd let me have a hand free, but it never did me much good. I told him I didn't want to, but he'd always unzip his pants anyways. "This is what people do when they're in love," he'd say. "You love me, don't you?"

As ashamed as I am to say it, I did love him. He had been so good to me, or so I had convinced myself. I wanted to let it go and forgive him the first time he told me that I should give him a blowjob because "all of his friend's girlfriends gave them to their boyfriends." I tried to forget it when the second time, he held my head down and told me I was "doing so good," as I struggled to catch a breath. I tried to resist time and time again and he broke me down and turned my no's into yes's, convincing me that it was what people did when they were in love.

And I felt that I had to. Because we were in love, right?

This lasted until shortly after my 17th birthday. Even then, it took me quite a while after our breakup to realize that what he was doing wasn't right. Even when it was happening, I knew it wasn't okay, but I felt defenseless. Any "no" I had was protested until I simply couldn't fight any longer. I never consented, but at a certain point, I couldn't fight. I was tired of hearing the seams of my shirts pop, the buttons on my shirts coming loose from all the tugging, the constant "but if you loved me..."'s. At a certain point, one becomes weak. I became weak. And I just couldn't fight anymore.

So really, I don't think what happened to me was rape. At least I don't like to think it was. But I do know that I never consented to what happened. I never asked to have my shirts ripped, to struggle to breath, to have to taste his foul cum as he told me how much he loved me. I can't tell you how many times I've cried over everything that happened. I can't tell you how hard it's been to let myself love again, or to trust that someone actually might love me, and not just want to take advantage of me. I can't tell you how often I've struggled with the concept that sometimes, even saying "no" wasn't enough to stop what happened.

I really don't know how to understand what happened to me. At 19, I still don't feel like I can fully comprehend the depths of why it happened and why my "no"'s never seemed to be enough. 

But what I do know is that I pray it never happens to anyone else.