With everyone divulging their own sexual assault stories because of recent revelations, I figured I would share my experiences as well. If not now, when?
As a tiny girl of five, six, seven, maybe eight years old, I didn’t even know what was happening. All I did know was that I didn’t like being held against my will, being confined by someone bigger and stronger. It wasn’t funny. He was laughing but I wasn’t. The pleading language. “Come here. Please. Pretty please. Just for a minute. Just come sit on my lap. I’m gonna cry if you don’t.” He would hold me tight. Tighter. Tighter. Until whatever it was that was pressing against me would hurt — my leg, my hip. I thought it was his belt buckle. Why would he be rubbing his belt buckle against me? I knew it would leave a bruise and sometimes it did. To me he was just being my friend’s older brother trying to torture me. It was like a game of See How Long It Takes To Piss Paige Off. That’s what I thought he was doing. Boys were mean and they liked picking on little girls. I knew that. I never thought to tell my parents. Why? Would they even do anything about it? He was just being a typical boy pestering a little kid. No harm, right? It never went any further than that … that I remember. But am I remembering everything? I wonder. I believe it happened a handful of times. But did it? Is that all? Weirdly enough, I never even thought about it during my childhood and my teens. I was in my 20s and one day, one moment in one day, like a flash of light, I remembered. It was as if the sea had parted, the clouds rolled back, and a veil had been lifted. There it was. That boy who lived in my neighborhood had assaulted me, an innocent little girl. It made me physically sick when I finally realized what had actually happened, what had gone on in that house, in those rooms, right under his parents’ noses, with other family members around. How did I not know? More importantly, how did they? These were the ’70s in super rural Louisiana. If there was any acknowledgment, it was more along the lines of “Stop aggravating her!” because maybe they thought he was just bored and wanted to pick on me, that skinny, short little girl, because that’s one way society taught teenage boys to feel superior. Or maybe they knew full well what he was doing. I don’t know. I spent many nights at their house. I loved the women in that family. I felt safe there … until that would happen. But I always went back. I would forget about it or push it way down in my memory and go back. Why in the hell would I go back?
I wish I could say that this was the only time something like this happened to me. In school there was groping in the hallways or on the back stairs, boys grabbing crotches when they were in front of you and asses when they were behind you. It was all so fucking commonplace and accepted. Most girls endured these assaults and said nothing to no one, not even each other. No one ever told me that I didn’t have to put up with it. Boys will be boys. You know how they are. God bless the incoming awful ’80s fashion and baggy, oversized shirts. They made you feel a little less exposed. Didn’t slow those boys down, though. They were relentless as fucking honey badgers.
Later came the blurry lines of consensual versus non-consensual sex. What will he think if I say no? I’ve already let him go this far. Or how many times would I have to say no before HE SAID we could stop? How much force would I have to use to push him off before he would consider me rude and stop liking me? If I say no, will he ask me out again? My thinking was: I would not be called a tease. Not me. Better to go through with it and hate it than be called a tease I so naively thought. Silly girl. Tsk. Tsk.
As an adult, I once went on a date with a guy with whom I had been friends for a couple of years. Evidently, he took the opportunity to show a different side to his personality because this was not the person I had known for the past couple of years. Seriously, it was a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde situation. After a horrible night of sexist comments and verbal and physical unwanted advances, he cornered me in my own house as I was trying to show him out — each arm cornering me against two walls — his face really close to mine and said, “I could do whatever I want, you know, and you couldn’t do a thing about it.” He left. I was lucky. I had many sleepless nights after that. I constantly looked over my shoulder for weeks. I was afraid. I lived in fear that he would make good on his threat. That feeling subsided over time; however, the memory is crystal clear.
Women are not shocked that men do these things. We’ve been putting up with it our whole lives (a lot of times in silence). Women are shocked that the rest of the world is shocked. How could you not know this happens? As a child, through adolescence, and into adulthood I’ve endured unwanted advances by men in one form or another. I think many women can tell many versions of this same story. Since women (and some men) began telling their stories last week, it got me thinking a lot about the sexual harassment and sexual assault in my past and how it affected my personality, the decisions I made or didn’t make, how I felt about myself, and how all of it shaped me into the woman I am today, this very moment. It also made me feel like I wasn’t alone. I am brave. You are brave. I am strong. You are strong.