I Was Raped
At 5 years old, I was raped by an older boy in my foster home. After he pulled down his pants I blacked out, only to awaken alone in the basement with my panties around my ankles. I told my foster mother, who promptly told me I was imagining things and sent me off to play.
At 7, I accidentally tossed a ball into a neighbor’s yard. I ran over to retrieve it and was invited in to watch a pornographic movie (what they referred to as a “grown-up movie”) with the older couple living there. I refused and attempted to excuse myself and they let me go, but not before the man rubbed my chest and behind through my overalls. I went home and kept silent, afraid that I had done something terribly wrong.
At 11, the maintenance man in our apartment complex would greet me at the door daily to tell me how he wished he was younger so that we could date. Sometimes, he would take my hand in his and ask if I found him attractive.
At 16, my adoptive mother’s husband saw a hug from me as an opportunity to squeeze my behind, citing the fact that I’d hugged him with both arms around his neck as an invitation. When I told my adoptive mother, she made him apologize and told me never to hug an adult man that way, unless I was interested in him sexually.
From the age of 20 to the age of 26 my ex-husband waited until I was asleep to rape me. He would excuse himself, telling me that a husband couldn’t rape his own wife and how hurtful it was for me to accuse him of such a thing.
When a society normalizes or trivializes behaviors such as unwanted sexual remarks, invasions of personal space and even rape, it is known as rape culture. Western society is steeped in it. A survey by the US Department of Justice estimates that anywhere from 300,000 to 1.3 million women are raped each year in the United States. That’s 1 in 5 women. The number for men is 1 in 33. It’s difficult to know the precise number because about 54% of these incidents go unreported.* Why is that, you may wonder? Why would a victim of sexual assault decide not to report what has happened to them? It comes down to attitude.
We live in a culture that is constantly policing girls, one in which a woman who wears a short skirt to the club is inviting unwanted attention and the man groping her without her consent is a lighthearted man about town. We celebrate violent masculinity by accepting misogyny in our daily lives, perpetuating the idea that men should above all be aggressive sexual beings. When a little boy hits a girl on the playground, the girl is often consoled with an assurance that he likes her. A decade later, when he hits his wife, we are mystified. Black men, in particular, are often taught that misogyny is completely acceptable and that to show women respect is to show weakness. Men do not feel, they do not nurture are not concerned with such concepts, instead embracing masculinity as a display of strength, sexual prowess, and righteous anger.
How many times have we seen movies geared toward teens, in which a group of males participate in creepy activities- watching young women shower through a crack in a door, up skirting (holding a reflective surface at an angle to see a woman’s undergarments), or catcalling a woman and how many times have we accepted these actions as simply being a part of the storyline? How many times have women voiced their concern, how uncomfortable they have been made to feel only to be scoffed at by men who will likely never have to feel that way? We have become desensitized to the barbaric nature of sexual assault. We can change.
My past assaults have changed me forever. They color my interactions with people, especially men, and it affects my relationships. I’ve worked hard over many years to come to terms with what I survived. I can never go back to who I was before it happened, but I can impart what I have learned and hopefully give ideas that could point the way forward to combatting sexual assault right now.
1. Raise your children to understand respect and consent, regardless of gender. Everyone who is involved in a sexual act should be enthusiastic about it, or it shouldn’t happen. Teach children to value their autonomy and personal space.
2. Talk to your friends. Remind them that masculinity does not necessitate violence.
3. Consider global policies on sexual violence as well as local ones. What needs changing? Get on the phone and make yourself heard.
4. Keep it intersectional. Race, sexual identity, income and immigration status can all affect a person’s ability to use the criminal justice system to their advantage. Be aware that not everyone has a trusting relationship with the authorities making filing a report seem impossible. Strategies addressing the difficulties of victims from marginalized communities must be made a priority. Organize.
5. Never blame the victim. They didn’t ask to be attacked or molested. There is no manner of dress or behavior that is safer. There is no cut-off time to rescind consent. Sexual assault is not a result of careless behavior, it is the result of a culture that refuses to address it.
6. Practice self-care and support others. Seek out help from loved ones, faith-based organizations or professionals as needed. Make use of resources such as RAINN, organizations that provide support to victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse. Find them here: http://www.nsvrc.org/organizations.
My experience is not unique. There are people from all walks of life who are suffering as I type these words. To those people, please know that it’s my fervent wish for you to know that I believe you and what has happened is not your fault. You are loved.
*Tjaden, Patricia, and Nancy Thoennes. "Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Rape Victimization: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey."PsycEXTRA Dataset (n.d.): n. pag. The United States Department of Justice. Web. 5 May 2017.