At age 5, my grandmother warned me against sitting on family members’ laps; this included my own father.
At age 8, I was convinced by an ex-family member that kissing and showering with him was a normal and healthy sign of love, but not to tell my family because they would get jealous of my special treatment.
At age 9, an older man saw me struggling alone with the air hockey table at an arcade. He hovered over me, pressed up against my back and wrapped his arms around me to help ‘guide’ me on how to play. A family member saw, shouted my name and promptly scolded me for ‘allowing’ the stranger to touch me.
At age 10, a family friend, 16 at the time, started caressing my back while we played video games. A family member saw, called my name and, like clockwork, scolded me for ‘allowing’ the guy to touch me.
At age 12, a history teacher made a point to vigorously rub the girls’ backs whenever he came to our desks. This became a daily occurrence, so bad in fact, we refused to ask for help the remainder of the semester. A parent finally found out and reported it. We never saw him again.
At age 15, in an effort to avoid getting catcalls and stared at by the guys at a new school, I started wearing my brother’s jeans. They were 3 sizes too big and hid all my curves. Anything to avoid harassment.
At age 17, I got into 6 state universities with full-ride scholarships. I moved to FSU, with acute anxiety and a warped perception of what ‘normal and healthy’ looked like. This led to a tumultuous relationship with alcohol, school and ultimately myself. I dropped out. It took years to gather the courage to try again.
At age 23, I landed my first office job. A few months in, my supervisor, a married ex-marine, sent me a text confessing feelings for me. Feeling weird and uncomfortable, I did what I knew best, deleted it and pretended it never happened. I switched departments, blocked him on social media and kept conversations short. After a few months of avoiding him, he abruptly ended my assignment stating “I wasn’t a fit for the company”. It was sobering; that someone could so blatantly abuse their power without batting an eye. I e-mailed the owner and told them about the harassment. They responded candidly, asking for proof.
That’s the thing with coming forward; the burden of proof is on you.
And that’s the thing with harassment; you don’t keep reminders around as souvenirs.
At age 26, I found out the aforementioned supervisor was fired after a 9-yr tenure. A new girl forwarded the owner screenshots of inappropriate messages he sent to her at work. This was three years after my accusation.
At age 27, due to reasons beyond my control, my family found out about the childhood abuse. Seeing their reactions became more traumatic than the memory itself. It ripped open a scar that had once healed. The ex-family member denied it; called me insane. I kept on. There was nothing to gain from it coming to light. My mom blamed herself, as I knew she would. It’s what we’ve been conditioned to do.
At age 28, our nation elected a known sexual abuser. The type of abuser that would openly gloat about taking advantage of his status at the cost of women.
I was in mourning.
If the President of the most powerful nation was allowed to get away with this behavior, what hope was there left for the average woman?
And then the Women’s March happened.
The largest day of protest in U.S. history.
In the dead of winter, a beautiful collection of women and men alike saying:
ENOUGH is ENOUGH.
So, what’s the point of giving you this personal timeline from hell?
Well, you see, as the accusations have poured in, so have the skeptics.
“Why didn’t you leave?”
“Why didn’t you say no?”
“Why didn’t you say anything then?”
Here’s the problem.
My story is not unique. It is not a rarity.
It is a social plague that quietly affects every decision I make.
It is a whispered, personal responsibility I was tasked with from childhood.
A dirty little secret my grandmother tried to convey to me from the age of 5.
“Protect yourself. It’s not a matter of ‘IF‘ you’ll get assaulted/harassed; it’s a matter of ‘WHEN’.”
So, thank you Silence Breakers.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
For finding the courage many of us buried deep.
We needed you. I needed you.
You shined a light in the darkest corridor of my life.