Its 3am on Thursday July 3rd, so naturally I’m thinking back on my life. I’ve been incredibly blessed; my family is absolutely wonderful, I have the greatest friends, I’ve been able to travel extensively and I’ve lived in several, incredible places without hardly worrying about money. I graduated from one of the world’s most prestigious high schools and am currently going to my first choice college where I’m learning the skills for the profession I eventually want to go into, while also having the best time. I’ve been incredibly blessed, but that doesn’t mean I have the perfect life. Now, I know what this sounds like — spoiled white girl talking about her depression that isn’t actually depression at all. But this is different. I may certainly be very blessed, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t endure struggles and hardships as well. Because I did. One of my biggest struggles was coming to terms with my sexual assault as a child. And it was only weeks before entering college that this finally happened.
Because of how lightly my assault was taken, I had never realized that what happened to me was sexual assault. As loving as my family is, they never made a big deal out of my sexual assault; it was pushed aside, so I pushed it aside. I pushed it to the back of my mind where it would only re-appear late at night when I couldn’t sleep.
My first semester of my freshman year at Emerson College came with news headlines: two girls had come forward saying that my school had done nothing when they reported sexual assault that had happened during their time at Emerson. Ever since, Emerson has been under investigation for their Title IX policy. When the news first came out, everyone at school was shocked — mainly by the fact that this had happened, but also because these girls hadn’t come forward earlier, instead deciding to keep their assaults a secret for so long. That was all it took to convince me that I didn’t want to keep my assault a secret anymore.
I was 8 years old, and we were visiting my aunt and uncle and my two first cousins in Florida. We’re a close family so it wasn’t a big deal when my oldest cousin — 15 years old at the time — invited me into his room. He had a TV in his bedroom and as an 8-year-old, I was pretty impressed. He closed his door. He turned on the TV and immediately switched the channel to Nickelodeon where, evidently, SpongeBob was playing. Looking back it’s ironic that while the most child-friendly show on the planet was playing, I was having one of the most inhumane things done to me. He said I could sit on his bed. We sat for a while. Then he told me I could sit on his lap. I didn’t find it weird — he was my cousin, why would I find it weird? When I sat on his lap and he began to rub my knee and, even as an 8-year-old I knew something was off. That’s when my 15-year-old cousin put his hands in my underwear. It’s funny how a lot of good memories get lost in your mind, while the painful, terrible ones stick with you. And I remember everything vividly up until he put his hands down my shorts — and then, it all went black. It’s as if I completely blocked it out of my mind — and with good reason too. After it was all over I remembering running up to my mom. I was smart enough to know at this point that what had just happened wasn’t normal. But I don’t remember what I told her. I don’t know if I told her about what he had just done. I don’t know if she believed me. What I do know is that because nothing was done about it I didn’t see it as sexual assault. And I would only learn it was sexual assault much later in life, when I decided to finally look up the definition.
“Oh,” I said to myself, after reading this, and then burst into tears. For eight years of my life I didn’t think that what had been done to me was wrong. I knew it wasn’t right — it certainly wasn’t normal, but I didn’t do anything about it because of how my elders reacted to it. The only vague indication that my mother was aware of what happened to me came when I’d be watching TV with another cousin with the door closed and she would come in to open it. “Hey guys let’s keep this open okay,” she would say, and that was it. Aside for that, the denial was strong. For years I had to hear my family praise this cousin who had assaulted me as a kid. Every password in my grandparent’s house was his birthday — the Wi-Fi password, the garage door code, the family Ipad password, and the computer password — continuously reminding me of him and my assault. I remember one summer we went to Disneyland — my family and his. Disneyland was supposed to be a child’s paradise. A child’s safe paradise. But I didn’t feel safe at all. When we would go back to our hotel at night I would lay awake watching the crack under the door to make sure he wasn’t trying to come into my room. I would triple check that I locked the door and when my parents asked me the next morning why I had bags under my eyes I would wave it off.
For awhile I thought my assault hadn’t affected me. Then I started dating and realized this wasn’t true. Every time a guy got close to undressing me, I could picture nothing else but my assault. Panic attacks would ensue and I would eventually push the guy off of me. I would make up some bullshit excuse about not being ready, when really I didn’t know if I would ever be ready.
I didn’t see my cousin for years after Disneyland. Until this past March. My grandparents and I were driving up to my aunt’s house in Florida and that’s when I was told that my cousin would be staying there for a few nights with us too. The 3-hour car ride was pure agony. I was petrified to sleep in the same house as the man who assaulted me 10 years prior. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to tell my grandparents the reason why I didn’t want him staying there — he was my grandpa’s golden grandchild. So I didn’t say anything. When we walked into the house, I held my breath; when he hugged me, my stomach was in knots and I gave a small hug back. I stood on the opposite end of the room as him and just when I was starting to think everything would be fine we were left alone in a room together. The Oscars were on, so he sat next to me on the couch. I felt sick. I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t get the words out. So we sat in silence, until someone came into the room.
He’s different. He’s not the scary teenager I remember from before. He’s a responsible adult with a job and a child. Do I forgive him? No. Do I want an apology? Yes. Will I ask for one? I’m ashamed to admit that I probably won’t.
Why am I talking about this now? Why all of a sudden at 3:30am am I, for the first time in my life, recounting what happened? It wasn’t until college that I finally talked about it and looking back I don’t know why I kept it a secret. Looking back I wish I hadn’t kept it a secret.
I want there to be a change in the way society works. A month ago The White House unveiled a PSA about sexual assault. And while it is progress, it’s also only the beginning. I want girls to be able to talk about their sexual assault without being shushed by parents, college faculty or the fucking government. The reality of it is this: every two minutes an American is sexually assaulted. We shouldn’t be afraid to speak out. This shouldn’t be put at the back of our minds. It should be at the forefront of the issues this country is dealing with. 44% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18. I’m a part of that 44% and I’m ashamed to admit that I am one of the 60% of Americans who did not report my assault to the police. I’m proud of the 40% who have reported their assaults to the police. I’m proud of the people standing up to this issue. And I’m proud that I’m finally speaking about my assault.
I’m an 18-year-old girl and I was sexually assaulted at the age of 8. And no, I am not ashamed of it.
One time is one time too many.