Ugly.

I was 12. I was 17. I was 21. I was all ages in between. They said words like “no one will believe I touched you” and “you’re not pretty enough for them to believe you” or “this is the only way you’re ever going to get any.” Once, they goaded a developmentally disabled neighborhood boy to chase me down the street while yelling about how ugly I was. Later, one of them would force me into a sex act. He laughed during, amused by my tears. “Why are you crying?” he asked. “You’re lucky I’m even paying attention to a girl who looks like you.”

There was the school janitor my freshman year who cornered me in the locker room after hours and said I probably couldn’t get a date but he would be happy to “show me the ropes.” He groped me, kissed me hard on the lips, and I ran out of the school and spent the night wondering if this was all I was ever going to be good for. To be someone’s pity conquest.

I was not an attractive child. My mother always cut my hair very short, more for her ease than for any kind of fashion statement. I was told I looked like a boy. I was small framed, short, didn’t hit puberty until 9th grade. I was shy, quiet and unsure of myself. I was perfect prey.

I spent most of my childhood and teenage years in a haze of low self-esteem and pent up anxiety. I blamed myself for everything that happened to me with the boys and men who took advantage of me. I wasn’t good enough to have it any other way. I wasn’t pretty enough. Tall enough. Popular enough. I put the onus on everyone but those who deserved it because they made me feel like it was my fault somehow; my fault that I was ugly, I was short, I was unlikeable. So I never told anyone. What would be the point? No one would believe me. Why would anyone want to touch me? I was untouchable. Except when I wasn’t.

The idea that only pretty people get sexually assaulted, that only those who present themselves in a certain way get this treatment is harmful. Predators don’t care what you look like, how old you are, how you’re dressed. If they see a mark, they’ll go after it. Sometimes they have something to hold over you — a job, a test score, a part in a movie. Sometimes all they want is to feel the power they have over you, a power that comes from making you feel small and inadequate and ugly. Like you deserve it.

I would like to say it took me a lifetime to get over it, but I can’t, because I never did. The experiences stayed with me, the aftermath being a personality that’s a disaster area. So it pains me when I see someone say that only the good looking are victims or only the immodestly dressed are victims. It pains me for those of us who are not beautiful who still experienced it, and it pains me for those who are pretty, who may feel like the blame lies with them for how they look. It works both ways.

I still think about all of it, I still have nightmares about it. And I still, to this day, hear those words ringing in my ears, the words that led me to never tell anyone what happened. The words that wrecked my self-worth. “You’re not pretty enough for anyone to believe I’d touch you.” My unattractiveness was used as a weapon against me in so many ways, mostly by myself. But it was the instances when sexual predators used it that ended up hurting the most.