color key — green: relationship to self; red: abuse, blue: mental health. contrast of light and dark correlates with bright and somber tones of voice.
Prevalence of Violence Against Women
Prevalence of Violence Against Women
Prevalence of Violence Against Women
Prevalence of Violence Against Women
It’s not often that I discuss my experiences, in losing my right to decide what happens to my body. Even now, when so many women have made intimate wrongdoings public and this dark corner of our social structure has had some light thrown its way.
In my late teenage years, I shared the same abuser with several other young women. Through various circumstances, we came in contact and discussed our abuse. None of us discussed the abuse outside of close friends and each other. I have listened to friends recount their experiences of abuse, but only to myself and other trusted friends. I have experienced sexual assault while friends stood by, horrified, but unsure of the appropriate way to react. I have told younger women that the men who abused them, undoubtedly, abused other women and they are not alone in their feelings of helplessness. Still, I don’t discuss my experiences of abuse openly. I, and people like myself, are not the problem, but we are not helping to stop the problem. I have strong feelings regarding the accuracy of the statistics on sexual violence against women. My assumptions are entirely based on personal experience. My thoughts on the topic are very presumptuous. The only evidence I have is my own experience. In 23 years, I have experienced seven instances of sexual violence, in varying severities. These experiences did not share a social group. These experiences did not all occur in the same town. These experiences did not all occur in the same state. Every time that my right to my body has been violated, has been under entirely separate and unique circumstances. Maybe I’m just unlucky. Perhaps I put myself in pernicious circumstances or is there a possibility that aggressive sexual behavior is underreported? How have I, alone, experienced seven separate acts of sexual misconduct, in just 23 years, when only 35% of women experience it at all? I may very well be unlucky. I may very well have poor judgement. I can’t, though, after hearing the stories of so many other women, assume that our current statistics are accurate. In an effort to start being part of the solution, I want to let these stories out. I’ll start at the beginning and work my way to the present. The following are my seven experiences in sexual abuse:
#1: Not All Abusers Are Bad People
I know that the first title sounds off, but I aim to be accurate and fair. I had my first experiences with sex when I was three, along with my five year old sister. An older girl, in a foster home down the street from my own family home, introduced my sister and I to her reality. She encouraged and pushed us to perform sexual acts, on her and with her. She invited men and instructed us in how to move our bodies on and around them, in a way they would enjoy. She caused damage to the pathways of our developing brains, but she had no idea what she was doing. Throughout the three years I experienced abuse on her behalf, I heard snippets of the abuse she, herself, suffered. Thankfully for me, I have a very intelligent mother. Abuse is sneaky. Abusers lie. Still, when my mom had this horrible information thrown at her like a brick to the chest, she responded with compassion for this person. I’m grateful for that. It’s not my fault that something negative happened in my childhood. It’s not always an abuser’s fault that they repeat behavior. Sometimes they have been even more hurt than the hurt they’ve inflicted on you.
Sometimes they haven’t, but we’ll get to that at number three.
#2: Social Awareness
When I was 16, I wasn’t much of a partier. I didn’t drink or like that environment much, but I decided to go to a party with two close friends. My best friend since childhood moved to the city and invited me and another girl to a party with friends from her high school. Everything was as expected. Drunk 16 to 18 year olds do stupid things. On a scale of one to ten, I’d say this barely ranks. I still think it’s worth telling, for the reaction of a room full of people. This party was for the host’s birthday. I had never met him. I didn’t even know it was his house. He came downstairs as I sat in a circle talking with other kids. He sat on my lap and drunkenly slurred, “You’re gonna make out with me.” I said, “No,” and laughed, “I’m good.” Then I tried to push him off. He wrapped his arm around me so I couldn’t move my arms and started slobbering all over my mouth. I was completely physically restrained and everyone in the room was laughing. I’m not irreparably traumatized by an immature 18-year-old boy, who didn’t understand that what he was doing wasn’t okay. I think this story is worth telling because a room full of people also thought it was okay. They were too naive and uninformed to know better, but that needs to change. A girl attempting to push someone off of her needs to be a known signal of objectionable behavior. We’re getting better, but we’re not there yet.
#3: The Most Malevolent
If I’m scoring these from one to ten, this lands somewhere off the scale. I don’t know how to score the residual effects of this. In the beginning, I said varying severities. This is the most severe. When I was 16, I had the misfortune of seven people in my family and close friends, dying in one year. The deaths started with the death of my brother. With him when he died, was my soon to be abuser. Without making this into chapters, this man used that shared trauma as a weapon. He was older than me. He had previously tried to convince a 14-year-old me to hangout with him. At that age, I had the sense and emotional stability to say no. At 16, my brother was dead, other relatives were dying, and the safety net of my mother was too devastated to give enough of herself to me. My sister was away at college. I’m certain my abuser saw his opportunity. I have walked in public with bruises he gave me. I have felt afraid that he wouldn’t stop choking me when I couldn’t breathe. I have listened to him tell a friend, “If I killed her, people would hate me.” I have over and over and over, told him no and been forced to have my second ever serious sexual encounter with him. I couldn’t even believe what was happening. It may have been a few minutes, but felt like time wasn’t moving. I can’t describe the surreal feeling. The whole time I kept thinking, “My mom always told me that you have to be assertive and tell men no. This isn’t supposed to happen when I say no.” Somehow, I had come from a background knowing abuse and was still naive enough to believe that when I said no, it would mean no. Sometimes abusers are victims. Sometimes they’re so substantially damaged, that it’s really not their fault they repeat all they’ve ever known. Sometimes people are stupid. Other times, someone is legitimately mentally ill. Once in a while, someone is just a sadist. My mother taught me the importance of being objective. You have to be fair and realistic. It’s also fair to call a spade, a spade.
I’m a big fan of the pride parade. Sometimes it’s a little much. Frequently, the partying wins out over delivering a message and advocating for the right that humans should love who they love. In either case, I’ve always enjoyed the event. I’ve even managed to enjoy it after it made the list of an occasion where I was a prisoner in my own body. I was walking through a crowd with friends, trying to meet with other friends we had lost through out the day. When the parade floats came through our section, police pushed barricades backwards forcing everyone closer together. Myself and my friends were at a standstill, unnervingly closely pressed to those around us. I couldn’t move and I felt someone’s hand in between my legs. Before I could turn my head, this unnamed man had his fingers inside my body. I didn’t say anything to my friends. I didn’t know what to say. I felt dirty, disgusting, and embarrassed. I didn’t know how to react. I glared at him and shifted away, while I watched him laugh with his friends. Once again, I was useless to defend my body. Nothing was my decision and, after a while, that starts to feel like your life isn’t your decision.
#5: UnCollege Parties
During this disclosure of people who are sexually deviant, I’d like to acknowledge and applaud the good people you sometimes encounter, like my friend from the next story. I have not met exclusively evil men (or women). I have encountered individuals who have gone out of their way to do the right thing. Some evil people do evil things. Some evil people watch them being done and do nothing to stop it. Every once in a while, someone has the wherewithal to act.
I was invited to a party one state over, by my friend from work. I decided to go with my friend, mentioned above, let’s call him Tim, whom I had recently reconnected with from Junior High. Shortly after arriving and hanging out, certain things began to become clear. Tim and I had been drinking and were too far away to get home. The resident of the house, unbeknownst to me, had been saying, “I’m going to rape her tonight.” This statement was in reference to me. My friend from work and one of her friends pulled myself and Tim aside, to make us aware of what they heard. They told me not to go anywhere alone for the night. Tim told me to stay with him and gave me a box cutter from his work, just in case I needed it. Somewhere around three in the morning, we were having trouble staying awake. Tim and I fell asleep on the pull out couch. I thought if I stayed close to Tim, the resident would be worried enough about a fight that he’d give up and go to sleep too.
I woke up to his hands in the back of my pants, while he laid behind me. As soon as he noticed I was awake, he pretended to sleep. I didn’t say anything to him or openly express the truth of what he was just doing.
I should have openly and aggressively spoken about what he was just doing.
Instead, I discreetly woke Tim and told him what had happened. He was undoubtedly livid, but outnumbered by the resident and three friends he had for backup. We found a bedroom in the back of the house and locked ourselves in until morning, when we could drive home. My friend from work’s friend pulled me aside in the morning to ask me if I felt I had been violated. She told me the resident of the house was bragging to his friends that he fingered me while I was asleep.
She asked if I wanted to call the police and file a report.
I thought that sounded crazy.
Why would I make a police report? I have no proof. I don’t even know what happened. I told her it was fine. I woke up before he did anything. I didn’t know if he was lying, but I told her he was.
#6: It’s Normal To Let Your Guard Down
In this next instance, I want to emphasize that people make mistakes. I don’t think the following occurrence was perpetuated by a bad person. I think he was a decent person making a drunken misjudgment.
I was at a party with friends who actually took care of me when I was in a bad place in life. One of them was either too messed up or thought what he was doing wasn’t a big deal. I went to use the bathroom in the basement. A friend was in the main room when I came out and asked to talk on the couch. He quickly started trying to initiate sex.
I told him, “No, I’m sorry. It's just not like that.”
“Seriously, I’m sorry. I just don’t feel that way with you and me. Stop.” (Physically resisting with my arms.)
He continued grabbing my body and trying to kiss me.
“STOP! I’m serious, it’s just not like that!”
Someone starts walking down the stairs.
Him- “Whatever, fucking bitch.”
Standing up for yourself is vital to your own well being. You should always put yourself first. You should, also, be human and try to understand the reasons behind someone’s actions.
#7: Douchebags At The Bar
I was at a bar in a more wealthy part of an already wealthy area, with my friend, we’ll call her Taylor. She and I drank at the bar, while her boyfriend talked to two “friends.” At least, that’s what we thought they were. We would find out later, he didn’t really know them much at all. At some point in the night, a while after Taylor’s boyfriend had gone home early, she wanted a cigarette. I don’t smoke, but I’ve always gone out to the outdoor smoking area and hung out until she was done. The men her boyfriend had been talking to followed us out. Everything was fine at first. Then one of them “noticed” a tattoo on my hip that protruded from my shorts. I was in a corner. Taylor was in a chair to my left. This man and his friend stood over me, blocking me into the corner. He started trying to pull my shorts up, then decided to go for it. He asked, “what’s this!? What’s this on your leg!?!” I kept pushing his hands away. I said, “Stop! I have a picture! I’ll show you a picture! Stop!” He continued to ask what it was on my leg and insisted he wanted to see. At this point, Taylor is looking between him and I, terrified, and I’m sharing the same looks with her. The friend behind this man is finally starting to pick up on the inappropriateness of this interaction. He looks unsure of what to do. (I’m feeling pissed that he looks like he doesn’t fucking know to tell his friend to stop.) The man, attempting to remove my shorts while I’m cornered, notices these small glances to each other. He says, “No, it’s fine. Look, I have them too.” He proceeds to remove his pants, less than a foot in front of my face. Taylor stands up and sprints to the door leading into the bar. Her and I are staring intently at each other, both afraid. I know, without us speaking, she’s trying to decide if this warrants help. “Do we need to get help from the bar staff?” We don’t have to say it, that’s what we’re thinking. The friend of the half nude man finally intervenes. He hits him on the shoulder and mumbles something like, “Bro, stop.” The half naked man looks at Taylor annoyed, like we had overreacted to his exposure. Like I should have been less upset about his genitals in my face...? He pulls up his pants and steps back.
For instances like this and some others aforementioned, I want a lesson to be learned. This is important, so I’ll use all caps. YOU ARE WARRANTED HELP IF YOU FEEL AFRAID. YOU ARE NOT WRONG OR OVERREACTING. Both Taylor and myself sat there, paralyzed while we knew what was taking place was wrong. The idea that women are overreacting to unacceptable sexual advances by men, needs to stop. Women should not be afraid to alert a bartender to indecent exposure, for fear of being called dramatic. Women should never be afraid to seek help because they don’t know ‘how bad’ the instance of assault was. If you think it’s wrong and you’re uncomfortable, you have the right to react. Our society needs to stop teaching girls otherwise.
Now, to conclude this spiel of possible self pity and absolute frustration:
Thank you for hearing me.
You wouldn’t believe how hard it is sometimes to just have people listen to you and accept what you have to say. No one has any way to verify my accounts, including myself. I promise I haven’t made anything up, but there isn’t any way to prove it. I know the danger in believing someone’s story without question. I think doing so would be irresponsible. That doesn’t, however, mean we should give up being believed. We need to be more brave in speaking out. I, myself, could be called a hypocrite for that statement. This is the first time, apart from a few close friends, that I’ve shared my experiences. I’m hoping with this, I can start to share more. I want to thank the creators of this platform. Thank you for giving women a beginning for their story. Thank you for providing us with this safe place to start shedding light on the darker sides of human experience. And random thanks to Hayley Williams, for being my vehicle to this platform and for always being honest. Thank you for being brave, so your fans can feel less alone in bad places.