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Like so many, I am a victim of sexual abuse. I was abused by my father at the age of 2. Some family members know this, not by my telling them, and not even a handful of my closest friends know; they are the ones I trusted to tell. I’ve never told anyone else. I know so many people that were sexually abused, mostly by family members, and their stories are heartbreaking and too commonplace. Though I always had nightmares about what happened to me and assumed something was wrong with me for having such dreams, it wasn’t until I was 26 that these dreams were confirmed as reality. This was when I told a couple of friends and one of my sisters. It made so much sense; I was able to reconcile so much of my behavior, thoughts, and those horrid dreams as the manifestation of that evil and how it impacted me throughout my life to that point. In the years since, I have tried to examine my thoughts and behaviors to see if they are related to this and acknowledge them for what they are: reactions that I simply can’t help. The recent #metoo brought so much more of this to light. Don’t get me wrong, I think about what happened nearly every day yet seeing #metoo plastered across my Facebook timeline and on the news was revolting and heartbreaking. I’ve been able to talk more and more about what happened to me via simply references and asides, but I felt that this was the time to come out and share my story.

I’m not going to share details I remember as I don’t want to know them so I know my friends and family don’t either. The most painfully obvious repercussion of what happened to me is that I don’t trust men. With very few exceptions, every male I’ve ever encountered has been a signal to my body and mind to be afraid and anything but trusting. Every. Single. Male. There are only a few exceptions to this: my godfather, my son’s godfather, my son’s godmother’s father, my high school band director, my high school percussion instructor, my ex-husband, my brother in law, my living uncle, my late grandfather, and my current boyfriend. That’s it. Ten men out of how many in my 35 years? These are the only males that I have trusted and not assumed wanted to assault me in some way. Think about that. Every male I encounter, to this day, I assume wants to assault me sexually and is not to be trusted because of what happened to me when I was two. It took me a long time to realize that’s what was happening when I’d back away from a group of friends that included guys, when I’d shy away from even shaking a man’s hand upon meeting him, and when I’d go out of my way to avoid even being alone in an elevator with a man. There’s nothing special that these ten men did, but they are significant. They are the only ones that I’ve seen around children and not wondered about their motives in doing so. They are the only ones I have been able to hug and not feel creeped out or forced to when I do so. Ten in 35 years.

Because I am aware of this reaction to men, I have improved greatly and don’t assume every single dude is a predator. It still happens most of the time, but there are now more than ten men whom I trust and am not afraid of. Sadly, I have to get past the fear more often than not to see the decent guy in front of me yet these are always men that knows one of the men I mentioned above. If they are strangers, then I am afraid. Every time.

On one of my trips home while I was in the Army, my godfather picked me up from the airport. It was one of my first visits home and the longest I’d been away from home to that point. He hugged me so tight and kissed the top of my head. I remember tears in his eyes. I knew he missed me and was overjoyed to have me home, if only for a couple of days. Yet I felt myself back away after a minute or so. I was thrilled to see him; this man was my father figure growing up and continues to be a compass for what a good, decent man should be. I can only hope to raise my son in his likeness. I couldn’t understand why I pulled away and worse, I hoped he hadn’t noticed. It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized I pulled away because the reality of what happened to me was confirmed only a month before. I pulled away because I felt lost and confused. I felt unsafe. This is confusing to this day as my godfather is someone with whom I feel safe and trust every second I’m around him. But at that moment, I was uncomfortable and afraid. All because of what happened to me when I was two. My reaction to seeing my favorite person in the world was tarnished because of the confirmation of what happened to me and my anger at the person that assaulted me will never diminish for this.

My point isn’t just to share a sad story and be done with it. I doubt I’ll ever be done with it though I wish I could. Every time the Harvey Weinsteins are on the news I feel sick to my stomach. I can’t watch some shows and movies if I know any sexual violence is in them. Now, imagine my reaction when an admitted sexual predator was elected President of the United States.

I was in the drumline in high school. I heard a lot of talk that was exactly what I still expect from 14–18 year old dudes. Yet not one time did anything I heard resemble sexual assault. This also holds true for my time in drum corps and the Army. It’s interesting that I work(ed) and played in male-dominated fields given my lack of trust and assumptions about men. It’s probably why I attempted to develop a cold exterior and pushed guys away from wanting to be my friend in high school; I was trying to protect myself. So, the locker room talk defense is wasted on me as I find it a way to excuse behavior that I have experienced. It diminishes this experience and every #metoo user. I heard many a perverted joke in my time in various drumlines and while in the army; I laughed and shared some I knew, but none of them were related to sexual assault. However, I also recognize that I was a female in a male-dominated world and was therefore never privy to what locker room talk may actually be. However, I believe that men don’t admit to sexual assault and joke about it; sexual predators do. Add to this a list of victims crying out for people to hear and believe them and we have a societal problem; we are all complicit in furthering the rape culture. We need look no further than the Oval Office and athletes that we continue to watch after their rape trials are settled to see this as fact. It isn’t just locker room talk, it’s sexual assault and harassment.

Sexual harassment and assault is a systemic problem, the #metoo was a great way to highlight this reality. If we excuse it for one individual, then it paves the way for someone else to do it. If Weinstein is wrong, then so is Trump. If we allow one to go unpunished, then we are saying that those victims don’t matter. What is the catalyst for punishment if some sexual predators get fired or go to jail and others get the job or never get prosecuted? For the life of me, I can’t reconcile this discrepancy.

Imagine what our social media would look like if the #metoo was used by every person that has felt victimized because of the color of their skin or their religion? These are also systemic problems. For all those that saw #metoo and finally understood that sexual harassment and assault is an everyday occurrence, perhaps they could also see that racial harassment and assault are real, everyday occurrences as well. We must understand our different perspectives and put ourselves in the shoes of others in order to hear their cries for help. Privilege exists whether we want to admit it or not. It doesn’t matter to whom you’re speaking, it is there. To erase it, we must all admit its existence and work to end it…together. My experience has afforded me the ability to see the dark side of privilege and to see other forms of privilege at work in our society. My hope is that you, the reader, may see this and begin to recognize (if you don’t already), that everyone has a story. Everyone has a perspective and a way for acting the way they do. Everyone deserves to be treated with the same equality that we wish for ourselves. We all deserve to be heard, believed, and for steps to be taken to ensure there will be no more voices because the systemic issues will have been eradicated.