What is one thing you have lied to yourself about? What did it do to you?
My thoughts on that prompted many deleted posts, then I finally had to let it all out here. It's simple how a mother could lose her child. They're quicker than lightening. Agile. Tiny. They can get in places we can't imagine. And once they're out of your grasp for a few seconds, especially in a busy place, as a mother, your thoughts immediately go to all the worst possibilities. It's hard to imagine you'll ever see them again, yet you're hopeful.
I can't imagine what that mother felt when the realization hit her. Except I can. What I can't imagine is being bullied by the entire internet, judged by people who weren't there - who couldn't see that she was tending to her other child who was crying. But this post isn't about that. I've not seen one article in my feed about how the DA decided not to press charges against her for all the above reasons.
This blog post was inspired by the story that immediately began sparking reactions that overshadowed that story: a woman who was raped while unconscious behind a dumpster by an affluent Stanford student.
I found myself reading her victim statement one night last weekend when I couldn't sleep. As I was reading it, I found myself thinking that I couldn't imagine going through what she had. To not only be violated in the worst way a woman can be, but then to be re-victimized by the justice system with that joke of a punishment toward her rapist because of the effect the consequences would have on him. On him!?!
Anyway, one thing that kept creeping into my mind was that technically I was raped. But every time I let that thought come into my head, I quickly dismissed it. I never scrubbed myself in the shower. There were no nightmares. I didn't think I needed saving from the person who violated me. There were no heroes in my story because for twenty years I've remained silent aside from a few family members and close friends. And I think the major reason I've never spoken out about it is because I was in denial that I was raped.
I still am.
In fact, for a little bit, I didn't even know what he had done to me was wrong. My first gynecological exam, the doctor asked if I'd been sexually active. I said yes. Because we had sex. Even though I didn't want to.
The doctor did the exam and seemed baffled. She told me my hymen was still in tact. She asked if I knew the definition of intercourse. That's when the patronizing judgement started. I didn't like it, and I was determined to avoid it at all costs after that.
Of course I did. I was fifteen. He was my boyfriend. We knew what sex was. I thought I wanted it. I changed my mind. He didn't. He started and finished. I didn't feel anything but pain, regret, guilt, and fear.
But if a doctor didn't believe I even understood what the act was or how it was done, how would I ever convince anyone I had changed my mind about wanting it to begin with?
My mother asked how it had happened on the way home. She made me go into detail. Horrifying, embarrassing, the shame. I told her that I initially said yes. We'd planned a time and place to do it. Right as it was about to start, I changed my mind. I said I didn't want to.
He said, "It's too late."
And when I complained it hurt, asked him to stop, he told me he had to finish.
I was fifteen. I knew what sex was, but I didn't know whether a guy had to finish once he started. I just thought it was too late for me to change my mind.
My mom told me it's never too late. She told me that was called date rape. And it was like it went in one ear and out of the other. He loved me. He was my boyfriend. He wouldn't do something to hurt me.
This is a burden I've carried for twenty years. I've blamed myself. I've felt guilty and ashamed. But I never once viewed myself as a victim or a survivor. It was a bad decision to put myself in a precarious position to begin with. But after that relationship ended, I promised myself I'd never have sex with a guy again until I was married. In fact, I made it a point to tell every guy I was with after that as soon as things became romantic that I was waiting until marriage. And every guy respected that. In fact, several of the guys I dated were also waiting. If asked, I identified as a virgin. Because technically, I was still one.
If nothing else came from that experience, it taught me to value myself more, to have higher standards. I remember one guy asking if he could kiss me the summer before my junior year. The first time someone asked for my consent. He. Asked. To. Kiss. Me. I laughed at him. I said, "Don't ask first. Just do it. I've waited for this since the seventh grade."
But looking back, I hope my boys will ask a girl before they kiss her. I hope they will respect that consent should always be given. I deserved to be asked. I deserved for someone to actually ask for my consent to touch my body, to enter it with any one of their body parts. And if I had changed my mind, I still had the right, the power, the ability to have that consent revoked, but most of all honored.
For twenty years, I've carried shame and guilt. I've kept silent because we were young. In fact, if I was too young to know it was rape, maybe he was too.
But that's the problem. Our youth need to know about consent before the age of fifteen because not knowing what rape is doesn't excuse it. It doesn't make it any less rape. It doesn't change the fact that I wanted to stop, but he continued. It doesn't negate the hurt it's caused me for twenty years at the violation of my body, my voice.
The story of the rape at Stanford centers around consent. The victim's statement has been on my mind all week. And I've wanted to speak out, but I've been afraid. The thing is, if everyone is afraid to speak out about it, then how will change happen?
If rape happens to one in four college aged women and only one speaks up, then how do we expect there to be change? Emily Doe can be the voice for all of us, but at the same time, there is power in numbers. We need to rally behind her, to support her, but to also share our stories. Because my guess is once stories are shared, that statistic will be even more staggering. I have so many friends who have similar stories to Emily Doe and to mine. There is no way it's just one in four.
Last night, I asked a friend if I should share my story. She said, "If it's comfortable. It needs to be comfortable for you."
The truth is, talking about this publicly will never be comfortable. It won't be comfortable for anyone who has endured this kind of violation. But do we not talk because we're scared, because it's uncomfortable, because we hurt?
Another friend told me change comes with age, education, and awareness. She helped me understand that the reason I've probably struggled with this is because of my age at the time. Had this happened when I was in college, I'd feel differently about this experience. My friend is a date rape survivor. She is quick to correct me and tell me she's not a victim. She has used the experience to help others and refuses to allow that word to be used to describe her.
She also told me she feels like every rape survivor should give back either by mentoring and volunteering or by sharing their story. That it's the way we bring about change. She dedicated her life to advocacy after her experience.
But I've done nothing but hide, deny the truth, and pretend it didn't happen.
When I opened my book of 300 writing prompts (which I realize I've slacked off on this week - I have excuses, but I won't bore you with them), and I saw this was my question, I knew what I had to do.
I'm not a super popular author, but I do have an audience. I do have followers, and most of all, supporters. Many of you have already shared your stories because of the Stanford story. Your bravery inspired me to do the same. And I hope my story will inspire someone else to advocate or share their story. Tag you're it!
Maybe, just maybe, our generation of women can help in raising better boys and men who understand that you ask for consent every time, even for a kiss. You listen for a no, but more than listening for it, you honor it. And if the girl can't speak, you get her help instead of violating her.
As the mother of two boys, I had this conversation in simple terms with them a year ago. It's one we'll continue to discuss as they grow older.
Lastly, even if you can't talk about your story, even if you can't share how you are affected by rape - and I bet even if you're not a survivor, you know one - I hope you'll help the boats find the lights. With each story shared, we become a beacon of hope for someone else.