TRIGGER WARNING: this post is a true personal portrait of twenty-three year’s worth of sexual harassment, assault & abuse. what’s worse… this story is far from rare.
some things may be painful to read, so please, friend, read with caution.
statistics tell us, that…
1 in 5 women will experience sexual assault.
2/3 of rapes go unreported.
every 98 seconds, sexual assault occurs in our country.
1 out of every 6 women will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.
90% of all victims are women.
the amount of stress & disorders like PTSD reported by victims is drastically higher than that compared to any other major crime.
((ALL STATISTICS ARE FROM RAINN.ORG))
there are some very clear reasons why I write this post.
contrary to the victim-shamers, it’s not for attention. (the attention victims gather is nothing anyone would covet.)
I write this to shine a light onto the state of how women are treated.
I write it to give a clear, personal account of real things that real women experience.
I write this as a privileged, white, Christian good-girl.
I write this because someone needs to.
I write it because it’s my story, and mine alone, to write.
I’ve had it written for a while now, simmering in the folder of unpublished blog posts and wondering when I’d find the courage to just press the button that would send it out into the world. the recent #metoo movement has been that push.
I’m 12 going on 13, moving to the US from Canada, and I go to public school after being home-schooled my whole life. my period starts for the first time in class. I feel so painfully awkward. when I ask to go the bathroom, my english teacher rolls her eyes and says “what, are you on your period or something.” the class laughs.
I try out for the school play. I don’t get the part I want, and the whispers say it’s because my flat chest doesn’t compare to the ample one of the girl who did. I am mortified, so I start shopping for a pushup bra. “please don’t notice me…” is what I think.
in the locker room after PE, I get shoved into the lockers by a tall, heavy-built girl, yelling at me, the pastors daughter, that I shouldn’t resist since “the meek are blessed”. she laughs at my flat chest, calls me a “meek little bitch”, and walks away, leaving me standing there in my sports bra. I don’t recognize the assault as being sexual since it’s another girl assaulting me. that’s the first time I’m ever called a bitch. that girl receives a two-page spread in the yearbook about how much she loves her church & serves there. I feel shaken, angry, scared… even jealous.
I start having severe chest pains at every PE block, and I’m sent to specialist after specialist. I have a male doctor who does an ultrasound on my naked chest, and I feel horrified and embarrassed, but don’t know why. all I can do is stare up at the ceiling and wait till it’s over… but a stress test follows- running on the treadmill shirtless with a monitor strapped over my bra and three doctors staring at me and the machines, I break into an anxiety attack after just over a minute. I don’t understand that the terror screeching through me is rooted in the bullying and locker-shoving I’ve just come from. my dad asks how things went at the doctor, and I can’t meet his eyes. I feel on edge and afraid the whole day, even when my family tries to cheer me up with ice cream. it’s already been established in my young mind: boobs = embarrassment, critique, and problems.
I am 14, and I’m stalked by a boy at church. he leaves me love letters, candy, and sometimes even money on my seat, inside of my bag. he follows me everywhere, even to the bathroom hallway. he writes we are meant to be together and if I agree, I should bat my eyes at him at the next youth group meeting. he stares at me the whole time we are in rooms together. I take his letters, rip them up, and flush them down the toilet, laughing shakily with my friends. my mother tells my father he needs to intervene when we find a $20 bill with his valentine letter for me inside of my purse on my pew seat. it is taken out of my hands as the adults deal with the problem. I feel violated, like I’ve been undressed with a pair of greedy, curious eyes… fantasized about in places where I am not. despite what the adults have done to protect me, I feel unsafe, knowing his hands were in my bag, knowing his hands want to be elsewhere. I have to attend youth group with him, and it makes me nervous all over. I avoid him, but am accused of being unkind. I feel guilty, for the first time, for being a victim of harassment.
my best friend and I walk to the local grocery store from her house, laughing and talking. a car full of men rolls up to the stoplight, their arms hanging out of the windows, their mouths practically drooling. “hey pretty girls!” “hi baby!” “need a ride, cuties?” they look us up and down. my best friend rolls her eyes, drags me along, and tells me next time I should just pick my nose or something so I don’t look cute enough to be catcalled anymore.
I walk through my neighborhood on my way back home from the park. a construction worker makes eye contact with me before slowly taking in the length of my body with his eyes, then looks as me and grins. I tell my mother, and she marches out to give him a piece of her mind. I’m thankful and mortified. I tell myself I’m embarassed at her response… really, I’m humiliated by the fact that I, a 14-year-old child, was just openly undressed by the hungry eyes of a middle-aged man.
I am sexually abused and psychologically manipulated multiple times by a friend during sleepovers for months. I’m 15 years old. the secrecy and manipulation warps my relationship with my own sexuality beyond my comprehension. my personal, intimate feelings and places are invaded, mocked, and shamed for their own abuse. I am manipulated into things that humiliate and disgust me. I fear my own body. I fear anything remotely sexual. I fear… I fear… I fear. I write journal entry after journal entry begging God to forgive me as I cry myself to sleep.
I am 16, alone, friendless, full of shame and depression, when I finally muster the courage to end that friendship. and despite it all, I see the person who did this to me as a sexually curious friend who hurt my delicate female feelings, not a sexual abuser. she calls me fragile.
I become suicidal, self-harming, and experience night terrors, chronic physical pain, and increased severity of my anxiety disorder.
when I find new friends, my abuser makes her way into my life again and begins to taint those friendships by preying on them. thankfully, the harassment of my friends gives me enough bravery to end the relationship with my abuser.
gossip, guilt trips, and fear take over my social life, so I emotionally withdraw from all of my friends, and join a theatre club to make a new start with new people. the costume assistant has everyone’s measurements up on the wall, and I feel a lot of embarrassment over the fact that my chest is the smallest, but my hips are the biggest… and that it is up there for anyone to see.
I try to heal. I have friends who care for me. my best friend is supportive, and we walk through our unique, yet equally painful, stories together. I feel haunted and dark, but I also feel loved. I desperately try to help other people, to heal the pain in myself.
my best friend and I are walking to the store again, and we are harassed by three different cars of guys who slow down in traffic to catcall us. this time, we ignore them except to flip them off.
I’m 18, and I start dating my first boyfriend. My parents are not happy; they say I’m too young, that I can’t date until after college. I say I am an adult. he and I like each other so much, and we spend hours talking. I have my first kiss on my 18th birthday. but now he doesn’t want to talk anymore. and he just wants to kiss in parked cars all the time, and it’s fun at first, but then my mind wanders when we do, because I don’t want to do this anymore. but he does, and I don’t know how to draw a line in the sand because that girl in my seventh grade locker room was right- I was taught to be meek; I wasn’t taught how to be bold. and my abuser was right- I’m too fragile, so it probably isn’t even a big deal. so he discovers places I wish he wouldn’t, and I sit there, lay there. when he gets angry at what has happened, he scares me, says I should have stopped him, says we’re ruined because of it… but I say we can make it work if we kiss less and talk more. he disagrees about the talking part. so now we keep kissing, and he blames me whenever he feels guilty. I convince myself I like it, because I like him. That’s the same thing… right? so I begin to lead the assault on my own body, as sexily as any sheltered kid afraid of herself can. then I go home and repeatedly throw up.
I go to college, and my roommate does her hair and full-face makeup twice a day. she says through iconic red lips that I should try harder to look presentable. that my messy bun is lazy. she shames me for my skirt that shows a half-inch of my knees and reports me for my outfit, even though that’s mostly all I have. her fully-mascara-lashed eyes tell me I’m not good enough for her brand of Christianity. she doesn’t know that at night I lie on the soccer field, looking up at the stars with the dew soaking my back, and dream of what it would be like to die. she doesn’t know that I silently cry myself to sleep, or that I scratch and bite my arms until they’re red and scabbed and bruised.
at college, we have to get our dresses approved before the banquet. RA’s with measuring tape instructing us not to slouch, who check if the hem lengths become immodest once we sit down, who look straight at the swell of our breasts and the curves of our hips and judge how concealingly we are able to fit these somehow-controversial parts of our humanity into clothing. those of us branded immodest are demanded to change. not everyone has a backup dress. this is the never-spoken rule: only the most modest among us deserve to go to the banquet. its stark contrast reminds me of the kind of people Jesus invites to his banquet…
my mind assesses my body like compartments labelled “sensual”, “off-limits”, “temptress”, “easy”, “bitch”.
after over a year of being together, my boyfriend breaks up with me over the phone, stating that I am a “woman of the world” who leads him into temptation. he says I’m to blame for everything he chose to do to me. I believe him because I didn’t stop him. I have nightmares about being assaulted… by my 8th grade stalker, by my sophomore year abuser, by the boy I convinced myself I’d marry… over and over again. Even while sleeping, my unworthiness is reinforced to me. I can’t escape it.
I move a state away, and the distance helps me to slowly begin to accept that he is a liar. I slowly realize my body is my own. I slowly realize that I am not to blame.
It’s months later, and I meet a man who is everything I don’t know I need. he helps so much of me to begin to feel whole. but we are not unscathed by it all. misplaced shame instilled in us by purity culture, threatens our good and healthy and flourishing relationship.
we fight it. we fight for us. we get engaged.
I hear someone accuse my fiancé of only asking me to marry him in order to “get into my pants.” I know it’s as far from true as it could be, but I still feel sick.
I get a call from the government saying they’re looking into a case that pictures of me have been stolen from my facebook page, edited, and distributed to sexually explicit websites… by the same boy who stalked me in 2008. I try to work with them, but the anxiety becomes too much. I can’t escape…
my abuser walks back into my life, and because I still don’t understand what happened as being abuse, we chalk it up to being young and immature and strike up a shaky friendship. nothing feels genuine, but I ignore my intuition and tell myself it’s just because I never got closure the last time our friendship ended. she is vocally upset that I do not ask her to be my bridesmaid.
I get married and realize I have a condition which will require surgery before I can have sex. my honeymoon is spent in tears and physical pain. I have never felt so broken, so defective. I believe it is my punishment for all of the harassment and abuse that I consider to be my fault. I am depressed. I hate myself. Why would anyone want to stay married to a defect? I’m so terrified because I honestly believe I deserve divorce from the love of my soul.
less than a year into marriage, I give up the dream of having a beautiful sex life. even though the original difficulty gets fixed, I have so many physical manifestations of sexual abuse in my body that instigate pain and panic.
I am told that I need to suck it up because it is my wifely duty to make sure my husband is 100% sexually satisfied at all times. when I search online for marriage advice, all that pops up is “do it anyway”. people who have no insight into my marriage cast judgements on me for my depression. I try to make myself sexy, but it feels fake and reminiscent of when I saw blurred lines instead of abuse, and I am deeply depressed. I spend hours on the floor, shaking in the fetal position.
I start having small seizures where I feel helpless and terrified as my joints lock up and my muscles contract; the same shooting pains score through my abdomen. I don’t understand why the pain keeps making me relive the shame of every harassment and abuse.
I am made privy to dark secrets that send me reeling. I discover my abuser and my ex boyfriend secretly slept together during a drunken party barely a year ago. every memory of feeling exposed, violated, ashamed comes rushing into me, and I fall into a panic attack that takes hours for its affects to fully dissipate. it’s weeks before I feel normal again.
I find out I am, by some strange miracle, pregnant. men make violating and degrading comments regarding my breasts and our sex life. I feel dehumanized by the unashamed male eyes that drag down my figure and the unending reminder that my body isn’t mine anymore and I should be glad to sacrifice it for my daughter. joke’s on them… my body hasn’t felt like mine since I was twelve years old.
my abuser begins to lie, hide things from me, and participate in self-damaging behavior. I constantly fear for her life, and worry that if I put boundaries on our relationship, she will kill herself. she uses the fact that she isn’t one of the first people to know about my pregnancy as leverage to argue with me, and the fact that she drags my child into our argument is the final straw. I press pause on our friendship.
an ultrasound technician hits me in the stomach. another nurse tells me to shut up and breathe as she pushes me down into the bed and ties multiple wires and cords to me, during a panic attack while at the hospital for a premature labor scare.
a male doctor roughly examines my cervix without asking permission and refuses to listen to what I am asking/informing him of, regarding my pain level, medical history, and what I need regarding my anxiety disorder. as an abuse survivor, the lack of medical professionals requesting my consent before touching my vagina during my several hospital & ER visits is nothing short of traumatic.
people make it clear they think I am sinning by being depressed and anxious throughout my pregnancy. someone sends me a facebook message with links to studies on the way depression in mothers harms the unborn baby. the guilt over how my body fails to function is overwhelming.
I am the victim of what is now called birth rape- defined as malpractice, cruelty, or decisions made regarding your body without your consent during your labor and birth experience. after my three-day labor, I tear horribly as I push. I am given the “husband stitch” (an extra stitch to make the woman’s opening tighter, giving the man a more pleasurable, virgin-like sexual experience) without my consent, and with failed anesthesia.
it takes me over four months to physically begin to heal, at least five before I even attempt (and fail) to have sex again. I have PTSD from the experience.
as I take a walk with my 4 month daughter, a man on the street says “I hope you’re not as young as you look to be holding that baby.” and another in a coffee shop says with a condescending raise of a brow, “is that your baby? no, don’t answer. I’m just going to hope it’s not, kiddo.”
I begin to discover the reason why I haven’t been able to press play again on the friendship with my abuser is because she’s just that… my abuser. the grief that washes over me as I begin to put the pieces of my life together is massive. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt anything quite this intimately gut-wrenching.
every time I get my period, I’m wracked with panic attacks as the cramps shoot through my body, physical memories of the abuse and trauma it has endured. it’s hard to breathe. “it’s just your period- all women get them,” is what I’m told. except it’s not just my period- it’s a monthly reminder that there have been things taken forcibly from me which will always leave a gasping pain in the space left behind.
I make the choice to talk to my best friend and my husband about what has happened to me. I am met with only love. only belief. only support. I’m healing slowly… slowly… slowly.
I am not alone.
many of the women in your life have stories just like these.
or maybe these stories are yours, too.
these experiences are real.
they are life-changing in the most frightening ways.
if you’ve doubted us, or brushed off the horror stories… if you’ve assumed it’s all about attention or cash or fame… if you’ve chosen to be skeptical about the oppression of women…
maybe you’ll believe us now.