Thursday, April 7, 2016

Guest Post - Safe Places

This is a guest post for my series during SAAM 2016. To find out more, visit my intro blog here.
by Anonymous, Female, 35

There are places a girl should feel safe. Home, school, church, these are environments where a child can flourish and grow into a healthy and happy individual. For me however, these all became places to be fearful. My first experience with sexual abuse came at the age of 3. A family member came into my room and asked me to undress, then brought in his friend to watch me. They then both touched me, taking full advantage of both my nudity and my innocence. I actually have no memory of this experience; I was only made aware of it because my abuser had a crisis of conscience later in his life and confessed everything to my mother. These are the only details she’ll give me. I have no idea if anything went further, but it clearly made a mark on my young mind. It also seemed to paint a target on my back, as this was just the beginning of my sexual abuse experiences.

I hit puberty very young, growing boobs at 7 and getting my period at 9. I was hyper aware, as children and teenagers are, of my differences from the other kids. By the time I was 13, I was dealing with a very large chest, around a G cup. I was raised in a religious home, basically if the church was open, we were in it. I was very popular with the boys from youth group, even before I was in the youth group. I didn’t really understand it at the time. I knew they wanted to spend time with me, but I also knew on some level they weren’t interested in me as a person. I found out in my 20’s that there had been a running bet about which guy could get me to show him my boobs first. I’m glad to say that I won the bet, as none of them ever got to see them.
I remember clearly an experience when I was about 8, sitting on the lap of a man from church while he stroked my hair and told me how pretty I was. He told me he thought I was older, like in my teens, and how all of the boys were going to want to be with me. I know now that he was erect while doing this, I had no idea what I was feeling back then. Hindsight is both a blessing and a curse; maybe I would be happier if I never realized some of these things. He kept his hand on my ass until my mother came to collect me. I didn’t understand that what he did was wrong. I knew it felt wrong to me, but he was an adult and from the church, and I assumed I must have done something wrong for him to make me feel this way.
When I was 9, I was groped at a friend’s birthday party. I went to the bathroom in the middle of the movie they were showing (it was The Land Before Time, it’s funny how the details can stick with you) and my friend’s older brother followed me. When I came out, he told me how pretty he thought I was. He reached under my shirt and down my pants, and when I tried to run he used his body to hold me against the wall. I finally broke free and returned to the party, where he sat beside me on the couch. He draped a blanket over us and continued to run his hands all over my body while I sat paralyzed by fear and confusion. I didn’t know that I could have made a scene. I didn’t know what to do at all. I just assumed, once again, that I was the one who made boys react to me this way.
At 12, I went on a ski trip with the youth and young adult group. By now, I was starting to like boys and there was an 18 year old boy in the youth group that had been paying a lot of attention to me. I was very excited when he sat next to me on the bus on the way home. Soon though, his reasons became clear. Yet again, his hands slowly snaked over my breasts and down between my legs. I again sat still, tears streaming down my cheeks, not having any idea what I had done or how I could stop this. I just prayed that the bus would go faster so we could reach the church where my parents were waiting to collect me. After what seemed like forever, we finally arrived. My parents weren’t there, they were running late. I decided to walk around the church to try and clear my head before they got there. He followed me. As soon as we were out of sight, he pinned me up against a wall. It was brick, and I hit my head. When I started to cry, he covered my mouth and told me to be quiet or he would hurt me. I did my best to stifle the sobs as he undid my jeans and pulled them down. As he fumbled one-handed with his own jeans, he used his other hand to push my panties out of the way and put his fingers inside of me. I had never had anything put in there before, and he was definitely not being gentle. It hurt a lot. He was able to get his jeans undone and he had just turned me around to face the wall when someone came around the corner calling my name. My parents had arrived and were wondering where I was. He ran before they could see him and I hurriedly pulled up my pants before they could actually see me. When my inadvertent saviour asked why I was crying, I told him that I had fallen while playing on the small playground behind the church. I still didn’t know that I could tell someone. I thought that if I did, I would be blamed. After all, I had let him put his hands on me during the bus ride. I thought this was all my fault.
I developed a bit of a shell when it came to men. All of my friends dated during high school, I never did. I didn’t really want to. I had crushes of course, but I always had in the back of my head that men were just going to hurt me. In high school, a shirt that showed even the smallest amount of cleavage meant a day full of the most disgusting comments. Despite the fact that I made it through all three years a virgin, if the rumour mill was to be believed, I had slept with virtually the entire senior class and half the faculty. I felt worthless. Devalued. Not to be bothered with in any way. I learned to dress modestly, not because it was a reflection of my personality or beliefs, but because anything else just invited lewd stares and comments. Not that it mattered entirely. With G cups, I could have dressed in a wool turtleneck that was 3 sizes too big and a floor length skirt and still men would have stared at my chest.
I decided to attend Bible College in a different country, and moved 2000 miles away when I was 18. Instantly and without reason, rumours began to fly about my sexual promiscuity. This led to a shunning from the women, but an acceptance with the men. Spending all of my time with the boys did nothing for my reputation. I was called to the dean’s office several times because they had ‘heard’ that I had slept with someone else. Despite my vehement denials, I was told to get my ‘lustful desires’ under control. To my knowledge, none of the men I was alleged to have had sex with were ever called in to the office. During my time in college, my ass was slapped and my boobs were casually grabbed more times than I can count. I grew up to be opinionated, but I was instantly shocked into silence by these acts. It was like I was taken back to those moments as a child, when someone else laid claim to my body and I was powerless to stop them. I could argue theology and politics with poise and intelligence, but the moment someone touched my body in a sexual manner, I froze.
When I was 23, I was helping the youth group I now led distribute flyers for an upcoming youth event. Three men started to follow me down the street as I walked from house to house. I tried to ignore them as they made horrific comments about my body, about what they would like to do to me. I decided the flyers were less important than my safety and started to walk to my car. When they continued following me, I started to run. In a blind panic, I turned down an alley that would get me to my car faster. They caught up to me and herded me into a corner against a garage. I have never felt fear in my life the way I felt it at that moment. They were talking about whether they should share me or just take turns. For the first time in my life, I fought back. I kicked the closest one as hard as I could muster in the groin, and used the opportunity to run. I made it to my car without looking back. I drove directly to the police station, where I was asked what I was wearing, why I was out at night, and why I had decided to run down a dark alley in the first place.

This event though, it had a silver lining. It kicked off my recovery. I finally figured out that I wasn’t the one to blame. I didn’t have to be silent. I didn’t have to allow anyone to have power over my body or my mind. I confessed everything to my new husband, who cried with me as I poured out these stories. There are more, stories of being followed by men in cars while they yell things at me and having men congratulate my husband on the size of my boobs while I’m standing right in front of them. He has always been unbelievably supportive of me, and we quickly found a therapist that has helped me immensely in dealing with all of this. I’m now in a happy and healthy marriage, and I place the blame for these incidents squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrators. To anyone who has gone through or is going through similar experiences, let me just say this: It is not your fault and you are not alone. Please find help, it’s out there. It can and does get better.

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