(Best Of) Collaboration: Sexual Assault
With the #metoo movement hitting social media by storm over the weekend, it has us looking back to our collaboration on sexual assault we did last summer. These are just a few of our stories. There are so many more.
(Trigger warning. Some graphic details of sexual assault.)
I was in kindergarten. There was a boy that sat next to me in class. I can’t remember his name but I remember his messy blonde hair and his cheeks and nose were covered in freckles. He always looked a little dirty too. I don’t know how, but this five year old looked rough around the edges. We sat at long tables in multi-colored plastic chairs and he would grab my leg under the table while in class sometimes. I had never been touched like that before. It scared me. I’d freeze. Every time. Do I pull away? Do I tell the teacher? I panicked and would pretend that nothing was happening and pay extra attention to the teacher instead. I think he realized I wasn’t going to say anything so one day he got brave. Very brave. We were watching a video in class and the lights were dimmed. He reached over and grabbed my leg, then slid his hand up my shorts and touched my underwear, rubbed his hand up my 5 year old privates and leaned in and whispered, “I like your panties”. I was terrified. I couldn’t move. I wanted to cry. I couldn’t pay attention to the class. I couldn’t build enough strength to push his hand away. I felt crazy. The teacher eventually walked by and saw and he drew his hand quickly away. She and I made eye contact and I think she could tell I was scared so she quickly moved him to the back of the class and away from me. It never happened again but 25 years later I wonder about that boy. How he knew those things. Why he looked so rough. Where he had heard those things. And I’m thankful the teacher separated him from me before it had a chance to get worse.
I love my job but sometimes I’ll come across something that punches me hard, right in the heart. As a survivor of sexual assault, as a mother, I had to stop and cry for a 10 year old child I don’t know. A young girl making her first trip to the OBGYN because of a bumpy rash. Positive blood work shows the contraction of the Herpes virus is not recent and six months later the child is removed from her abusive home. Six months. I cried for this six months more she would have to endure at the hands of an abuser, for the years of therapy she’ll undertake to try and understand that it wasn’t her fault and that she isn’t dirty or sinful or alone. I cry for her youthful innocence forever tarnished by the actions of the very people she loved and trusted to protect her. I just had to stop and cry.
His name was Jimmy. He had wavy blonde hair, acne and a bulbous nose. I remember thinking he was ugly. He was 17 years old, in my church youth group and for a summer he wouldn’t leave me alone.
I was 13. I knew nothing about sex. So, I was morbidly fascinated by the vulgar comments he would make towards me. He grossed me out, but the information he spouted was interesting – like something I would need to know one day. I would swat him away when he’d rub his hand up my leg on the church bus. I would tell him to leave me alone when he’d whisper things about my “pussy” in my ear. I would duck and run when he tried to kiss me.
One day the youth minister asked me to go get something from the supply room. Jimmy jumped up to offer to go with me. I grimaced, but didn’t object.
When we made it to the supply room, he pushed me from behind into the cabinets. He kissed my neck as I weakly told him, “No, please stop.” I stared at the white cabinets and thought, “white, white, white, white,” over and over as he shoved his hand down my pants and fingered me. “No, please stop. No, please stop.” He told me, “You like this.” As I tried to squirm away, I felt his boner against my back continuing to pin me against the cabinets.
Finally, I worked up my nerve, elbowed him in the stomach – not hard enough to hurt him, but hard enough for him to get the point.
“Fine, you stupid bitch,” he said as he stomped out of the room. “You know, you’re lucky an older guy is into you.”
I don’t remember what happened to Jimmy. His family moved or he went off to college or moved to the swamp of gross boys and until now, when I read another woman’s story, I didn’t realize that anything abnormal had happened that day in that supply room. I was told that I was supposed to like it, right?
It was Cinco de Mayo, I was 23, and I was meeting my former coworker and her boyfriend at the bar of a Mexican place. She and I had become friends when she was my supervisor, but then she got fired and moved away. They used to be regulars at the bar, and they stayed at a hotel nearby so that they could drink there and walk “home.”
I met them at the bar, and the bartender hooked me up with a margarita. And another one. And so many more that I couldn’t count. We watched the Kentucky Derby, which my former coworker’s boyfriend had bet $1000 on. The whole thing was thrilling. He lost, by the way.
They invited me to walk with them back to the hotel room, for what, I don’t remember. So she could freshen up?
We got there, and she asked if she could put makeup on me. In my drunken haze, I agreed. It was all fun. Then she started kissing me. Then he started kissing me. Then they took off my clothes, and it happened. Even when I pushed him away. It happened. When it was over, trying to wrap my head around what had happened, I smoked one of his menthol cigarettes and put my clothes back on.
We all walked back to the restaurant, which was packed by then. My boss and a few coworkers had come to see the former coworker, and I couldn’t help but feel like I was under a microscope – like they knew had had happened, and they were judging me. I felt the makeup on my face and felt like a hooker.
And suddenly, I ran. I got in my car, so drunk I could barely see straight and drove home, somehow weaving my way to my apartment.
The next day, I sat in the dark as the phone rang over and over. My former coworker left me messages asking if I was mad at her. Her boyfriend left messages too.
I reworked the whole night in my head. I made it complicit. It was some hot three-way that happened. I was totally into it. Wasn’t I?
Is that why I smoked even though I had quit years ago? Is that why I left my green underwear in their hotel room, so I wouldn’t have to take them home with me? Is that why I could barely ever look my boss in the face again?
My husband and one other friend are the only people I have shared this story with because it is so humiliating. This is not what some would call “legitimate rape.” There was no violence. No bruises. I wasn’t actually raped, right? It’s humiliating because to this day, 14 years later, I still question whether it really was my fault and whether it really qualifies as sexual assault. As I retell this story, it sounds so innocent.
There were no bruises, but there is a scar. A scar I see every year on the fifth of May. One that comes up every time I hear her name or his name. One that has caused me not to share this story for fear that whoever hears it will think it’s silly and inconsequential because nothing that bad actually happened.
I imagine there are loads of other women who had things happen to them that people would say aren’t really sexual assault. Ask that woman. See how she responds. Look into her eyes. Watch her body language. Learn that rape is never the victim’s fault. It is a scar because it never leaves you. No amount of therapy or burying it in your psyche can make it go away.
“Without Consent” by, our very own, Mandy Graffeo: