At the start of 2018 I invited women on social media to share their experiences of abuse, sexual assault and harassment with me, and if they were ready, with the public. I hoped to turn the violation of my own childhood into something good, something that might encourage others to speak up and to let go of the shame that was never ours to carry.
This is a deeply personal project, by far my most challenging, testing me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Each story shared both crushed and strengthened me, opened old wounds and created new paths for healing.
Thank you to the eleven exceptional women who stepped forward, who spoke and listened, who overcame fear and shame and allowed themselves to be seen.
These are our stories.
I was a 21-year old university student and had just started dating someone new. He was a friend of a friend and I had known him for years. I had told him a number of times that I was a virgin and wasn’t ready to have sex. But one night he raped me when I was too intoxicated to consent. The worst part was not the rape itself but how it irrevocably changed me, shattering my view of the world and of myself. I really didn’t want the awful experience to define me but it shifted me in big and small ways. Small things like rarely drinking alcohol anymore. Big things like a reluctance to be in romantic relationships and a dissociation with my body.
With time I’ve realised that I shouldn’t deny or ignore what happened, regardless of the shame and embarrassment associated with it, because you can only get rid of darkness by shining a light on it. That experience became part of my life story through no choice of my own, but now I decide how it continues to impact me. I can reframe my own narrative.
I now live from a place of fearlessness because I have experienced one of the worst nightmares and I survived. I was able to provide rape counselling for other university students, using my own experience to help others. And it is one of the reasons I run a non-profit focused on empowering young women to share their truths through writing. I’ve also begun to reconnect with my body through sport, meditation and a focus on healthy eating. I told Sarah that I would like my #metoo photo to be taken in the sea. As an open water swimmer, the sea is a place of peace and freedom. It accepts and embraces me for who I am. It is my happy place.
Sexual abuse does not have to be violent or blatantly aggressive. It can be subtle, innocuous and sometimes almost imperceptible; so much so that you may not even realise you’ve been violated. But you know. You just do. And it changes you on a cellular level - that act of invasion of body and spirit - and it sets you up to play out an unwanted and an undesirable role throughout your life. You become numb, to more violations, to self-destructive behaviour, to the self-hatred and self-doubt forced on you by your perpetrators. That is, until you say “enough”. When you make the decision to be a survivor and not a helpless victim anymore. But it’s not a radical change; it doesn’t make the news headlines or anything. It’s a gradual process of reclaiming yourself and of recovering what was lost or taken without your permission. And then telling the world, simply and clearly: “enough.”
It’s 06:00. Your alarm pierces through the silent cloud of sleep you find comfort in. Snooze, or stop? Stop. Snoozing means ignoring that the day has begun. You don’t ignore anything you’ve put in place to control your life. You lift yourself up and look through the curtains. I was sexually abused. It’s a nice day out, barely a cloud in sight. It was my uncle. You might even be able to wear a summery skirt to work today. It started when I was four. Or that pair of navy blue loose cotton pants. I don’t know exactly when it stopped.
You walk to the mirror and turn your head from side to side to confront yourself. You move your face closer to the mirror and smooth your eyebrows. Left to right, top to bottom to scrutinise yourself, until you see her. The little girl you used to be. Some days noticing her petrifies you, some days you can’t imagine feeling any more at home than with her secure presence staring back at you. You smile, your polite and harmless way of saying hello.
You sit down in front of your laptop, scanning news updates on Twitter. Father accused of raping his 7-year-old daughter. Maybe I was seven when it stopped.
The sun shines bright outside. Summery skirt it is. And the black sandals you bought on your trip to Zambia. They’re comfortable and make you look approachable. When I finally reached out to my family at 10, it was followed by years of silence. You brush your teeth and apply eyeliner and mascara. You want to look professional but not too attractive.
We never really spoke about it again.
Five-minute countdown. You grab your water bottle and an apple as you slip out the door. You take the stairs - never the lift - the most harmless cage can trigger claustrophobia. You get to your car, on time. As always. Always in control. You turn the key and switch on the radio. I was sexually abused. You observe all the drivers around you. Irritated men, anxious women. He’s my dad’s half-brother. My uncle. A policeman.
I am finally sharing my story because I am committed to end the cycle of abuse in my family, my culture, my country, my world. Child sexual abuse is maintained through silence, and I can be silent no longer. I was abused by a family member that holds a powerful position in society. I had very little understanding or support for most of my life. I ended up in an abusive relationship as a young adult, where I was re-traumatized by sexual, physical, mental and emotional abuse. Few people understand the gravity of intimate partner violence. The gravity of someone biting you to illustrate that you are too fat to go to the beach with them. The gravity of him getting drunk and punching you. The humiliation of “no” never being an answer, because the only role you’ve learned is submission.
I have been diagnosed with Complex PTSD. It has been a difficult journey and I feel like I had to hit rock bottom to finally seek out the help I needed. To not rely on alcohol, self-harm, eating disorders or toxic relationships to cope, but to face myself, and to be compassionate to my inner child, guiding me to find a path to healing. I could not have done any of this work without an incredibly solid support system – mentors, friends, partners, family. And I definitely could not have done it without my psychologist, who I owe my life to.
Most of all, I could not have survived without the strength of other women who have been willing to share their stories. Now I can follow in their footsteps. I have fought, and I am on track to finishing my PhD in 2018. Some days are hard, some situations are soul-destroying, but there is hope. You never “put it behind you,” and no trauma ever really goes away, but in a world that makes no sense I have found a few things that do. To all the survivors out there, take it one day at a time. You are not alone.
I was so young when a trusted family friend started sexually abusing me that I didn't think there was anything wrong with it. It made me feel uncomfortable and I wondered why it was only done when no one was around. But I didn't know that it was wrong. I didn't yet know what wrong was.
Later in life, after the person died, I felt suddenly angry he’d gotten away with it but I swept it all under the rug and went on with my life, as if nothing had happened.
More than 20 years down the line I found myself sitting with a therapist, dealing with vaginismus, a condition which affects a woman's ability to engage in vaginal penetration. After a series of physio sessions to explore whether it was a physical or psychological issue, we discovered that "something" in my past must have triggered my fear of physical intimacy.
I'm happy that I got the help I needed, albeit very late in life. Speaking openly taught me that no matter how insignificant I thought my experience was, it really impacted me and was in fact VERY significant. By getting it out of my head, I could examine it as it was and I realised that I shouldn't treat it as a "nothing major".
I can acknowledge now that it is a major, not compared to anything or anyone else, but for me. I now understand why I am so hypersensitive to anything that strikes me as odd about a guy. I assume he is a predator. I understand now why I struggled to be intimate, and that I need to give myself space to heal.
When I told someone I was participating in this project she asked incredulously if people would be able to see my face in the photo.
"Yes" I replied.
"But Fatima... wouldn't you want them to rather not see you?"
That is why this is needed.
I want more people to open up about their experiences. We shouldn’t be shamed into keeping quiet, into believing it's “no biggie”. Those who do the damage should carry the burden. Not you. Not me. Not us.
It took me a long time to work out how to talk to you about my assault. It took me even longer to realise that what happened to me WAS an assault, not something that happened because I made bad decisions and was therefore complicit. I'd swallowed all the lies whole... so I took responsibility for my own violation.
The specifics are not relevant here: I said no to a man and he ignored me. That's all that ever matters.
I'm lucky that my experience was not overtly violent or aggressive and I don't carry residual trauma, but it still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
I try to channel my angry energy into projects that will inform or empower others, like this one.
So many people carry scars, visible and invisible, because our culture still places male entitlement over female autonomy. I wanted to be involved in this project to help others see that there is no one type of woman who has these shitty problems. We are as diverse as our experiences, and the more we open up to the world and to each other the stronger we are.
I'm sad I was able to be part of this project, sad for all of us. But I'm honoured to be connected to other womxn with the courage and determination it takes to publicly say "me too".
Two years ago, I confronted the man who sexually abused me from the ages of four to eight, under my own roof, trusted by my family, trusted most of all by me. I did it because I wanted to scream and shout at him, to dispel all the anger I’ve spent my life directing inwards. I wanted to feel powerful and for him to feel small. I wanted to tell him how he damaged me, how he instilled in me the unrelenting fear that on some level I will always be alone.
The day came that we sat across from each other in my therapist’s room, with its shelves of books and safe atmosphere. I didn’t feel the safety of the space that day. I didn’t feel unsafe either. I just felt cold, cold and frozen. Gone was the rage and passion and conviction I’d been practicing for years. Gone was the monologue I had planned, getting it all out so my mind would finally be free, free and empty and ready to start again. Gone was the feeling that I would be okay, if I just confronted him and spat it all out.
I sat there, saying nothing. I listened to his own story of abuse, his own journey with drugs and eating disorders and self-harm. His own path of self-destruction. I watched his chewed-up fingernails fidgeting uncomfortably and felt mine doing the same. I listened to his monotone voice drone on and on, telling me his life story while mine fell to the side. And I couldn’t hate him. The best I could do was silently dislike him.
This is the heart of abuse. We become the vehicle of our abusers’ anger, their rage, their pain, their sickness, their guilt and their shame. I have housed his shameful act for twenty-eight years and I’m still working out where I begin, and where he starts. Who I am and who he carved out.
When I eventually asked “why?” and he replied, “because you smelt nice”, a rage surged in me akin to nothing I’d felt before. But still I didn’t move. I became the four-year-old once more, unable to step into the grownup shoes that could instinctively protect her.
I felt no sense of vindication or relief when I left that meeting. I felt the burning need to apologise a million times over. At the time I didn’t know who to apologise to, but in hindsight it was me, the little-girl-now-woman who I’d once again failed to protect.
I spent the next six months fighting out from under the cloud that encounter created, and it was only two years later, with this project, that I took another shot at trying to let go. My decision to go pubic was my way of casting him out, of putting his act into the world, and saying “take him, I am done, I will no longer carry this shame that doesn’t and never did belong to me”.
It would be an overstatement to say I feel like a new person. I don’t. But, I am one step closer to being the woman I wanted to be that day, a woman who stands up for her small and grown self. Today I think I could walk into that room, hit him in the face, and walk out. And I would feel no remorse, no need to apologise. Instead I would pat myself gently on the back and say, “well done sista, you did good”.
I am ready to share that I too am a survivor. I do this to break down the high wall of shame that surrounds these experiences. I do this to show you that I haven't allowed it to ruin my life or to define me as a woman.
My childhood, like so many others, was tainted by years of sexual abuse at the hands of a trusted adult. The trauma haunted me and left me with the deep sense that I was broken, damaged, dirty and unworthy of love. As a teen I was certain that no one would ever accept me, and as a young adult I did everything I could to hide my pain.
While my life spiralled out of control, somewhere deep down, I remembered my dream.
This is not a story of pain and despair. This is a story of hope. The past eight years have been a winding road of self-discovery, delving into the deepest crevices of who I am. It’s been fucking hard. I’ve made progress and then fallen back into old behaviours. I’ve broken and reassembled myself more times than I can count. I’ve cried more tears than I care to remember.
But, this is a story of healing.
Today I write from the office of a business I’ve built, and can be proud of. Today I am living my childhood dream of creating beautiful dresses for people to love. And today I can tell you that I am not a broken person. I am not unworthy of love. I am so much more than the damaged child I once thought I was.
I want to share this today for all those who think that our abuse defines us. For anyone who thinks that their dreams are unattainable. For all of you who believe you’re unworthy of love.
Today I want to share what I wish I had known years ago; that while the pain may never go away, the abuse cannot stop you from fulfilling your dreams, unless you let it. And I know you won’t. Because we are survivors.
Once upon a time I went for an afternoon walk from the permaculture farm where I was living at the time. Little did I know I was to encounter three dangerous men. The worst place your imagination can take you, that is where I was taken. Violent and predatorial. Theft, assault and gang-rape.
I remember every detail, but this is not the time for that. This is about two of the many things I’ve learned along my journey of recovery.
With some help, I found forgiveness quite soon after the attack. First forgiveness of them, and then forgiveness of myself. Forgiveness cannot be forced, but it also cannot be under-estimated. It is a potent and powerful act, and when I was ready, it was one of the kindest things I could have done for myself.
To have each of those men on top of me, breathing into my neck and whispering into my ear… I can say I have experienced viscerally the brokenness of our society. I saw, felt and tasted the broken homes, the poverty, the frustration, the substance abuse. I saw the dearth of positive role models in their lives. I saw a flicker of the journey they had walked to arrive at that encounter with me. The pain they inflicting on me was their pain.
Forgiveness felt like the easy part. Dealing with the unbridled fear I lived with thereafter was far more challenging. Which brings me to…
For weeks afterwards, I played the scene out in my head over and over again, in micro-slow motion. I let seconds stretch out into minutes; analysing the chain of events. In this "post-match analysis" I realised there was a moment that I was aware the men were moving in my direction. I was sitting in a field at that point, watching a beautiful pink sunset. In the moment of noticing their approach I did not get up immediately and run because I didn't want them to think I was running from them. I was more tuned into not hurting their feelings than I was tuned into my own safety.
Those few seconds of hesitation cost me a fortune. This was a very, very bitter pill to swallow. And even now, it’s an admission tinged with shame. To be so far removed from my own instincts. To be so well trained in putting (my perception) of someone else's needs before my own. To not want to hurt anyone else's feelings. I saw that this was my life-long pattern; and I saw with fresh eyes the journey I too had walked, to arrive at that encounter.
In that moment of realisation, that pattern came to a bone-chilling end, and what began was a relationship with my deepest wildest instinct...
Nature was the scene of the crime, and it was hard to reconcile that my favourite place of solace was now a place of nervousness and fear. I had lost Nature as my sanctuary, but I still looked to her for answers. This is what she gave me:
In nature, no animal is complacent. Nature is about survival. As we have evolved as a species we have lost touch with our survival instinct and allowed the safety we’ve created in communities to breed an element of complacency. We know all too well how to stay safe socially, but our (my) skills are not quite as refined when it comes to actual, physical safety. This is fine most of the time, except for when it is not.
Mechanisms for safety exist in nature: for example, moving in packs, having big ears etc. but no creature is ever safe all of the time. The wild rabbit will coexist in the grasslands with the hyena. The buck will coexist in the savanna with the lion. The rabbit and the buck's best defence is razor-sharp awareness. They know how to be at ease but on guard at the same time. They can sniff danger a mile away and their senses have not been dulled by the comforts of a sheltered life.
So while I was unlearning the habit of polite domesticity, I was relearning my wildness. While also dealing with PTSD. A rich, interesting, chaotic, hilarious, scary, necessary, important, rewarding journey. One which has put me firmly in touch with my most trusty companion - my instinct.
With PTSD I always felt like the rabbit, and everyone felt like a hyena. Men walking in my direction in the street, men in an elevator. Everyone at social gatherings. You name it, it all felt threatening for this damaged rabbit, always on edge.
I am learning how to work with fear when it arises. I have learnt how to loop it through my intuition rather than loop it through faulty thinking. I have learnt to take deep breaths; to really drop into what is happening around me and to act from a place of calm awareness.
I have learnt to stay alert, even when all the mechanisms for safety are in place. And I am learning to differentiate when a rustle of leaves is due to a falling twig, or the approach of a predator.
I am not yet a lion, but I am no longer the rabbit; and I know that no matter where I go I will always be sharing the grasslands with predators. This fact doesn't keep animals from roaming freely in their territories, and it won't keep me from living my life fully either.
We often don't listen to our instinct, our intuition, for fear of how it might look to someone else if we act on it. But it’s there for a reason. We recognise the voice. We may ignore it but at some point we have to start listening. For me that point came after paying a hefty price.
Cultivating a relationship with my deepest parts has been empowering. Now, I give zero fucks about politeness. I put myself first; I practice responding appropriately in the moment, neither over- nor under-reacting.
Isn't it ironic that the biggest horror could deliver such important gifts.
Life is funny that way.
Growing into a woman I've discovered that we all share similar experiences and that in itself is important. It creates this sense of community that makes us stronger. I only wish for our shared experiences to stem from places beyond vulnerability and hurt.
It started when I was eight, at Christmas time.
That was the age I learned a lesson no one ought to - that the unbreakable bond of trust and love, the one we’re taught comes first and foremost from family, doesn’t always exist. Or in my case, is an outright lie.
For something so catastrophic, so life changing, the setting always seemed so mundane. My parents’ living room. A car. My grandparents’ garden.
I’d watch my parents leave the room to do something normal, like make a cup of tea, or prepare some lunch. That’s when I’d feel my grandfather’s fat, hulking, presence close in around me - suffocating me with both his size and the panic he instilled in me. My world would freeze as he capitalised on the fleeting moments of privacy he had with me. He’d calculatingly make the most of every second before the sound of returning footsteps brought me reprieve. But until those footsteps came, my heart would stop, my legs turned to stone, and my skin washed cold as he kissed and touched me.
Inside my mind that first time, I was panicking, screaming. My brain was exploding with the words: “Run, Run, Run, Run!” Over and over.
But I was stuck there. Frozen.
He found plenty more opportunities for “privacy” over the years. The morning car rides to primary school were a regular one. Instead of going straight there, he’d stop in the secluded car park of St James Church and lock the doors, trapping me inside. I’d sit there staring out of the window at the exit to the car park, which felt both tantalisingly close and a world away. From there I could see cars passing by in both directions, no doubt completing far more innocuous school runs. I remember wishing I was like Matilda. I’d stare so hard at those passing cars, wishing I had the power to make just one of them turn into the car park, drive up towards us, and break the privacy he required and cherished.
One of the torturous aspects of the abuse was that it wasn’t every day. Some days he’d just keep me there in the locked car, sitting for 10 minutes in tormenting silence, as if he was weighing up what to do with me. I’d sit there trying to make myself as small as possible, breathing as quietly as I could, as if that might somehow help make me invisible. I’d be counting the seconds until I could hear the car doors unlock, but eternally on edge at the slightest movement of his hand, ready for my brain to go on lockdown once again.
My grandparents’ garden is another image that haunts me. From where I’m sitting, I can see my grandma through the window, pottering around in the kitchen. Everything is that sort of bright hazy green you see in movie dream sequences. That’s when my grandfather comes to find me. The next thing I remember is my dangling feet, hovering above the floor, my arms pinned to my side as he holds me up to his height, kissing me.
The weird thing about these memories is that they become fractured when I try to think of them. I can only ever actively remember that first time, and then just the first few moments of all the times afterwards.
I think it’s because at 8 years old my mind became my shield. I learned to just shut down, to wait until it was all over and safe enough to come out again. It was like I'd become a machine with an off-switch.
But the shield doesn’t protect me completely. Instead the full, vivid memories come at night when I sleep, playing again and again on loop. Sometimes strong enough to wake me in a panicked sweat, leaving me shaking, running to the bathroom to wash my face with water cold enough to subdue my dream’s ability to pull me back. Other times, the nightmares take their vengeance during the day, after a ‘sleep-less’ night of torment just mild enough to keep me under but leave me exhausted the next day.
In waking life, the senses can trigger those vivid memories too. A casual walk through town can be a minefield, interrupted by flashes of his hands, his lips, just because I’ve walked past someone with sandalwood-scented cologne. The love ballads he’d play in his car nauseate me still whenever I hear them, and not just because they’re shit.
I mourn for the moments that he robbed from me. My first kiss was when I was 8. My first awareness of a sexual exchange between two people was when I was 8. It can’t help but make you feel an outsider when you watch your friends go through those magical first experiences healthily. Of course I became adept at learning to smile and lie my way around those conversations with friends, while lying in piles of giggles on the floor at sleepovers, talking about the guys we all liked. If only I’d been able to tell them that the tears of laughter streaming down my face held no joy.
He also robbed Christmas from me. As I grew up, I could avoid him more and more. But he always had to be invited to Christmas and birthdays. I’d have to hug him hello, and sit across the table from him, smelling his sandalwood stench.
I dreamed for years and years of telling people - something I’m sure other women in my shoes can relate to. I wrote letter after letter, only to throw them all away. I rehearsed thousands of conversations in my mind, imagining how much easier it would be if only everyone knew the truth. But eventually I’d talk myself out of it, worrying about the pain that it would cause them instead - one of my numerous excuses to remain quiet.
I remember the first time I did tell someone, it was a class mate called Emma, we must have been 12. She just looked at me with terror and disgust. She started crying and told me I was lying, asking me why I’d make something that horrible up. I think about that moment a lot and just feel sad. Sad for me, a little girl who was desperately reaching out for support. And sad for Emma. In telling her, I brought images into her mind that no 12-year-old should have to comprehend. I wish I could go back and un-tell her. Our friendship was never the same and it did nothing to help me.
Remembering instances like that, and other similar ones later on in my life, I feel my heart physically start to break with pain, anger and everything in between. Until recently, talking about my abuse has only ever left me feeling more lonely than before.
But 18 months ago, I did finally 'come out’.
As you would hope, many of those I've told have reacted with a love and support so blinding that even as I think about it now, it makes my heart beat too fast and stings my eyes with tears of warmth.
But there were also the conversations that didn’t go so well. Sadly there will be people close to you that break your heart with their reactions. You’ll hear things come out of their mouths that hurt like nothing has ever hurt before. You’ll start to doubt relationships you always assumed were solid. You’ll realise the true power that men like this have, the walls they are able to hide behind that only seem to push you, the victim, into even more isolation.
Because of all this, it’s important to give priority to those that push through all your pain, like mountains of rock, and surround you with their love and protection. A love and protection you'd spent your whole childhood, teenage years and most of your 20s trying to create and sustain for yourself all alone.
With their help, I’ve had my first two grandpa-free Christmases. The first one I cried for hours, overwhelmed by the realisation that I didn’t ever again have to see Christmas as something dread-full. The second free Christmas, I woke with a numb pain in my chest and could barely speak. But eventually I did, the crying finished by about 11am, and I went on to have an amazing day full of laughter and warmth with friends. I don’t think they’ll ever understand just how much the memory of that day means to me.
Which brings me to now. Some days I wake up from a nightmare, sweating and shaking and so full of fear that I don’t want to get out of bed. But the difference is that now, I actually do get up.
Sadly, my story is neither unique nor the most extreme out there. Every time I read of yet another girl or woman's story, my heart physically yearns to hold them. To cry with them and stand next to them in the unimaginably painful and murky waters they have to wade through to survive.
Knowing there is an ever-growing army of women finding their voices, one by one, is an immense comfort to me.
Just as it is seeing men choosing not to live like it's 'a man's world' in which women are there only to satisfy their desires.
Together, we are changing the world, one person's mind set at a time.
So to every girl and woman who has experienced this but stays silent, and to any who may experience this in future… When you are ready, we are waiting for you!
As the years passed it gathered dust,
Shelved alongside so many others.
Like all the other rituals, it had been repeatedly rehearsed,
And like the repetitive prayers, surprised no one.
As we said our prayers we learnt,
Not just to follow the rules, but to believe them.
The stage looked the same, vestments embroidered to mark his seasonal piety.
Stained glass and incense, smoke and mirrors.
We learnt unknowingly, how to best protect ourselves;
How to avoid attention at all costs.
But there was no escaping, air exchanged for stale smoke and whisky fumes.
Your skin no longer your own.
In plain sight, he could not restrain his sordid impulsion,
As if his malice was not bred but born.
How then, could others not see the crime?
A little girl bearing the guilt of the unholy man.
Diligently, I said my Our Fathers,
When the penance was not my own.
Bravery played up everyday, seeing nothing alter.
Breaking the silence with the belief that somehow your pain would save others.
From pulpit to court house and back again.
The tithes you gave giving shelter.
Know that we do not tell our stories to restore ourselves,
We do not tell them to compare scars.
We tell our stories because now we can,
Instead of idly cautioning our daughters.
We tell our stories to repave the path,
Because we are our sister’s keeper.
I have, like most women, so many stories to tell about sexual abuse, from the “small” to the “obvious" to the “shocking”. In some stories I am the victim, in others the observer. Some are stories I’ve held in my heart for my friends. Throughout my life, these stories have lived in me. In silence.
These are not just words on a page. This story comes from an actual women, with a name and a face.
From about three years old I had to learn how best to keep myself physically and emotionally safe. It comes with the territory of having an alcoholic dad. Without your mom. Without her protection. They divorced when I was 9 months old.
My dad is an alcoholic, a sex addict and a serial cheater with no sense of morality. He covered the darkness up pretty well, in the those days. The cool, used car salesman who held it all together.
He was pleasant enough to me but he’d be on his first rum and coke first thing in the morning. And he’d just keep going. Happy go lucky. Not a care in the world. Then begin again the next day. Every day. Lost in his own world with his friends. Jovial, laid back, having a jol. He was never really aware of me or my brother. We were invisible to him. He had no need to keep us safe, no awareness that he should. He didn’t really care.
I was forced by my dad every weekend to put on my ballet leotard and dance for his friends. I was forced to watch movies with all the adults. I tried to make excuses to go to my room, but my dad would force me to stay during long graphic sex scenes. Some of his men sat in the dark staring at me – not the TV. My face burned red. I wanted to throw up.
Such a huge contrast to the How Babies are Made record my mom was playing us at home, with sweet music and soft drawings of babies in tummies.
So I spent many years escaping the clutches of sick old men and misguided teenage sons. As a child in these situations, we are so hyper sensitive, always on high alert. I felt every disgusting fantasy go right through me. Just by the way they looked at me. The comments. The adult language. Children can feel your intention and it's almost as violating as the action. I would often feel sick to my stomach.
The collection of these seemingly small experiences took me years to recover from but my most painful experience was yet come, one I'm still trying to come to terms with, 33 years later.
I was 9 years old. It was someone I trusted completely, so in hindsight I was caught completely off my guard. He was a teenage boy, a close family friend, someone I saw as a protector. We were both alone at my house one night. I remember going into my brother's room where he was. I think I sat down and started playing with the Lego on the floor.
Then he said it. He casually suggested we try out something sexual - something specific.
Everything inside me stopped. Internally I froze like a deer in the headlights.
God no. Are you kidding? Definitely not.
But he wouldn't take no for an answer.
And he went on and on and on.
Nagging, begging, pleading, trying to play it down.
He acted like It meant nothing.
All this time I was saying no.
He knew me so well. He knew if he kept pushing, he might crack me.
He knew the mask I had chosen to cope with my childhood: The Good Girl.The PeoplePleaser.
He is highly manipulative, so he mind fucked me and invoked that stuff.
The whole time I was screaming in my head no.
I really, really don't want to do this.
But he stirred all my weaknesses together in a great big bowl.
In the end I was so confused, and exhausted. I just wanted him to stop. To leave me alone.
He threw in some Chicklets to seal the deal.
I did want Chicklets. I was only 9.
So I said Fine.
But I didn’t feel fine.
He told me to take off my clothes. He took off his.
And although he didn't “actually” rape me, I felt like I had been raped.
I told myself it was my fault.
I faulted my inability to say no and to protect myself.
This was supposed to be my super power. Being one step ahead of abusive assholes.
I’d had years of practice.
But not this time.
I didn't know yet that "nice" guys play the same games. Family, old friends, cousins, uncles, that cute boy you had a crush on, your boyfriends.
I learned my lesson all too well that night.
I lost my voice. I abandoned myself.
The next day I told my mother in a flood of tears. Asking, did this mean I had lost my virginity, something that was precious to me. I described exactly what happened and to my relief she said I was still a virgin. My mother did her best. She reprimanded the teenager and he never tried anything like that on me again.
And then everything went back to normal. Everyone pretending nothing important had happened, like nothing had happened at all. I got the message that I should do the same.
And I did. I spoke of it to no one and slowly I completely forgot it had happened at all.
Although I repressed the memory, the feelings I’d experienced lingered on, unattached to the event, but still damaging me. I would sometimes get this feeling that I’d been raped, but couldn't remember it. So I brushed it off.
The first and last time I smoked dope my mind was wrenched open. That inexplicable feeling came bubbling to the surface and stayed with me for weeks, while the actual memory remained unseen.
I spent the next 10 years searching for it and one day, after a lot of work, it quite unexpectedly came quietly back to me. That was 15 years ago and I’m still coming to terms with the details. Finding healing as best I can. I don't think it ever really goes away.
That is ok I guess.
Only a handful of a few very close women friends, my husband, my mom and the guy (who still denies it was abuse and has never apologised) know in varying degrees of detail what happened.
From the rest of my world. From my extended family and from many, many friends, I have kept this secret...for 33 years
Today I am saying me too.
Today I am saying enough shame. I don't deserve this burden.
Why should I hide my pain, for other people’s comfort.
Today I'd rather have it out than in.