I got a message several weeks ago and I have been pondering and praying for the best way to respond. I wanted to make sure I didn’t respond to stupidity with anger, but you know what? I am mad. I’m furious! Someone sent a message via Facebook messenger asking why I thought I always had to post about sexual assault and rape. They went on to say that they are tired of hearing about nothing else and why can’t I and the rest of “these women” just sit back, shut up and leave things the way they have been for years…because the world has been fine until we started “yapping.”
I know that those comments may sound innocent enough, but they aren’t. They are destroying and devastating words. Those are words of ignorance – selfishness – compliance. Words like those remind me of why I feel so alone and shamed for something I didn’t do.
I feel like the best way to express myself is through a little story time with pictures.
I am three years old in this picture. The earliest memory I have is of this same age. I was sitting in one of my Psychology classes and we were talking about how the brain makes and retains memories. The professor had us go around the room and tell everyone one of our earliest memory. I had to make up a memory because the very first memory I can recall is of a grown man in my family coming into my bedroom – pulling my covers down and tracing my little body with his fingers. Look really closely at this picture – look at how small I am. Only three years old and I was being used for a grown man’s sexual gratification.
This is a sweet picture. It was my birthday and I had just turned 5. Everyone is all smiles and having a great time. What you don’t see in this picture is that at the tender age of five, I know what will happen later that night. I know what to expect when everyone has gone to sleep. I know I will hear the door open and my bed creak. It turned out that later that night, that man who had been to my room dozens of times before would not only come in again but this time he would take his abuse further. He would not only use his hands to explore my body under my clothes, but he started using his tongue, mouth, and penis. Are you uncomfortable with my story yet?
I am 10 years old in this picture. TEN. I am still in elementary school. In case it isn’t as obvious to you, I am pissed in this picture. I am a little kid eating a popsicle and my abuser had just said to me – I think I will bring a popsicle to bed tonight. He said it loud enough for me to hear, but low enough no one else did. I could only stand there as frozen as the popsicle in my mouth.
I am 11years old here. In my short life, I had a man come into my room and do with my body whatever he wanted hundreds of times. I can hear you thinking why hasn’t she said something? Why is she letting this go on? By this time though, he had held a knife to my throat and a gun to my head and threatened me. He told me if I ever said anything about what he was doing in my bedroom all those nights – it would be the last thing I would ever say. And you have to realize that I was a kid – and this was a family member who was supposed to be looking out for me. It wasn’t only his threats on my life that kept me silent though, he said that if I didn’t lay there quietly while he did his business, he would go to my sister’s bed and get it from her. I knew the pure hatred and self-loathing I felt. I knew that every day I prayed that God would just kill me so I wouldn’t have to go through this anymore. I know the pain I felt every second of every day and there was no way in this world I would let him give that to my sister. So, I remained still and silent.
This is the last picture I have where I am a virgin. This was taken at the beginning of my 7th grade school year and just a few weeks later – that same man who had tied me down, threatened my life and my sisters, this man who had touched every single part of my body with his – finally took the last piece of innocence I had left – he took it while I punched him with my little fists. He took it while I tried to scream and he taped my mouth. He took it while he pulled his gun out. He took it while my 13-year-old 90-pound body tried to fight off his 30-year-old 200-pound body. I couldn’t win. And that was it. I laid there still as stone and finally let go of every last piece of myself.
So you ask me why I always talk about sexual assault. This is why. Because for over ten years of my childhood – I was a sexual ragdoll for a family member. For more than ten years my body was not my own and I had no control over what happened to it and I had every piece of dignity and innocence stolen from me. Because here I am nearly 32 years old and I still struggle. I still have days where I am brought to my knees because of the pain and darkness of my past. I speak because some simple everyday act can catapult me back to my childhood where I lay helpless and defenseless against an adult male who saw me as an opportunity to perpetuate his sick lifestyle. Because my voice was ripped from me just like my innocence. Because I live in a world wherein the time it takes you to brush your teeth, another girl is sexually assaulted. I speak because I live in a world where I have seen my 8-year-old daughter catcalled. Because I live in a world where silence and compliance are not only expected – but demanded in cases of assault. Becuase I live in a world where a sexual assault victim is shamed and demonized while the abuser goes free and is felt sorry for.
I speak about sexual assault so often because, even though I have found my voice, there are still millions of men and women – boys and girls who are too terrified and traumatized to speak. So I speak not only for myself and my experience but for them as well. I will speak until no one ever has to go through the things I have been through. As long as there are still people who have to walk the same path as I have – I will speak. For years I had felt such shame over what happened to me – I didn’t want anyone to know – I didn’t want anyone to see me as less than – I already knew I was. I have lived a life where I was not only completely immersed in darkness – I was the darkness. I had held so tightly to my pain and shut myself off so completely that I had fossilized my hurt and let it envelop me. Acknowledging my past and allowing my self to fully accept that none of it was my fault has allowed me to chisel away at the jail of despair I had created. I pray that as my words free me – maybe they can help someone else free themselves.
Even one is too many.