Two Warnings: 1) This is a potential Trigger for survivors of sexual abuse. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) is a great support resource for survivors.
2) This is a long post.
It is the transcript from a talk I did last April. I was super afraid to speak. It was first time I said these things out loud, in public, in front of strangers. It is the first time talking about it out loud for all of the speakers that night. We met up a few times before the date just to support each other. I am nervous about putting this in print on the internet even now. However, I’ve hit the publish button while scared before. This is too important to worry about my fear. I have been overwhelmed with sadness by people who say that rape victims should be forced by law to have the baby (as Todd Akin reminds us because if it even is a “legitimate” rape which, by the way, female bodies have a way of blocking conception from). I wonder if these people have ever survived rape. I wonder if any of these people have adopted the many teenage children that are up for adoption but no one chooses (especially the brown ones from America). I wonder if they’ve ever spent time in a classroom teaching them. Have they experienced the issues not being planned/wanted bring into a child’s entire life? I am perplexed because these are the very same people who are then incensed that someone gets public assistance to take care of a child they cannot support. These past few weeks have been a sexual abuse survivor trigger fest. So, in support of other survivors, I share this.
I DIDN'T TELL
I didn’t want to get in trouble. I hadn’t been told it was wrong. I was never told it was our little secret or special game. I’d never been told that adults should not be allowed to touch me in “those areas”. I hadn’t even been taught the proper names. That my pupanny was off-limits was never mentioned. I don't remember if it was. Growing up in a strict British Caribbean household what I did know is that doing what an adult tells you is NON Negotiable. She is my aunt. I am in kindergarten. I didn’t tell.
Before becoming a latch key kid, I stay at the daycare next door until my parents get home. Since I’m older than the babies at the daycare, I go upstairs and hang out with the latch key brother sister pair that lives upstairs. They are early teens to my eight year old. This is the first time I get asked the question: “Would your parents be mad if you played nasty?” “Uh, I dunno,” I say. What does that even mean? I think. They proceed to show me. Though, something didn’t feel right about it. I never thought to tell.
I spent a summer in NY with my favorite aunt and uncle at about 15. It is a summer filled with sexual harassment from him. I know that he and my aunt have issues. I can feel the tension between them. That summer he endlessly finds ways to be alone with me. I wake up to him inches from my face staring at me while I sleep. There are prolonged hugs, favors done for me that have my aunt looking at me sideways, explanations he gives me to unsolicited questions: “You see, there are just some people who you connect with sexually.” I’m a virgin. I know nothing about connecting with someone sexually. He also tells me about how he is physically abusive to my aunt and has a cocaine habit. He makes enough money to have it delivered in the mail. “The junkies on the street aren’t the REAL addicts,” he tells me. I endure this the entire summer. I think the only reason he doesn’t try anything physical is because one day I look him in the eye and say “I am NOT my aunt. You have to sleep sometime. I Will kill you.” He says he believes me. I call my parents in tears begging to come home. “We’ll be there in a few weeks to get you…” they say. “Please, please just come get me,” I beg. “I want to come home.” I didn’t tell. I don’t want to cause MORE problems in my aunt’s marriage so I battle it out for a few more weeks. They have a duplex house in Long Island with a big yard, swing set in the back for the 2 kids, 2 cars in the front driveway. All that was missing was a dog named spot. I don’t want the final demise to be my fault. He harasses me all the way through my sophomore year of college. My younger sister finally tells. I didn’t tell.
It’s my freshman year at college. I meet a guy at a club that every Friday my friend and I would go to. I go on a date with him. We talk on the phone. I meet him for lunch near his job downtown near Wall Street. The next time we meet up we go to an apartment. I don’t know where the apartment is. I don’t even know if this is where he lives. We sit and talk. I notice lots of children toys. We start to kiss. I stop him and say “We shouldn’t do this if you won’t be able to stop because I am not going to sleep with you.” “OK,” he says. We continue to kiss. Then, I’m being held down. I try to get loose but he is too strong. I stop fighting. A voice in my head says don’t fight. Let it be over with. Get out alive. I actually have to rely on him to get me back to the subway so I can get back to my dorm. I have to act like I don’t want to hurt him. While on the subway platform he asks, “So, what, was that rape?” I squeak out weakly, “Just don’t let it happen again.” The concept of a rape kit never enters my mind. I want to erase it. I feel violated, dirty, immensely small, undone and alone in a big scary world. I am forever changed because of his desire for an orgasm and power over me. I hurt for a very, very long time.
I see him one more time to get back a radio I let him borrow. My reasoning, my Dad would be pissed that I “lost” the boom box he just gave me for college. I tell him then that I don’t want to see him anymore. He spits in my face, tells me he has given me AIDS and stalks me for months. He stands on the street peering into my dorm room letting me know what my room-mate and I are doing. I’m petrified to leave my dorm. I don’t report it. I don’t know his last name. I don’t know his address. I don’t know the company he works for. What would they do to me in court? Add onto that the layer of being a woman of color. I will be doubly criminalized. I don’t tell. I don’t tell anyone except the next guy I date. I only tell him because I have to explain why I jump out of his grasp every time he reaches for me.
I decide that is the last time. I am tired of feeling like a victim. I’m tired of being violated. Why does this keep happening? I become crystal clear when dating. “I am not going to sleep with you so do not even think about touching me at all if you aren’t cool with that.” I find a therapist. I take a self-defense course. I learn about setting boundaries. I am vigilant about not second guessing my instincts. Because now all I want to do is second guess myself. I do not feel bad about telling strangers on the street point-blank: I am not interested. If asked why, my reply is: I am not interested is enough of an explanation. I ignore that feeling inside me that doesn’t want other people to feel bad. I start putting myself and my well-being first in many areas of life.
I still however, do not tell. Until one night, I call my mother and tell her about every incident. She in turn shares with me some questionable encounters she has as a little girl. A small weight is lifted. I only tell people I date so that they know to go easy with me physically at first. Any sudden movements towards my body would cause me to recoil and protect myself. A few years later, I make a choice to be a stripper and so now I REALLY, DO. NOT. want to tell. Because you know all those porn stars and strippers have all been sexually abused, right? I even have a therapist ask me if I saw my uncle in the men I strip for. Uh. No. My uncle in no way reminds me of the rich, white, fat Wall Street executives with seemingly unlimited expense accounts I willingly sell mainly conversations to.
I slowly learn to peel away the shame and leave it on the sidewalk for society to slip on. Unfortunately, most of the women (and some of the men) I know have been sexually abused. VERY FEW are in the sex industry. Were every woman who experienced sexual abuse to become a sex worker, there would be few women in any other fields of work. Someone is raped in America alone every two minutes. That's 207,754 people a year. Shame about it happening to me is not mine to have. It is put upon me by a society that always wants to blame the victim of sexual abuse. It is put upon me by “she wanted it”, “look at how she dresses” and even my very own voice telling me I shouldn’t have “allowed” myself to be put in the position for it to happen in the first place.
I slowly start to realize that the more people share, the more courage others will have to tell. I become a member of the Rape and Incest National Network’s Volunteer Speakers Bureau. However, the first time I ever talk about these things in public is last April at a Red Umbrella Diaries event I co-curate with Audacia Ray themed survivors. April is National Sexual Abuse Awareness month. I talk about these things for the first time publicly because it is not my fault. I start talking about it so that any young (or older) person who happens upon this on the internet sees that they are not alone. It is ok to speak up. Keep telling if the first person you tell does not believe you. The shame is not for you to contend with. You have NOTHING to be ashamed of. It is them who should be ashamed. Those familiar people who manipulate us into thinking we deserve to be silenced. Actually, we deserve to be heard. We should not be shamed. We are never to blame.
It could never ever ever ever be our fault. Though, right now fighting this crime is still not easy on the victim, it is a necessary fight to be taken up by anyone strong enough. The more survivors that fight, the more who tell, the more we peel off the society given shame, the more society will slip and fall on their own self-hatred and victim blaming.
It has been a slow process of several YEARS for me to come to a place where I no longer take on what “they” say is wrong with me. I called a lawyer friend of mine one day and say, “I want to file a suit against “they” for all the chaos that is caused in the world because of people caring more about what “they” think, say and do than about caring for themselves first. I learn to talk to me inside of my own head like I am my own best friend. What would I tell a friend going through this? I stop and ask myself this when I am leaning towards beating myself up. I would tell my five and eight year old self to follow that funny feeling and tell. I would tell my fifteen year old self that their marriage issues have nothing to do with you. It is better for you to say what is going on. I would tell my 19-year-old self, I am here every step of the way to support you when you report this.
Activism is not always a loud demo with big signs and anger flying from constantly policing “ism-ists”. It is also about taking steps as just ONE person. We only have control over ourselves. Activism is also about taking full responsibility to do the hard work it takes to become the type of person we want to see more of in society. This is about a world of women and men, girls and boys who I choose to support by telling. I am telling without shame and with an incalculably high level of self loving care from this day forward.
- A guide to "legitimate" rape (salon.com)
- Rapists Explain Themselves on Reddit, and We Should Listen
- Eve Ensler: Dear Mr. Akin, I Want You to Imagine... (huffingtonpost.com)
- An Open Letter to Rep. Todd Akin From Women of Color Activists (colorlines.com)
- I got pregnant from rape (salon.com)