It started when I was about 11 or 12 years old. He was old enough to be my dad. He was family. The first time it was touching over the clothes. I felt dirty, confused, and like I had done the worst thing in the world. After that it escalated to under the clothes touching, making me touch his penis, sucking my adolescent breasts and included making me pose for the most vulgar photographs. I never told a soul for years. It lasted nearly until I graduated high school. I’m not sure why I didn’t tell anyone. Mostly I thought nobody would believe me, a foster kid, saying something so vile about a relative everyone loved.
I held on to this secret for years before I began disclosing to friends in college. I finally wanted to talk about what happened. Being a social work major caused me to think deep into my own life in order to effectively help others. I’ve shared my story and heard countless stories back. The victims are sisters, mothers, daughters; the predators are fathers, cousins, uncles, neighbors, teachers, and coaches. I’ve known for so long that it happened to me too, you too and her too.
#metoo is publicly highlighting what is one of the most unspoken but frequent crimes in society. Sexual abuse/molestation/harassment and rape are the silent killers that plague women, young and old, rich or poor, black or white. Some people are brave enough speak up and report the abuse; some have not yet made it to that place. Both situations are okay. I’ve learned that each survivor handles the aftermath of the abuse in their own unique way. Every survivor may not want to tweet out #metoo, it doesn’t make them any less of a victim. Some survivors pursue legal action, some choose not to take that path. Whatever choice a survivor makes, she’s entitled to. I never reported my abuse to any adults while it was occurring, I’m aware that I can still report the abuse. I struggle with what choice to make each day. I don’t know if I am strong enough to re-open the wounds, I don’t know if there would be enough evidence to convict. I once confronted my abuser as a adult, he vehemently denied the allegations, refused to give me an apology and stated that I am misremembering the past and I was a overly-sexual person; I was a child. He blamed the victim, I fear the male-led justice system may do the same. I choose to get justice for myself by living in my truth.
We must do more to be more vigilant in protecting women from sexual assault and harassment. Men must be active in this change. We must must be willing to police the behavior of men, call out inappropriate treatment of women, be aware of men that pay special attention to young girls, speak of in defense of women being harassed in the workplace. We have to hold predators accountable for their actions, regardless of their status, power or money. We have to stop turning a blind eye to allegations of assault and rape simply because the perpetrator is the boss or is a "nice guy", or because the victim is a over-developed child, or is dressed a certain way, had too much to drink, or is involved in sex work.
Every survivor has different lasting effects from their situation. For me being a survivor means a lifetime struggling to trust men, having challenges with intimacy, and having unhealthy views of sex. Also, for me being a survivor means speaking out about sexual abuse and harassment, not letting it be a secret that eats away at my soul, and doing everything I can to be a listening ear and advocate for survivors.
Everyone knows someone who has been sexually assaulted, and it will take a collective effort to put a stop to the epidemic. Maybe it happened to you too, maybe it didn’t, but stopping sexual assault/abuse/harassment is everyone’s responsibility.