Admitting that you’ve been sexually assaulted isn’t easy. The shame, the self blame, and the humiliation over being violated runs deep. For some, it’s easier to pretend it didn’t happen, until something jolts your memory and it all comes back.
Was it that bad?
For me, the trigger was Facebook and that friend feature called “People You May Know.” The name of my assailant and his photo popped up, most likely because of one or two mutual friends from years ago. The moment I saw his face, intense feelings of hatred and anger toward him roiled up, emotions that caught me off guard. I had to ask myself, What happened? Was it that bad?
Then I remembered: a noisy crowd of people in a downtown loft after the dance club had closed, drinks, smoking something potent. I became dizzy and disoriented. Everyone suddenly left the room and I was alone with him. The next thing I knew, I was on the floor with him on top of me, my jeans at my ankles. I was shocked and confused, and too dumbfounded to realize I had options. I didn’t even think I had the right to say no. Disgusted, I prayed for it to be over quickly. Then my “friend” drove me home, but not before pulling into a dark driveway along the way and pushing my head into his lap. By then I’d come to my senses and pushed back. He huffed and puffed, clearly angered, but took me home. His entitlement solidified how humiliating the sex was for me. It also implied that, if I had said no earlier, it’s likely he would not have taken it well.
It dawned on me that sex was the sole reason he had asked me out. He had a reputation — how could I have been so naive? Did I think I was different or special? What else should I have expected from him? I had been used. I felt violated and deeply ashamed. I felt stupid. I told no one.
Those we think we know and trust
I understand the reluctance of the women who were allegedly violated by Bill Cosby to speak out until years later. They questioned themselves in the same way, wondering why they’d put themselves in such a position, how they ended up alone with this man, why they took the drink he offered them. They trusted him because they thought they knew who he was.
It’s ironic that this unsettling memory came back to me because of Facebook’s “People You May Know.” Seven in ten sexual assaults are by someone the victim knows. This guy was someone I’d grown up with.
For years I’d told myself it was my fault for falling into his trap. At the same time, young people (of both sexes) need to be aware. Don’t give your trust to everyone and anyone. Trust your instincts instead. Most of all, don’t ever feel that you don’t have the right to say no. You do.
There were many abusive instances in my life: at age eight when a man groped me inside my shorts, at nine or ten when a teenager grabbed my hand and rubbed it against his genitals in Woolworth’s, at fourteen when a boy invited me into a neighbor’s pool for one last swim and then tried to drown me, at sixteen when the high school mechanical drawing teacher rubbed his elbow against my breasts while he stood at my desk to check my work. Then, there are countless invitations to “step outside for some air” or whatever that I declined.
I know I’m not alone.
One in three women will experience some form of sexual abuse in their lifetime. One in six women will be raped. The characters in my novel are victims of assault, and, until they come to grips with the truth, it defines how they view the world. I wasn’t raped at gunpoint by a stranger, but the severity of the incident(s) doesn’t seem to affect how deeply a victim is harmed – the victim of date rape doesn’t suffer any less than one who is violently raped. Nor does it matter if she/he knows the assailant or not. In fact, the damage can be worse because that sense of trust is ripped away.
Sexual assault and/or harassment can leave long lasting emotional injuries. Healing involves being able to talk about it without shame. This, in fact, is the point of my novel, which was inspired by the chilling real life stories from a magazine article “My Father Was a Rapist.”