Marlo is blissfully innocent and unaware of the current political vitriol engulfing women within our society. Her honest naivety still allows her to believe that the current patriarchal climate we live in isn’t out to get her simply because of the reproductive organs she was born with. Because the fact is this: Marlo (or her sister or brother) will likely be sexually abused, sexually assaulted, molested, and/or raped over the course of her lifetime. That is a statistic that, as her mother and her fierce protector, makes my insides hurt.
The past few weeks have felt like not much more than a giant trigger. Even as I try my best to avoid the news and various social media outlets that freely spew political vitriol from both sides of the table in the name of self-preservation, I still find myself in what feels like a constant state of reeling. As I read the transcript from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s sworn testimony detailing her sexual assault, I’m forced to internally revisit my own sexual abuse no matter how hard I try to avoid doing so.
Marlo is six-and-a-half years old in this picture. In many ways, she is still a baby. She’s becoming a young lady, straddling that fine line between innocence and adolescence and figuring out who she is and where in this world she stands. Knowing that I was not much older than Marlo is now when the sexual abuse initially began is what I find so excruciating to mentally conceive. I thought I’d made peace with what happened to me and, for the most part, I had. Rather, I have. But when I hear women being mocked and blamed for their abuse— by people (mostly men) who have no fucking idea what mental and emotional affects sexual abuse imparts on its victims, of course— and then ridiculed for not coming forward when it first happened however many years ago, the anger rises in my chest like poisonous bile.
I was almost nine years old when it first happened to me.
Nine years old.
Over twenty years ago and, though a few people know about it now, this is the first time I’ve ever addressed it publicly. Does the time lapse make it any less valid to address? Do those twenty years make it any easier to accept? Do those twenty years make me any less fearful for what my daughters and son may one day face because over the course of those twenty years, we’re still blaming victims and having the same conversations about sexual abuse and assault?
On all accounts: FUCK NO.
He never physically touched me. Instead, he made me watch porn. He forced me to watch him jack off. He made me put on lingerie that he got from god knows where. I distinctly remember violently shaking out of embarrassment when he asked me to twirl around so he could see me in the oversized thong he had given to me to change into. It was dark blue satin with black lace. I had to flip through old Hustler magazines and tell him if I thought the women were sexy or hot or if I wanted to have sex with them or the men who were having sex with women in the porn he’d play for me. It lasted for almost five years.
My perception of what was happening was so warped that I often questioned if I could even call it sexual abuse since he never technically touched me. I worried that because of a definitional technicality, it would actually be me who got in trouble if I told anyone. I was also deeply embarrassed, mortified. For years I was forced to watch things that, up until the point of that experience, I didn’t even know existed. I carried around the weight of burdensome guilt because, the fact remained, I didn’t do anything to stop it so if I was so uncomfortable, an argument could (and likely would) be made that I had a weird way of showing it. While the abuse was going on, it was also subtly engrained in me that if I told anyone, I would not only be responsible for my own consequences but I would also be responsible for whatever happened to him and since real family looks out for each other, I better keep my lips sealed. I was innocent but I wasn’t dumb and, clearly, neither was he.
And it did remain a secret. Not a soul knew until I was twenty.
Joe and I had been dating for almost a year and one night as we were laying face-to-face in bed talking about things that only carefree college students have the luxury of talking about, an uncontrollable and unexpected wave of emotion rushed over me and the words spewed out of my mouth before I could stop them:
“My older cousin sexually abused me for years but I never did anything to stop it. I’ve never told anyone. It lasted until I was almost thirteen.”
After I admitted my truth, my initial response was visceral fear that Joe— a man I was already wildly in love with— would now view me unloveable or, far worse, pity me. I worried he’d never touch me the same way after knowing what I’d gone through. I’d let him in on my dirty little secret and had potentially self-sabotaged the future I was already desperately hoping to share with him.
Joe remained deafeningly silent, leaving my mind wandering in a million directions all laced with terror. A few moments later, without muttering a single word, he wrapped his arms around me, pulled me in closer to his chest, and let me cry the violent sobs I’d been holding in for over a decade. He didn’t ask me any questions. He didn’t want to hear the sordid details. He didn’t ask me why I didn’t tell anyone. He didn’t blame me. He simply let me release my anger, hurt, and sadness without interruption.
Once my sobs subsided, I heard him quietly say, “I’m so sorry that happened to you, Christy.” He was sincere and kind and loving and it meant more to me than I’ll ever be able to express to him. But, most importantly?
HE BELIEVED ME.
I hate that we’re living in a time when we not only blame women for being victimized but we also lay upon them the burden of prevention instead of teaching young boys (statistically speaking, men make up the majority of perpetrators) to resist toxic masculinity in a culture that often rewards it and almost always excuses it.
This isn’t a political post. At least, it’s not my intention for it to be read as one. Making this public is also not an attempt to punish the (now) grown man who did this to me all those years ago or to cause emotional harm to any family members who may read this. However, I’m done with shame, guilt, self-sabotage, and fear. I’m all out of fucks because I spent a lifetime living with this and I AM SIMPLY DONE WITH THE CULTURAL INSINUATION THAT THERE IS A TIME LIMIT ON WHEN WE CAN SHARE OUR TRUTH AND OUR STORIES, NO MATTER HOW PAINFUL THEY MAY BE.
This is also not my attempt at a pity party because I do not need nor want pity. I find pity to be the most patronizing and condescending reactions of all. However, it is my intentional hope that anyone reading this who often finds themselves questioning victims— men or women— for not coming forward immediately or filing a police report or playing twenty questions with the details or motivations surrounding someone sharing their assault to take a minute and ask yourself how much pain/shame/guilt/fear a person would have to experience to be silenced for years, decades, or even a lifetime. Imagine what living with that emotional toxicity does to ones self-confidence, current and potential romantic relationships, sense of self, childhood, and even the embracement of their own sexuality.
Imagine the choke-hold that kind of trauma possesses over every single aspect of a persons life before you question why it took them so long to come up for enough air to speak out.
One shouldn’t have to experience the darker sides of humanity to embrace empathy, to acknowledge pain when you see it, or to extend the courtesy and value of validation from one human to another. Compassion doesn’t cost anything and yet we’re taxing women with the burden of proof and blame in order to receive it. So, with that in mind, what if our first instinct as a society was to show compassion instead of contempt. Maybe we could even go as far to consider the possibility that victims often aren’t out to get anyone— not even their abusers. Most people who come forward do so because they’re sick of drowning in the depth of their own pain and shame and sharing their experience is merely motivated by their own vigorous hope to heal.
My love goes out to all of you who have lived through this, are still living through this, or have been forced to remain silent.