For anyone who has been sexually abused, this week in social media should have come with trigger warnings. Hollywood has hit the tip of an iceberg, otherwise known as Harvey Weinstein. The stories, the severity of his inaction brought up many memories for me. I don’t know what the outcome of these allegations will be. What I do know is that the stigma of sexual abuse has not changed in decades. I think sexual abuse is this evil creature who steals your sanity and happiness for the rest of your life. Grinch, he stole Christmas. The Joker had his eyes on Gotham. Vicious fictional characters who have no effect on my life. But sexual abuse the sneering, wickedly laughing creature has reared its ugly head too many times in my life to ignore it.
“You asked for it.”
I was six the first time I was raped. It was a family affair in every word. Everyone knew it but I wasn’t allowed to say anything. It wasn’t done on purpose. He didn’t know what he was doing. I was six, how did any of my actions tell an adult that I wanted to be raped and have the rest of my life changed? Sexual abuse had reared its ugly head. If only I had known this was the beginning.
“You dressed wrong.”
By the time I was 12, I was problematic. I was the nightmare teen who was precocious for her age and needed counselling from someone in church. Or so I was told. I was raped again. I was easy, he said. Baggy t-shirt, loose jeans, panties and a teenage bra. Yes, that was a turn on for 30-year-old man who was supposed to be counselling a teenager. Disgusted? Imagine how a 12-year-old would have felt.
“You led him on.”
Starry-eyed marketing intern whose boss massaged her thighs during a meeting. I felt uncomfortable and I reported him to human resources. They said they would speak to him. They did. I was fired because it turned out (in his words) that I was the first one to touch him and he was turned on. Sexual abuse works only one way, it doesn’t always listen to both sides.
“You were raped, you are shameful.”
I was now in my early twenties. I was looking forward to meeting the man of my dreams. Settling down. Starting a family. But sexual abuse wasn’t done with me yet. I told my boyfriend of three years what had happened to me. He was the first person I had wanted to have sex with instead of being forced to do it with someone. I expected a hug, understanding and calmness. What I got was blind rage. I was dirty and shameful, he said. I had brought other people’s germs and diseases into his life. And no, I did not have any diseases or germs because he made me go for a blood test to be sure.
“It’s okay for him to do it, he’s powerful. Don’t talk about it.”
I did not let my abuse define me. I was not a victim. I wanted to be a survivor. I wasn’t ready. I worked in a communications firm. International. They were proud. I wasn’t. Sexual abuse came for me. This time it came in the form of a senior manager. He was married. I wasn’t. That was his reasoning. Events would mean his one hand was always touching my backside. Being alone with him in the lift would mean he had the chance to grope my breasts. Overseas events meant I had to share a room with him. I didn’t want to lose this job so I told a colleague instead of going to human resources. “It’s good for a promotion,” she said.
And then it happened. I stepped away from it all. I wrapped myself in a bubble to prevent sexual abuse coming near me. I worked from home. Rarely stepped out. I couldn’t trust anyone. I was uncommunicative by society’s standards. I needed therapy. I survived the bad days. I met someone, fell in love and married him. But still, I am not whole. When life gets too much, my coping mechanism is worn out. Logic shows me one way. My cracked emotions show me another. I’ve hit many dead ends in my life that turn me towards old habits. After more than 10 years, I’ve started cutting myself again. A few weeks ago, I was suicidal because I thought I wasn’t good enough for anything or anyone around me. I thought I was a failure because I did not meet society’s ideal list of perfect humans. This is one journey sexual abuse takes you on. And I know, I’m not the only one. Last night, I found the courage to share my story. So did at least 25,000 others.
Sexual abuse is a creature who murders your soul, leaving you in emotional and physical pain no one can see. There is no justice even when the abuser goes to jail, on the rare occasion he does. In some cases, people who steal your television receive longer prison sentences. The scandals that come, will also go. Soon to be forgotten. No scandal has ever left a lasting change on how sexual abuse is handled. How dare I say that?
The tweets, the social media posts, the media coverage … am I blind? No, not yet anyway. Think about this. Harvey Weinstein isn’t a new story. He’s an old story that is the symbolism of so many men before him who are only sorry they got caught. Remember Bill Cosby? What about Jimmy Savile? Rolf Harris? Ian Watkins?
Using Google to search the names I mentioned? Good luck.
I don’t expect anything I’ve said here to change how you feel about sexual abuse. I’m one voice among many whose story might not change how you feel.
Maybe in your mind accusing someone of sexual abuse is a mistake, a plot of revenge to bring someone down. Maybe in your mind, sexual abuse is an exaggeration of what really happened. There are too many cases of untruths to believe a person who has been sexually abused. Go with it. It’s what you believe, correct?
By that logic, I also have the right to believe that sexual abuse should be prevented not dealt with as an afterthought. Like it, don’t like it, deny it – that’s all on you.
If you feel you need someone to talk to :