The first time I was sexually assaulted, I was 8 years old. A boy several years older than me at Daycare, picked me up, slid his hand up my shirt fondling my bare breast, and forcibly kissed me on the mouth. When I told my parents what happened, in a blind fit of rage, they drove to this boy’s house. When his parent’s answered the door, my parent’s told them what happened, and their response was “Boys will be boys.” Boys will be boys. Here’s an idea: What if, instead, boys will be held accountable for their words, their actions, and their behaviour?
We live in a world where sexual assault and sexual harassment continues to happen. It happens to women, it happens to men, it happens to children, it happens. Over and over and over again, it happens. And when men, and women, and children finally come forward with stories of assault and harassment, as a society we ask, “Why didn’t you say this sooner?” “Why did you wait so long to tell your story?”
What the people who ask these questions don’t realize, is that for many people, telling their story, whether it be telling it moments after it happened, or telling it decades later, forces a person to relive that experience. It forces them to recall that trauma, it forces them to discuss something that had a horrifyingly profound impact on them, it forces them to go back to that time, that place, and that moment when they were victimized.
I know of two friends who have been raped. I say “know of”, because these are the only two people whose trauma I was made aware of (they separately and privately, confided in me.) I say “know of” because there are many women and men who have never opened up about their trauma, because the pain of recalling their story is far too much to bear. I have a family member that was raped as a young girl. She did not tell a single soul about it until a few years ago. She’s now in her 70’s.
While I’ve never been raped (I point this out specifically, not because I believe there is any shame in this, but simply because I cannot own a story that is not mine) I have had several threatening encounters with men. I have had my breasts and ass grabbed without my consent. I was once on a date with a man when he started grazing his hand up my dress in the car. When I asked him to please stop and pullover, he locked the car doors and windows. I had a verbal encounter with a male doctor a few months ago that was so inappropriate I reported him to the hospital where he works. When I finally received a call back, I was told that he recalled the events much differently, and thus they opted to take his word for it.
We ask why women and men don’t tell their stories sooner, or why they don’t tell them at all. We ask why they waited so long to speak up. And then when they speak up, more often than not, they are questioned. They are ridiculed. They are paid a settlement to remain quiet. They are told that their perpetrator “recalled the events much differently.” They are ignored. They are silenced.
I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t know how we, as a society, can change the way that we think about rape culture and sexual assault. I don’t know how we stop men (and women) in positions of power from taking advantage of those with less power than them. I don’t know how we create a world where when a woman says that she has been assaulted, the immediate response isn’t some variation of “What were you wearing? Were you drunk? Why were you walking alone?” I don’t have the answers. I wish that I did.
What I will say, is that I am unbelievably proud of the women and men who share their stories of sexual assault and sexual harassment. I am astonished by their courage, their strength, and their vulnerability. And if by sharing my experiences, in any way, shape, or form, helps someone to feel less alone, then I will continue to share mine. Because sometimes there is solace in hearing “Me too.”
With love, empathy, and unity,