*Trigger warning* The story below contains some graphic details.
The #MeToo movement has gotten a lot of media attention recently after news stories in the last couple years about the president, Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Bill Cosby, and other men in positions of power reportedly sexually assaulting women. I am going to share with you the story of my #MeToo moment, something that I have not told anyone other than my husband.
Sitting here writing this today my stomach is in knots, I am breathing short measured breaths, and I am considering not telling you at all: but I think if I do not and I am trulydoing a disservice to other women and my own daughter
When I was eighteen, I was sexually assaulted.
The winter after my high school graduation, two of my friends and I had gone to hang out at the apartment of a guy we had gone to high school with. We had a small high school class, only twenty-five, and I thought that we all knew each other very well. The guy acted like he was interested in me and asked if I would stay and watch a movie.
Naively, I said yes and my two girl friends left, telling me that they would pick me up later on. Later they called and said that it had really snowed a lot and the roads were very slick due to the snowstorm. Could Joe drive me back to their house so they didn’t have to drive? Sure, he said. After the movie, he persuaded me to stay overnight, saying the roads were a mess and that after they had been plowed in the morning he would drop me off at my car. He said I could sleep in his bed but he would be a gentleman. I agreed. I trusted him.
After a while of laying on opposite sides of the bed, he started touching me and pulling off my clothes. I told him I did not want to have sex and told him no. He pulled my bra down and started rubbing his penis between my breasts and then forced his penis into my mouth. He pulled me on top of him and held my head, pushing it up and down until he finished. He was bigger and stronger than me and I was physically overpowered. After that, he rolled over and fell asleep.
I lay awake all night and cried silently, wondering how I could extricate myself from the situation, angry with myself for not leaving with my friends, cursing at myself for not saying ‘no’ more forcefully or doing something to keep what had happened that night from happening. I thought about calling my friends, but this was before I had a cell phone and I didn’t have their new number memorized. I thought that I should walk to my friends’ apartment, but it was at least ten blocks away and it was dark, snowing, icy, and I was wearing sneakers, so I lay in bed next to him.
In the morning he acted like everything was normal. He acted like the same friendly football player that had sat next to me every day in Chemistry class. I acted like everything was normal because I was afraid that if I didn’t, he would hurt me again, but probably worse. He dropped me off at my friends’ apartment and I did not go in, instead, I got in my car and drove home, stopping once to throw up.
I did not tell anyone because I felt stupid and ashamed. I did not tell anyone because I was afraid that I would not be believed. I did not tell anyone because I was afraid of being criticized, blamed, shamed. I did not tell anyone because I was embarrassed. I did not tell anyone because I was angry with my friends for letting me be in that position. I did not tell anyone for over eight years, until I was in a relationship with my now husband.
Even though it has been almost eighteen years since it happened, I still think about it. Sometimes when being intimate with my husband it is something I can’t help but think about. I catch myself getting anxious, thinking to myself please don’t let him put his hand on my head, or is he going to want me to go down on him?, and am I not making him happy if I don’t like to do that? I am in a safe, loving relationship and my husband would never make me do anything that is uncomfortable for me, but still, those thoughts pop up now and then.
I believe it is important to teach children, both girls and boys, about body autonomy, consent, and respect at an early age. They need to know and understand that their body is their own. They have the right to control: who can and cannot touch them, what kind of touch they consent to, and who they want to have physical contact with. They have the right to protect themselves and need to know how to express when something feels wrong, uncomfortable, or inappropriate. They need to know who to turn to when they feel uncomfortable. Kids need to know how to tell someone “no,” “do not touch me,” “stop,” or “I don’t want to be touched.” As adults, we need to not dismiss their feelings. We need to listen and respect when they say “no.” Listen when they report feeling uncomfortable and don’t force physical contact (“Come on, give Aunt Nancy a kiss,”), and enforce that no means no.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world,” is a quote I try to live by. So, I am teaching my children and encourage you to teach yours about consent and body autonomy. I don’t want my child to feel forced to give anyone hugs or physical contact. Instead of telling them to give hugs when we leave their grandparents’ house, I ask, “Do you want to give hugs?” I remember a certain older person that as a child and into my twenties I was expected to give hugs to, and I always felt uncomfortable because a hand always rested on my bottom, and for too long. I am sure it was not intentional, but it made me cringe and I didn’t like it. I want to make sure my kids feel like they can decline to have contact that feels wrong, that they can tell me if something feels wrong, and that I will believe them.
Have you had a conversation with your child about consent and body autonomy? How did you teach them? I would love to hear from you.