In the Fall of 2017, the #metoo movement was at peak. I watched countless news articles, social media posts and in-person conversations tell their personal stories. However, I hesitated admitting to #metoo for so many reasons. One being fears of folks saying, “That’s drama” or “She shouldn’t talk about that. It’s private,” or “Facebook really isn’t the place,” and mostly fear for my safety. But in my heart, I wanted to add my voice.
The weeks of #metoo were horrible, sad, frustrating and opened up a lot of old wounds for me. So much so, that I found myself wanting everyone to shut up about it – and that was the moment I knew that I had to speak up, too, and I wrote out my story. Yet, I still delayed. Then, Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney said, “It’s never too late to speak up.” It took me three weeks, but I did.
I was raped, sexually assaulted and continuously abused within a former relationship. So, you might think it wasn’t that bad because I knew my offender, right? Not right. I’m going to be graphic now because it needs to be said. Aside from forced traditional intercourse on one occasion (imagine saying no, stop, and being pinned down by someone twice your size), I was forced into performing (if you could call it that) oral sex in the aftermath of a seizure. Helpless and defenseless – blurry eyed – frozen – depleted of any energy to put up a fight, his fingers wedged in the joints of my jaw. Minutes prior, I’d felt my face crumpling in, body on fire, breathless – in one of my worst seizures ever. I was disoriented, totally confused. Why did he hug me, then yell at me, then assault me? I was choking and thinking I might die. That was the worst part, right? Not right. What’s worse was making the petrifying leap to get away from this man who was threatening my life on a daily basis, while loved ones and friends (knowing of his offenses) continued to invite him to events and gatherings. I was even laughed at by someone I deeply respected when I asked her to keep my new address a secret. As recently as a year ago, I was scoffed at and told, “Ugh, I don’t even want to hear about that” when I mentioned the assault. I lost a relationship with a family member for many years because she refused to exclude my offender. Her husband even looked him up on visits to our town, asking about him as recently as 2016. Why? I will never know. But it decimated me. It took me finally looking people in the eye and saying, “Hey, this guy sexually assaulted me,” for them to wake up.
People wonder why I stayed in the first place. A female co-worker said, “If a woman stays in an abusive relationship, it’s her own fault. She deserves what she gets.” I stayed because the lives of my family members were threatened regularly. I was told he’d “break in their windows at night, slit their fucking throats and watch them bleed to death. And it will be your [my] fault.” Later I was told that he would shoot me in the head, snap my neck and no matter where I ended up in life, he would find me and do awful, horrific things to me which I still can’t say out loud.
In my heart, I have forgiven him in order to move on. I have forgiven the people who didn’t support me. But they’re proof that we MUST listen to survivor’s stories. We MUST respect them. We MUST NOT re-expose them to their offenders. We MUST NOT prioritize our own discomfort or how it will affect us or our group dynamic. If one is accused of abuse, sexual or otherwise, we MUST address it. In addition, we MUST protect our young ones. Not pressure them to kiss or hug anyone, even if it’s just a pose for a photo. It’s this ideology that leads them to believe they don’t have an option. It creates expectation. We MUST empower, give free choice. How about asking if they want a hi-five or hand shake instead?
We MUST NOT blame. In middle school I was sexually assaulted on my school bus over the course of multiple days by boys I counted as friends. 5 boys would pull me into a seat and grab my privates, put their hands in my pants, squeeze my breasts, whisper in my ears how much I liked it, threaten me, put their hands over my mouth and pin me to the seat. I finally got up the courage to tell, and a female “friend” wouldn’t come to my defense. She said I was asking for it. Said I must’ve wanted it because I hung out with those guys and sat with them every day. Yes, I’d thought I was just one of the guys at first…thought they were my friends. But “sat” with them after the first offense?! They forcibly pulled me into a seat and threatened me. Only one was expelled from the bus. None from school. Three of these boys apologized over the years…one through his significant other…and I accepted. But the girl on the bus never apologized. She made me feel responsible, dirty and ashamed…even giving me haughty looks as an adult.
On another occasion I had a partner push physical contact to the point of forceful because of his own insecurities. I’d basically been hit on in front of him, and I’m guessing he wanted to make sure I knew my place.
Yet, I had another partner who, when I once showed an ounce of hesitation, hugged me saying, “We don’t have to do anything. I never want you to do anything you don’t want to. Let’s just hang out. You want some ice cream?” That’s how you do it, folks. Perfect example. There are lots of good eggs out there and I celebrate that.
These weren’t my only experiences, but they are the ones that stick out. We need more of the standing up together, more talking about this, more open sharing. When the topic comes up, let’s try not to feel ashamed. To all the girls who said #metoo, who shared their stories, I thank you for your bravery. For all the ones who stay silent – whatever your reasons – I hear you, I see you, I love you.
And if you are one of the people whom I described in my first paragraph, then your problem with it, lies in you. Not me. Not others. You need to ask yourself why you believe these issues need to stay silent. Just ask yourself, “Why?”