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[Trigger Warning: Child abuse and sexual assault]
“We can’t tell anyone this happened ok?” Famous last words. How many of us have heard them? How many of us have been made to feel like talking about what we have been through is just going to make things worse? Most of us. Only With Consent was created to help promote the idea that silence is not the answer. Silence will never, ever, be the answer. I am writing to you, Only With Consent supporters, to tell you from first-hand experience, about the power of talking.
I work retail part time, and the owner of the store where I work is someone I consider a friend. I was a customer for several years before he asked me to join his staff and I like to think I know him pretty well. Last week sometime, something happened that has changed our friendship forever, but it wasn’t what you think.
It was the end of the day and as we were closing up shop, we began talking about all kinds of different things. We talked about life, and love, and relationships, and somehow we ended up talking about me. I found myself, for the first time, completely opening up about things from my childhood that I haven’t shared with many people. You see when I was a little girl someone I love very much said those very words that I opened this post with, “We can’t tell anyone this happened ok? They’ll blame me.” Before that moment, and ever since, I have walked in virtual silence, carrying my burden alone.
I can’t tell you what led us into the conversation, I can’t tell you what made me feel comfortable talking to my boss that night, but I did it. As I sat there for three hours, slowly rehashing my every ugly moment I saw all of the expressions on his face that I have spent my life trying to avoid. Shock, pity, sadness, and confusion showed themselves in rapid succession but I plowed on.
I told him about the things my daddy did when I was a little girl. I told him about the night his roommate hurt me while he had sex with his girlfriend in the next room. I told my boss about the things my daddy still tried to do when I wasn’t a little girl anymore. Worst of all, I told him all about the worst night of my life, which I will share briefly with you.
I grew up mostly thinking that what my daddy did to me was normal. I thought that’s what good little girls were supposed to do. I thought that if I could make him happy he would give up the “yucky stuff” and come home. I also grew up feeling uncomfortable with the things that were happening, but never understanding why. When I started puberty (quite early), I started learning about the birds and the bees and I finally knew WHY I didn’t want to do those things. So I made a vow to myself that I wouldn’t let anyone hurt me ever again. Not him, not any of his junkie friends, no one.
A week before my 11th birthday a man my mom worked with offered to stay and babysit me during her shift. I had been staying home alone for months and my mom initially wasn’t in favor of the idea, but she was in a rush and he was persistent so she gave up and let him stay. He drugged me that night, and so even though I had sworn to protect myself there was nothing I could do but watch. I was awake for it all, but I couldn’t move a muscle.
This final act of brutality against my childhood innocence sent me to a deep dark place in my life. That was the only thing that I ever reported, and all that came out of it was more pain and suffering for me. CPS and the police broke their promise to be low key when they came to interview me. The whole school heard their sirens and my name when it was called across the intercom. I don’t know what happened to that man, I don’t know if the 6 times I retold my story ever did any good. What I do know is that I lost my faith in Child Protective Services and I lost my faith in my mother. The night that the counselor came to my house to tell her what happened was the night she asked me never to mention it again. That was the night she taught me how to give all my power to my abusers.
While I was telling this particular part of my story to my boss, I found that my entire body was shaking. For the first time all night I was reduced nearly to tears. How could I sit there and tell him about the other things I had been through so calmly, and then suddenly here I was quivering like a scared Chihuahua? I had always assumed that my dad caused the issues that have stemmed from my abuse. I always assumed that he did more damage than anyone else did, I mean he is my dad, and he was supposed to protect me. I learned that night that I have so much more to work through.
Talking to my boss about the things I have lived through, did so much for my faith in the people who love me. He may have been unable to hide his emotions from his face, but he never made me feel bad or dirty. He listened intently and with care. He promised me before I walked out that I could trust that he wouldn’t share what I had told him, and I knew that he wouldn’t. I left that night feeling a jumble of confusing emotions, but the most prominent one was relief. I talked about it and he didn’t run away screaming, he didn’t tell me I deserved what happened, and he didn’t judge the person who I am today because of those things. He just loved me the way any real friend would.
I spent my whole life not talking about the things that I went through. I know that my mom didn’t mean to say what she did, or at least she didn’t mean to make me feel the way that she did. But she did. She unknowingly closed me off from her, and so much of the rest of the world. I spent over half my life carrying this heavy burden, feeling like I had done something wrong, like I had asked for this in some way. I never felt comfortable expressing these feelings to anyone because victims are trained NOT to.
Rape culture can only exist in the ugly dark shadows where no one talks about it. Talking about what has happened to you, and what is happening to men, women, and children all over the world, will help to spread awareness. You may not think that sharing your story is important or necessary but IT IS. Opening up to someone you love will lighten your burden in so many ways. I’m not asking that everyone be in the public eye with their pain, but I am asking that we all vow to end this trend of silence that is killing us.