I don’t recall the exact grade, but I was in elementary school. Innocent, young and naive to anything that wasn’t a chapter book or dance classes.
There was a boy that would make comments with language I didn’t recognize but I knew they were inappropriate. He would say what he wanted to do to me when we would transition classes and I never responded because like I said, I was clueless.
He kept this up for a week and each day, the statement would get more vulgar than the last. I knew this was wrong, but I didn’t know what to say or who to tell. Who would believe me? What would happen to him?
But the day I wore a pink skort to school and he grabbed a handful of my thigh as I walked by the bus loop, I knew I had to say something.
One of my teachers witnessed this and called me to her office to ask me the details of what had been going on. I don’t remember what happened to him or exactly how I felt in the moment, but I knew that this was an example of someone saying unwanted comments and not having consent to touch my body.
That was the first time I was violated, and it wouldn’t be the last.
I choose to spare the details because I refuse to give power and satisfaction to those who have done terrible things.
Instead, I focus on the aftermath and recovery, because it’s messy and a constant work in progress.
The trauma manifest itself in multiple forms. Healing is not linear and no amount of self-care can erase those memories.
It makes me think twice about wearing my favorite pair of shorts, even though my outfit has nothing to do with what happened to me. A dress would hug my hips just right and I would second guess the outfit because I didn’t want to come off “promiscuous” or “asking for it.”
It made me shy away from the idea of having consensual sex or even wanting to be touched. Physical touch is my last love language and being assaulted seemed to bury the thought of anyone touching me ever again. I didn’t want to engage in anything too rough or aggressive because I would have flashbacks.
I get extremely warm and anxious when I walk past a group of men on the way to the grocery store and cringe as they throw out comments. Seeing pictures or hearing the names of people who did horrible things throw me back to the very moment when I felt so small.
My process of moving forward started with a numbness that morphed into questioning everything about myself, my body and rape culture. I knew thinking that maybe my outfit or bubbly personality or growing figure was the reason. I found myself looking for answers to explain why someone felt entitled to my body, only to realize that there was no valid reason or excuse. Understanding that I would never get an explanation from those people, I mapped out a way to healing and answers for myself.
I started by finding the voice to publicly advocate against assault and harassment, whether that be retweeting or engaging in discussions in class. I gained more confidence and sought out those who went through similar situations and put their stories in black and white on my blog. I attended events and panels that were focused on sexual assault and harassment to show my solidarity.
This wasn’t easy. I felt the side glances and eye rolls when I would speak publicly or online about sexual assault. I’m sure people have questioned my validity as many others who have been assaulted. Yet, I knew I wasn’t speaking to seek approval or validity. I validated myself and my experience by boldly speaking against assault and joining and creating safe spaces for survivors to seek shelter and comfort.
I still get triggered. I’ve excused myself from movie theaters because I couldn’t handle the subject matter. I don’t want to give the disillusionment that you speak up and all your problems vanish. There are days where I must validate my purpose on this earth. I have to tell myself that not everyone wants to hurt me, and I don’t owe anyone an explanation as to why I don’t feel comfortable. I will say that each day, I learn more about myself and find more ways to maintain my power.
I don’t share my story because I want pity or to play woe is me. I share my story to eliminate stigma surrounding survivors and the healing process. We are not damaged. There is no way to identify us when we walk down the street. We don’t wear scarlet letters on our chest.
Sexual assault doesn’t make you weak and I don’t think it makes you stronger, instead it forces you to re-define your value, find and savor joy and take back your power, promising to claim it and fiercely hold on.