But everyone who knows me knows that. I practically lead with that.
Do I have to say “trigger warning”? You’ve been advised.
Molestation is the start of my story
I’ve been sharing my stories of sexual abuse since I found out as a teenager that I was molested by my uncle as a baby. A baby. Instead of making me a PB&J, he just put the J on his D and made me lick it off. He stuck his fat old man fingers inside of my tiny baby body. I. Was. A. Baby. And so were his daughters when he did it to them. My biological mom knew – everyone knew he did this to his daughters – but still, she had him babysit me while she was too busy to be around and play Mommy. I told my grandma and we told the authorities…but I was a baby. No one listens to babies. They apparently make up detailed sexual assault allegations all the time, so there’s no sense in listening to them or trying to do anything about it. Maybe my baby outfits were too slutty?
At the babysitter’s
I didn’t recall the incident with my babysitter’s sons until I was an adult. The time they shut me in their pantry with them and made me touch their boy parts. We were all kids, young kids, like five or six years old. The older son might have been a couple years older than me, but still under ten. Does this count? I really don’t know, but I do know that MY sons will know by that age (wayyyyy before, actually), that you don’t make ANYONE EVER touch your ANYTHING. EVER. Period. This is not “kids being kids”; it’s the start of a pattern for many. Little girls shouldn’t feel like they have to do anything they don’t want to do, like hiding in pantries with little boys, and little boys shouldn’t think it’s okay to make other people do things they don’t want to do.
But I liked it…
I started getting catcalled when I was around 12, walking my dog around town. Men sitting on their porches in our small town would whistle at me and call out things like “hey baby, why don’t you come over here”. Men driving by in cars would slow down to gawk and say rude things or ask me to get in and go with them. I won’t lie: as a teenager, I loved the attention. But that love of filthy attention is actually a result of early childhood molestation. It’s not normal. And I grew out of it quickly once I became an adult and realized how disgusting it actually was.
Pregnancy and relationships are not protection
Then there was that time my fiancé, whose child was growing in my belly, got drunk and held me captive for a night in our apartment. He spent that night tossing me around the bedroom, slamming my head into different objects, and raping me. I was screaming, for hours, “no no no no no no no no no no no no no”, I was wearing something along the lines of sweatpants and a t-shirt, I was not intoxicated, and I was five months pregnant. I called the police the next day. Aside from a snide comment about how Middle Eastern men are known for beating their women, the responders were genuinely concerned for my well-being and gave me their contact information, telling me to call anytime I needed to. While the police were helpful and made me rest easier, no justice was served. I got an order of protection, which he violated regularly in his attempts to intimidate me and simultaneously persuade me that he didn’t remember what had happened. I’m glad I reported in this case – I had a baby to think about – but reporting only helped me get the assault on his record and get him out of my apartment. He never went to jail. He was never arrested. Maybe someone told him “Hey, don’t rape your girlfriend, mmmkay?” but I don’t think that counts as justice.
When the boss is a dirty pig
When I was 19 or 20, I was working full time at a bank. It wasn’t enough income to cover my college expenses, so I took a second job at a dollar store near the bank. I worked a few nights a week after the bank job, cashiering, stocking, cleaning up, and closing the store. The manager was a 40-something man named Jim. Almost immediately after starting this job, I noticed that he would follow me around the store and watch me stock items on shelves – squatting and bending over to reach the lower shelves, reaching upward to stock higher shelves. He would stare and stare until I thought his eyeballs were going to pop out of his head.
The staring continued…and comments soon followed. And texts.
He would say things to me about my butt – how big and round it was and how much he liked it. It was “fat” and “delicious”. He would whistle at me. He would join me for smoke breaks out back just to talk about my body and how much he liked it, how much he wanted to touch it. He talked to me about his wife and how awful and fat and ugly she was. He told me about his daughter, who was about 7 or so at the time. Then he’d go back to staring at me and commenting about my body.
He texted me constantly, during and outside of work hours. Gross things about wanting to have sex with me and about my body and how it made him feel. He was inescapable.
At first, I felt awkward but dealt with it because I really needed the money, he wasn’t ACTUALLY touching me (and I didn’t think he would), and it wasn’t really a bad job outside of having to deal with Jim.
But after a couple of weeks, his comments and staring started to wear on me. I felt dirty when I went to my after-work job. I felt filthy when I left. I looked forward to the days we weren’t scheduled to work together because I knew I would be able to leave after those shifts without feeling like I needed to take a hot acid bath.
I lasted less than three months at that job. One day, I was scheduled to work with Jim and I just didn’t go in. I didn’t call to notify them that I wouldn’t be there. They called me after my shift started to see if I was going to come in, and I didn’t answer the phone. Instead, I wrote down everything I could think of about what had happened. I called the corporate office the next day and reported Jim for sexual harassment. I told them everything he had done and said and how it made me feel, and that I wouldn’t be returning to work for the company ever. Please mail my last check.
I have no idea what came of my report, except that it truly did get filed. Jim no longer works there, but I have no way of knowing whether that was due to my report or not. His now-ex-wife reached out to me once on Facebook to feel me out because he told her years ago that we were dating. (Are you serious!?) She was a beautiful woman and was so nice to me, despite having spent years thinking her husband had cheated on her with me…maybe it was my open candor about how gross he was to me and how “I had to quit that job because I was totally freaked out and took a sexual harassment complaint to the [HR] department…I just wanted to get away from him.”
I walked away from that job easily as it was only a second job and the income wasn’t a game-changer for me. We’re not all that lucky. The harassment I experienced there doesn’t stick with me today, nor did it damage my self-esteem or self-worth. We’re not all that lucky. Jim never touched me or took his harassment any further than verbal assault. We’re not all that lucky.
Being a woman
Now, as an almost-thirty-year-old woman, I hate the attention. I hate having to think about my outfit before I go out alone to grocery shop. I hate that even when I choose clothing that covers me from collarbone to toe, men still stare and say gross things. I hate having to be aware of the cars parked next to me, lest some gross stranger pull me in while I’m putting my groceries in the back seat. I hate checking my back seat every time I return to my car to ensure no one is hiding there, waiting for me to get in. I hate having to decide which door to go in at a store because some guy is staring at me from one of the entryways as I approach – or having to wait for other patrons to approach so I can sneak by with them. I hate that I am always on the lookout for security or cops when I’m somewhere alone, so I know someone with authority is nearby and will hear me if I have to call out. I hate feeling like I have to avoid those same security personnel if no one else is nearby. I hate constantly assessing my situation and my level of safety. I hate playing out all of the dangerous situations that could arise no matter where I am.
We always have to be on top of our game, always on the lookout, always searching for danger in order to remain safe. We have to turn catcallers down nicely: “oh, I’m sorry, I’m married” “No, thanks” “Sorry, I have a boyfriend”. These are the things women do and say all of the time. We apologize for being unavailable to these men for fear they will become angry and do what they wanted with us anyway.
On that social media campaign
I’ve been overcome by the recent onslaught of sexual assault awareness campaigns that are finally gaining traction and making an impact on just about everyone. It’s been amazing to watch the general public’s eyes widen when they discover that nearly every woman they know has been harassed or assaulted (or both!), usually more than once. It’s been empowering to see so many men responding with either stories of their own harassment or assault, or public promises to change in order to eliminate this culture.
I am not shocked at all by the number of women who posted #MeToo in October. I’m saddened by it, but not surprised. I am, however, hopeful that this public outpouring of experiences and solidarity can make real change in our world. I saw countless posts that month about how surprised people were by the number of #MeToo statuses they saw. Good. Be surprised. Take in the fact that MOST women have been harassed and assaulted. Be overwhelmed by the vastness of these experiences; be shocked at the number of MEN posting it and sharing their stories. Be overcome by the reality so many of us live.
And do something about it
For all women: You are all amazing. You are strong. Do your thing and do it proudly, and accept that other women do their thing differently and with just as much pride. Be supportive of each other. Find your similarities instead of your differences.
For all men: You are also amazing, and you are stronger than us. Use the physical strength you have – stand up for women when you see wrongdoing. Get involved when someone needs your help. Use the strength of your privilege – speak out against harassment and assault. Let the world know it’s important to you that no woman is ever abused again, and that you actively and forcefully stand against it.
For the men reading this and wondering if they’ve ever been the cause of a woman’s #MeToo post: it’s not too late, and all is not lost. The fact that you’re wondering and worrying is a huge step. Take that fear and use it to make things better. Don’t catcall. Don’t stare at women (or anyone, since staring is rude). Don’t make comments about a woman’s body unless she has asked you to, or you’re in a relationship with that woman which allows such comments. Do think about what you say before you say it – consider how a strange man, however good-looking or desirable you may think you are, making un-requested comments about her or her body might make her feel. If you feel the need to compliment a woman, do compliment her respectfully. You don’t want her looking over her shoulder to see if you’re following her around after your comment. You don’t want to make her feel uncomfortable or unsafe. If you remember that one time you said that one thing to a woman and you know you slighted her with your comment – reach out and apologize. Yeah, she probably remembers. She’ll feel better and you’ll feel better.
For the men reading this and feeling angry because they’re NOT that guy and they’re tired of being lumped together with them: thank you for not being that guy. Don’t be mad at us for calling out this kind of harassment; instead, rejoice that so many people are coming together to stop this cycle of abuse and harassment. Be grateful that so many of the men who DO make harassing comments and gestures are now rethinking their approach to women. Help those other men become like you. Be a voice for this change. Stand against “locker room talk”; call friends and family out when they say or do inappropriate things. Stand up against harassment when you see it – tell harassers that what they’re doing is wrong. If you see a woman being harassed, say something, help her get away from the abuser if you can, and ask her if she needs help. She may feel overly threatened and not respond well to you, or at all, and that’s okay – she’ll still appreciate that you tried. Be strong for us.
For everyone raising, caring for, or teaching children: talk to them about sexual harassment and assault. Teach our sons that they must be sensitive – that their words and actions can help AND harm, that they are responsible for that help and that harm. Teach them about consent, and that no one deserves to be spoken to or touched in any way without their express and enthusiastic consent. Teach them that all people are to be respected and not objectified. Teach them that not everything they think needs to be said, that because they have a thought about a girl or woman or her body doesn’t mean they have to say that thought out loud (or on the internet). Teach them that these thoughts aren’t bad, but that they are private; and if they feel the need to speak such things aloud, they should do it with you because you understand and will help them to understand their feelings and urges. Teach our daughters to stand up for themselves. Teach them how to get help when they can’t stand up. Teach them that they can always come to you when they feel uneasy about a situation or a person and that you will always listen to them and help them get out or away from an uncomfortable situation. Teach them that they are valuable and do not deserve to be harassed or abused by any person.
We can do this if we work together. We can put an end to sexual violence together. The conversation has only just begun, and we’re all here for it. Let’s come together and work toward a future where sexual harassment and abuse no longer affect our communities. I believe in you. I believe you. How will we change?
#MeToo #IBelieveYou #HowIWillChange #StopTheCycle
Do you have a story about sexual harassment or assault? Share it in the comments – the more we know, the more we can push for change.
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