There’s never a good time to talk about it. You know, “it.” The “it” you don’t want to admit happened. The “it” you wished would go away. The “it” that makes you feel dirty or embarrassed. I have three to share.
Women most often are silenced and left feeling ashamed for being sexually assaulted. Even our own reactions to these circumstances are scrutinized and judged. These moments of guilt and shame lead us down a road of denial, dismissal and even debilitating fear. According to a story on Huffpost, “Every 98 seconds someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted. That means every single day more than 570 people experience sexual violence in this country.” And all I got to say about that is, me too.
I was 13 years old and at my friend’s house.
We were very close and her family had me over for sleepovers and dinner often. Sometimes over a span of days. One afternoon I arrived to her house after class before she did and her father was home. While in her bedroom waiting for her to come home, her father walked in and called out for me. I stood up and he approached me with his hands on my face. Without hesitation, he began kissing my neck and fondling my body. I stood frozen like a deer waiting for the speeding traffic to hit — helplessly frozen. It seemed like a horrible reaction to something so awful. I didn’t run or act out in violence. I didn’t scream or whisper, No. I stood there melting into the ground with confusion. In that moment, I was completely disconnected from reality. It didn’t feel good. It didn’t feel sexual. It didn’t make sense. Why was her father kissing me?
Later that year, I was 14 years old and at a party.
A girlfriend invited me to an older classmates house while his parents were out of town. I was excited to be hanging out with new friends. The crowd started drinking and at some point we were playing drinking games. I hadn’t really drank and it was one of the first times I remember consuming way too much. I was trying to keep up and apparently thought I was doing a great job. I was wrong. Looking back, I was way over my head and way past my bedtime. I drank so much, my friend ended up leaving me there. The guy who lived at the house started daring a few of us to do things. Somehow I ended up in his bedroom and he pushed me on the floor and pulled out his penis. He shoved it in my face. I tossed my face back and forth trying to suggest I wasn’t going near it. He pushed me still, even closer. I kept giving him a hard time and there was this back and forth as he pressed his penis into my face. He looked at me disappointedly. I remember saying, No but it meant nothing. Finally, he didn’t get the experience he was looking for and left the room. I felt dirty, sitting there on my knees, alone. Why was this student pressing his penis in my face?
Fast forward, I was 22 in a healthy and happy relationship with a man I love.
I was recommended a really great massage therapist by a coworker. They had been seeing him for years and suggested I had to go. It sounded amazing. I made an appointment but felt a little awkward since it was going to be my first real therapeutic massage. I used to bike everywhere and when I arrived I was sweaty. He didn’t mind at all. He had me stand up while he massaged my neck and back. I was assuming he was assessing the alignment but I don’t know exactly. I told him I had very bad digestion issues and he said next appointment he could assist. During my follow up visit he smelled strongly of booze. He wasn’t the same as the first appointment and was even a bit late. He began with me face up on the table as he started massaging my stomach. I could smell his liquored breath above my face while he stood over me reaching his hands across my body. His bulging pants tapped the top of my head over and over with each stroke. He pressed his palms up and down my mid-section. It seemed appropriate until he started breathing heavily, continuing to move his hands further and further down my waist, each time his fingers would slide below my underwear. I started to become restless and nervous. His oily hands finally went all the way into my underwear, below the waistband and over my pubic bones. I was mortified and unsure of what to do or how this was a massage technique. My mind was racing. I just wanted it all to be over. I felt dirty lying there on the table in complete silence. Lifeless. I don’t remember how it ended exactly, I just remembered putting my clothes on as fast as I could. Once I made it out of the building, I ran all the way home, finally busting into the door and crying. I cried and cried. I just wanted a relaxing massage. I felt disgusting, so I showered all of the massage oil off of my body. I can’t remember if it was my partner or I who called the police but they arrived and were in my living room asking me, what seemed like, 100 questions. I only had one: Why was this massage therapist putting his hands down my underwear?
Someone I knew for awhile; someone I never met; someone who came highly recommended. “It” has no skin type, age or profession. “It” is not always a stranger in a dark alley. “It” could be anyone.
There’s been a lot of discussion lately around the ways in which someone chooses to come out about their experiences with sexual assault, sexual harassment or rape. I have heard criticisms regarding celebrities suddenly coming forward as if they are just hopping on a bandwagon, or that it’s too late, or not the right way. There’s never a right time or right way. Hell, I am sharing this with you now over Medium. Does that make me some kind of sexual assault victim sell-out. Fuck that. To me, it means there is safety and security in numbers and when the floodgates open, others too scared, too afraid or even powerless begin to feel the ripple of courage and bravery to speak. The more we speak, the more we realize we are not alone.
Sometimes speaking out does nothing for a situation in the bigger sense. It might not solve the systemic issues overnight, for example. But, sometimes it ends up being the only remedy for self-healing and reflection. Imagine, over 570 people bottling it all up deep down every single day. It’s not right. And, I must say, writing this at 3:00 am is pretty healing. Ahhh…it’s like a weight has begun to lift. Another skeleton bites the dust. Thanks for being there for me in this raw moment.