[This may be difficult for some to read, and is a story that I have rarely told. Many of those closest to me do not know it, and I have never even shared it with my mother. My husband is one of the few people in my life who has ever heard it, and he supported me through my telling of it. While my story is relatively mild compared to so many others, it was a traumatic event in my life, and is an instrumental part of my story.]
I will not get into politics here, but you would have to be extremely oblivious to have not heard about the recent exposure of Donald Trump’s “locker room talk”. Nothing about what he said should be brushed off as something “all men” discuss behind closed doors.
In response to this, a woman named Kelly Oxford (who I admittedly know next to nothing about) took to Twitter to tell her story of sexual assault and invited others to do the same. Thus began an outpouring of stories with the hashtag “NotOK”. It seems Ms. Oxford opened the floodgates and many women who, according to their own admission, had rarely ever (or in some cases, never) spoken their narratives before, were telling of unwanted advances ranging from groping to rape, from childhood to womanhood, woman after woman came forward to open up about what is not just “locker room talk”.
This type of talk goes beyond the merely crude humor that many testosterone-fueled males engage in. While I do not condone such behavior, merely speaking in a boorish or crass manner, peppered with profanities, is one thing. Comparing that to a discussion which seems to indicate that sexual assault is acceptable is ridiculous. Trevor Noah said it better than I ever could. [Note: This video contains strong language, not suitable for work.]
All of this leads me back to my story. Each Summer, my mother, siblings and I would spend weeks at a time with her family in the South. My father would drive us down, deposit us there, and return later to retrieve us, spending a week’s vacation on either the drop off or pick up end of our stay. Between my grandparents and aunts and uncles, there were several houses scattered over a 50-acre plot of land. When we arrived, I would generally drag my suitcase over to my cousin’s house and become my aunt’s “summer daughter” as she still refers to me.
One afternoon when I was about 10 or 11, I had been lying on my cousin’s bed with my nose in a book, something I often did. I was alone at the house as everyone had gone to different parts of the farm, but I relished the opportunity to be alone and simply read. At some point, my uncle came home and found me there. He sat on the edge of the bed and made small talk about my book and other unimportant things. I could smell beer coming off his breath as he hovered close to me, and to this day I cannot stand the smell (or taste) of beer.
Then, suddenly, he was lying on top of me and kissing me on the mouth. I struggled to get away, and (thankfully, as this is where my story veers off from so many others), I was able to wiggle my way out from underneath him and I ran to the bathroom and locked the door. He stood outside it for quite awhile, apologizing and begging me to come out and “talk to him”. He promised that I could “drive the tractor” if I just came out, or that he would get me ice cream, and a number of other utterly meaningless assurances that all would be OK if I would just unlock the door. Hus main concern seemed to be that I might tell someone and he kept asking me not to.
At some point, although I’m not entirely sure how long it was, he finally walked away. I took the opportunity to sneak out of the bathroom and into the far corner of my cousin’s closet where I hid for a long, long time before my relatives began to arrive for an extended family photo. To this day, that picture is probably the only photograph of me as a child where I was not grinning ear-to-ear. In it, I look sullen and sorrowful. Rightfully so.
I never spoke of this to anyone in my family, as I was fearful that I would not be believed, or that somehow it would be my fault. Somehow, I had inadvertently asked for this unwanted attention. That I had wanted it to happen. My biggest regret from not saying anything back then, was that I never knew if I had been the first or last, and by keeping silent I may have left the door wide open for other victims
Years later, I understood that he had been grooming me for many years. He would wake me at 4:00 in the morning before he left for his construction job out of state, to read the newspaper to him because I was already reading at 4 years old. He was very complimentary, telling me how smart and pretty I was. Perhaps I was fortunate that, until that summer, he never had the opportunity to find me alone. Either he was off for weeks at a time with his job, or I was off doing something myself, or the house was not empty. Whatever the reasons, I now know that I was blessed. .
Sadly, I personally know of so many women who were not so “lucky”. Young women who were forced into having sex before they were ready, date rape, inappropriate touching, unwanted advances, cat calls, sexual innuendos, harassment at work, constantly fending off invitations, and the list goes on.
It shames me that this is still such a difficult story to tell. That humiliation colors the telling, when this event was through no fault of my own. That it is so difficult merely demonstrates how far we have to go to make dialogue about sexual assault of all types an easier topic to discuss.
We must get out the message that it is not OK, because the longer it takes, the more victims there will be. (And although I spoke of young women here, there are many young men who have also suffered assault.)
[Please note, if you or someone you love is a victim of sexual assault, please seek help. There are many wonderful organizations dedicated to the support of these individuals. RAINN.org is just one.]
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