Breaking the Silence
March 25, 2013
Unless you have been living under a rock~ there is no doubt that you have heard something about the Steubenville rape case: the sickening facts, the verdicts recently handed down, the aftermath. News media and the blogging world are filled with opinions, testimonies and articles expressing everything from sympathy to hate (and all possible emotions in between).
Initially I tried to avoid the coverage of this case. Too painful and ghastly were the details surrounding the case~ I did not feel strong enough to hear the details. And then the verdicts were handed down………and people on all sides of this horrific tragedy starting weighing in with their opinions. And then I could not STOP myself from reading articles and opinions on the case.
I have recently become part of a small group of bloggers….talented and amazing women that I respect. They have provided a window into their lives and shared their stories and families with the world. MANY of them have now written blogs about the case……and I am absolutely ASTOUNDED at how many of them have been the victim of rape, sexual assault and sexually violent crimes.
For days now I have wrestled with whether or not to share my story. It is in contemplating the possible ‘backlash’ of sharing my story that I decided that to remain silent is to add to the problem. Silence only perpetuates the idea that it is something that should bring shame TO ME.
So today~ I am breaking the silence.
My earliest childhood memories are of physical and mental abuse. In fact I have very few happy childhood memories. The kind of people who lived in and around us~ the transients that seemed to always be a part of the landscape of my childhood……there were MANY who seemed to have no moral code~ who would take advantage of anyone and everyone including small children.
For years the smell of leather made me physically ill…….I never really could recall **why**. I just knew it triggered some internal and very real fear. And then a few years ago I was having a rare visit with my sister (who is recently deceased). I am not even sure how exactly it came up…..but somehow we were talking about our childhood and out of the blue she asked me if I remembered a male babysitter that we had…..and then she asked if I ever knew that he had raped her. And just as if a light switch had been flipped ON into a previously darkened room~ all of the sudden the memories were bright, crystal clear and painful. I remembered as if it had happened yesterday that this man~ while babysitting us made leather belts. I could smell the leather. I could SEE him with a very sharp knife cutting the leather into strips. I could see him using various heating elements to burn images into the belts. And I could taste the vomit in my mouth and feel the terror in my heart. Silent tears slid down my cheeks….both in the past and during this conversation with my sister. And she quietly asked: “did he hurt you too?” And all I could do was nod. Feeling as though if I dared open my mouth the fear and the pain would consume me. My sister was 4 years older than me….so this meant that at the time of the rapes she would have been about 8 and I would have been about 4. EIGHT AND FOUR. Let that soak in a moment………I don’t know if she ever told our mother~ I doubt that she did~ I know I did not. But it is hard for me to fathom how our mother could not have known…how the many adults who came and went during any given day could not have NOTICED. The fear~ no fear is not strong enough~ the sheer terror that I feel was plain as day on my face whenever this man was around. But if anyone noticed~ they never **said** anything….and they surely never bothered to DO anything about it.
We moved around a lot when I was a child……the years between ages 8 and 10 my siblings and I were subjected to torture by a different set of parents~ in the form of my biological father and step monster. I’d rather not go into that right now~ as those are stories for another day and time.
In the summer before I turned 11 we were reunited with our mother and stepfather. This particular stepfather (and I had 4 all together) was an evil man. But I was his favorite~ and he never laid a hand on me. I do not know if he sexually assaulted my sisters and brother~~ but I know he physically abused them. And then he went to jail~ and just when I thought our lives could not get any worse~ they did indeed get worse.
Back to the transients and random men and women always “living” with us for a time~ which really means they came and went almost continuously. When I was 10 years old ~ seemingly overnight~ I went from a scrawny girl with the body of a tomboy to a girl with hips and C cup boobs. I HATED THEM. The transients and my sister’s boyfriend’s all seemed to think they were amazing and that I was now fair game for their (very unwanted) attention.
The summer when I was 12 one of these transients showed an interest in “dating” me. He was 19. He was very handsome and charming……..until you made him mad. I would find out later that my mother KNEW that he had an interest in me…..and sadly instead of asking him to leave our home she herself began a sexual relationship with him. She would later say that she thought that doing so would “protect” me……but even now~ 30 years later~ I am not sure I really believe that. That summer I had my tonsils removed and I was given liquid pain medication that included codeine……I remember very vividly feeling fuzzy headed and weird…….I also remember that it was during this time that this man REALLY started pressuring me to have sex with him. It was late summer when there came a time that he would no longer accept NO as my answer. One oppressively hot summer night~ he cornered me in the bathroom. He was drunk and he was angry. And there was nothing I could do or say that would make him stop. It was horrific and incredibly physically painful. It was (thankfully) over quickly~ but I remember him leaving the bathroom smelling of booze with a satisfied smirk on his face. I remember the blood and the nauseatingly sticky and disgusting mess. I remember trying to clean myself while crying uncontrollably. I remember trying to be quiet so as not to arouse suspicion and have someone knock on the bathroom door. I remember feeling as though I wanted to die. Over the course of the next few months this man would convince me that since it had already happened ONCE~ it may as well become a regular thing. When he was in a good mood and sober he would lavish me with kind words and attention….when he was drunk and angry he would take what he wanted whether I agreed or not. Eventually this man moved on.
When I was 14 years old my mother worked with a man who was 20. And he frequented our house and became friends with my mother and others who stayed with us. I suppose you could say that we were dating that summer. My mother died on September 2nd……..and on the night of her funeral 3 days later my first child was conceived. I believed then and now that it was consensual sex. I recall being in the hospital~ vomiting and so dehydrated that I had to be admitted. The doctor coming in before dawn then next morning and telling me that the reason I was so sick was because I was pregnant. She suggested that I consider abortion. I cried and puked for days trying to figure out what to do. Eventually I worked up the nerve to tell my 20 year old boyfriend. Three days after my 15th birthday that man became my first husband. We were married for nearly 5 years and together we had two daughters who somehow by some amazing miracle and a shit ton of hard work have developed into well adjusted, successful adults.
As my girls grew up and turned the ages that I was during the most traumatic times of my life~ I remember trying to be hyper vigilant. I remember wondering if I would recognize the signs if someone were hurting them. Fearing deep in my soul that I would not. When they turned 14 I remember trying to picture them as wives or mothers and immediately dismissing the idea of that as completely preposterous. And yet when I was 14 it seemed to be the most normal thing in the world~ it WAS MY NORMAL.
When I hear about the things that were done to this young woman in the Steubenville case~ I shudder with fear and repulsion. I do not give a flying fuck WHAT these boys did BEFORE this incident~ or how much “potential” they had. I do not give a FLYING FUCK if their victim was drunk, scantily clad or passed out. There is no way to label what they did to her as anything but RAPE. The heinous way they treated her is both inhumane and unforgivable. The fact that we live in a society where people would not only stand by and WATCH without trying to help her~~ but would also laugh, and take pictures and take videos and tweet details of the assault makes me physically ill. It has caused me to lose some of my faith and hope for our humanity.
For days I have been paralyzed with fear. I have wanted to turn away. I have wanted to spare myself the knowledge of the details of this case and the way it has been handled. I have made excuses to myself about the reason for my withdrawal and my desire to hide what happened to me.
But today I will BREAK MY SILENCE. I will add my voice to what I hope will become a cacophony of voices DEMANDING that things change.
I do not promise to know the secrets of the world or how to solve this horrific situation in which THE VICTIM is held liable and excuses are made as to why the people who perpetrate these crimes (THE CRIMINALS) must have done so……but I DO know some things.
These are the truths I know TODAY:
One cannot consent to sex when one is passed out, drunk or high.
One cannot consent to acts of a sexual nature when one is a child.
Rape is NOT ABOUT SEX.
Rape is about power.
Rape is about control.
We must teach our children that it is not ONLY strangers that can harm you.
We must teach our children that most often rape and sexual assault are committed by someone they KNOW.
We must teach our children that it is OKAY to talk about it.
We must teach our children to stand up for others~ to not allow another human being to be taken advantage of without trying to stop it, or summon help, or tell what you know.
We must teach our children that it does NOT matter how a person dresses, or if they are DRUNK, OR HIGH, OR PASSED OUT that does NOT mean they have given consent to be violated~ in fact~ it is during THOSE times that other humans deserve our PROTECTION!
We must teach our sons and daughters to respect their bodies~ and ALSO to be completely comfortable with setting LIMITS and coming forward if their limits are not respected.
We must teach our sons AND daughters that NO means NO.
You see~ although what this young woman has been subjected to sickens me…….I am equally ~ or perhaps MORE~ sickened by a society that would defend her rapists. Perhaps even more so that her peers and fellow humans would not only NOT HELP~ but that they would photograph and mock her torture.
As my dear friend at DeBie Hive says: RAISE THE FUCKING BAR society.
Wise up~ protect your children, teach your children. If YOU don’t~~ I can fucking guarantee you that SOMEONE ELSE WILL.