Friday, September 19, 2014

Breaking the Silence


I am finally back to blogging after a lengthy hiatus.  It feels good to be back at the keyboard and I hope to be able to get the creative juices flowing again.  Thanks to those of you who are reading this and supporting my blog.  This has been a great outlet for me to get my thoughts and feelings out of my head where they become toxic if left unattended.
 
I had an idea for a blog a while back and I cast a net via Facebook for stories from survivors of sexual assault.  I was astounded by the candor of these ladies as they related their experiences to me.  I wanted to get their stories out there in their words.  Some of them had never told anyone what had happened to them until they shared it with me.  These are ladies I know, friends of mine.  It was humbling to me that they were willing to share their stories with me and my readers.  What also struck me was the sheer number of women in my circle of friends who have been victims of sexual assault.  Sexual assault is not something that happens to strangers in dark alleys in bad neighborhoods, at least not as a rule.  Sexual assault happens at parties, at friends; houses, on vacation, at family dinners.  It happens during the day, in the evening, and at night.  It happens to our brothers, sisters, mothers, daughters, cousins, friends.  To me, that is the most disturbing part of these stories; the fact that this could happen to anyone at anytime anywhere and very few people feel empowered to address it publicly or as the national epidemic that it is. 
 
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website, www.rainn.org, these are the staggering statistics about sexual assault:
 
  • 44% of victims are under age 18
  • 80% are under age 30
  • 60% of sexual assaults are not reported to police
  • 2/3 of assaults are perpetrated by someone known to the victim
 
And the final statistic, which is the most troublesome to me:
 
97% OF RAPISTS WILL NEVER SPEND A DAY IN JAIL.
 
Before I delve into the telling of these stories, I want to warn all of you reading that there will be subject matter which could be considered an emotional "trigger" for you.  If you or someone you know have been sexually assaulted, please understand that by reading these stories, you may stir deeply and long-held emotions unintentionally.  If this is an issue for you, please contact a mental health professional and seek help.  You may visit the website: www.rainn.org, for a listing of professionals in your area.
 
The following stories are told in the words of the survivors themselves.  I have edited them for length and removed identifying information to protect the identity of the survivors, with the exception of my story and the story of my daughter, Paige.  I considered removing the details of the assaults themselves, but I decided that it was important for the survivors to tell their own stories, as much of them as they choose.  **TRIGGER WARNING**
 
I did nothing about the rape.  I couldn't even accept it was rape.  I became a slut because I thought I was going to be forced anyway.  I was only 14.  I spent a lot of years being ridiculed about my sexual behavior.  There were three other times I was a victim of gang rapes.  I don't know if it would have been better to turn these people in or not but I made it through.  I have forgiven my attackers and pray that I never have to be a victim again.  I finally received closure  after I went to counseling and got everything out in the open.  Jesus helped me through it all even before I completely knew Him.
Sarah, 40
 
I was 19 when I was raped after passing out at a party.  I tried to tell a guy friend the next day, the first person I spoke to after it happened, and his response was, "Yeah, whatever." And that's probably why I didn't tell anyone until I was 38.
Melanie, 39
 
When I was 12, I looked 17 or 18.  That summer my family was on vacation.  It was paradise.  We were there for several weeks and got very comfortable with the staff and area.  There was a guy who worked at the front desk who was 29.  He told me constantly how I didn't look 12 - I looked 18 - like that made it ok for him to look at me the way he did.  One day he asked me casually if I'd like to come down and play cards with him while he worked his shift that evening.  I did.  He grabbed me and molested me.  He didn't rape me because someone came to the desk to get a replacement room key and I left, but I didn't tell anyone because I thought it was my fault.  I had gone there of my own free will, after all, nevermind that I was 12.  I just figured I would be in so much trouble.  I buried it so deeply that I never thought about it again until the 2nd live stream broadcast of the Steubenville protest, when dozens of rape victims were lined up in the freezing cold, waiting for their turn at the mike to tell their story of being assaulted and take off their masks.  I wondered why I was crying and shaking, and then I could picture myself standing there and telling everyone my story.  I could see the guy and feel (him).  It made me sick, but also cleared up so many things.  And I understand that it is not my fault.  My mom died when I was a teenager, and yes, she probably would have blamed me.  She would have told me and my sisters that I was responsible for ruining their vacation, but that wouldn't have made it true.  I know that.  Her issues cannot be my issues.  That's my story.
June, 50
 
At 19, I had a boyfriend.  One night at my mom's late at night with her in her bedroom, doors shut, he forced me into anal sex.  It happened on a Sunday, and by Monday back at college I couldn't go to class because of the serious damage done (I couldn't sit down).  I was bleeding still, in lots of pain, and didn't even cry out because I didn't want my mom to walk in and see him hurting me.  I tried to fight until the pain was so intense that I just laid there numb and out of my mind.  It lasted approximately thirty minutes, but it was the worst most memorable moment of my life I had thought.  However, by the time I went to the college nurse about it, she shamed me.  She challenged me about having sex, saying what did I expect, maybe I shouldn't have been sexually active with him, and then told me to use condoms and lubrication next time.  I never went to the police, never told his family.  Sadly, I felt that if the nurse was going to mock me, what would public and cops do?  I pray his daughter doesn't come to him with a similar experience someday, but sadly I will always wonder if there's a next time for me.  The statistics may say 1 in 3, but real life says sometimes 1 in 3 is really 3 in 1.
Jennifer, 35
 
I went to a party my freshman year and hung out and this was the only group of people that accepted me...well a guy cornered me in a bedroom and started to kiss me and I said no I don't want to and he proceeds to throw me on the bed rip my pants to my ankles and proceeds to do his business.  I tried to scream and that's when he put a pillow over my face.  Right before he finished I slipped out of his grasp and climbed out an open window.
Cindy, 18
 
When I was sexually assaulted I blamed myself a lot.  I still do.  I constantly drilled myself for drinking when it was my first time ever.  I made a bad choice that night.  One that will stay with me for the rest of my life.  That night something was robbed from me that I will never get back no matter how hard I try.  I really don't know what was taken from me.  I've never been a social person.  But I started never going out or speaking to anyone.  It took me everything just to get out of bed.  Most days I couldn't even do that. Out of everything that has happened, this was the worst.  I'm not the same person and I never will be.  I did made a mistake.  A mistake that I have to live with when I can barely live with myself anyways.
Paige, 15
 
Finally, I will end with my own story.
 
When I was four, I was at a family gathering.  I was molested by my teenage cousin.  I'm not sure how I ended up in the room alone with him, but it wasn't anything to be afraid of, he was family, right?  Although my memories of life as a four year old are blurry and jumbled, my memories of what happened in that room are quite vivid.  I prefer not to tell details, but let me assure you, I remember them.  Despite my education, training, and life experience dealing with survivors of sexual assault, and my understanding of the misplaced guilt survivors may feel, I sometimes continue to blame myself for what happened that day.  Somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind, my four year old self felt that I should not have been in the room alone with him; that somehow I led him to believe what he was doing was acceptable and wanted.  I didn't stop him.  I didn't say no.  My mom walked in and caught him.  I don't remember what she said to him.  I do remember that she said nothing to the rest of the family.  She said nothing to anyone but me.  She didn't exactly blame me, but she didn't blame him either.  She grilled me about what happened.  At times throughout my life, she would remind me about what happened, as if I could forget.  The thing that stuck with me the most besides the actual act, was my mother's silence.  I felt as though I must need to be ashamed and that somehow, some part of it was my fault.
 
From that time on, when someone would touch me a certain way, I would feel ill.  This carried on into my relationships, bringing with it the guilt I felt for what happened.  I was in a relationship when I was a teenager and it was very toxic.  I was pressured and shamed into having sex many times.  Although I did not say no, I never felt as though it was a choice.  I felt obligated and felt as though it was just easier to go along with it rather than argue most of the time.  I held that same attitude about sex throughout most of my life.  It was an obligation, something I had to do whether I wanted or not; it was never about intimacy or part of a healthy relationship.  This attitude ultimately cost me my job and my professional integrity by tarnishing my ability to make healthy choices with my body.  I have a rip-roaring case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  If someone touches me unexpectedly, I practically jump out of my own skin.
 
My decision to share these stories is based on my experiences while watching my daughter cope with what happened to her.  I had a couple of male friends contact me who had also been sexually assaulted, but they opted not to share their stories.  For men especially, it can be even more difficult to tell their stories.  They are the silent factor in all of these statistics and should not be forgotten.
 
My hope is that sharing all these stories will encourage others who have been sexually assaulted to understand that you are not alone.  It is not your fault.  There is nothing to be ashamed of, despite what society says.  Let's stop blaming the victim and break the silence.