April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) every 2 minutes someone in the US is sexually assaulted. 54% of victims never report and 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail. Approximately 2/3 of assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. 1 out of every 6 women is the US have been the victim of rape or attempted rape and 1 in every 33 men. 15% of victims are under the age of 12. 93% of juvenile victims know the offender.
While statistics are important they are only about half of the story. When we focus on sharing numbers we run the risk of making the person, the survivor, nothing more than a number. So, while I share these statistics at the beginning I want to really focus on stories this month. Stories of survivors, of the progress we’ve made and things that are being done, and of ways you can help or get involved if you choose to.
I use the word “victim” among the statistics because that is the language used by the police and when doing numbers. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, for the rest of the time and conversations that ensue I will be using the word “survivor.” This is done very intentionally because that is what these people are. They have survived. I want to honor and focus on the strengths in them. The word survivor gives power whereas the word victim takes it. I also recognize that both women and men are survivors. Most survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and rape are women though, so please forgive me if I exclusively say women or focus on the stories of women. This is not meant by any means to minimize the experiences of men.
I want to start off the postings this month with a story. She has agreed to let me share this with you. Any identifying information has been removed or changed at her request. Please note that the following story may be triggering as it talks about abuse and assault.
“I was so young when I met him. We went to church together and he told me that he liked me. We would hang out, going to movies, the park, and anywhere else our parents were willing to take us. By the time we could drive we were spending almost all of our time outside of school together. He was so sweet at first. He bought me a necklace once just because. He’d bring me flowers and surprise me with hand written notes.
The older we got though, the more I wondered about what we had. He didn’t want me hanging out with other people and yet he would just disappear sometimes. I would find out later that he was hanging out with our mutual friends and telling them things like I was sick. He would also go out with other girls. I didn’t know it at the time but he had another girlfriend. One that he did all the same things with. He pushed my physical boundaries until I hardly recognized them anymore. We’d watch a movie and he would put his hand under my shirt. I moved away hoping he would get the message but he didn’t. He just followed me, closing me into the corner of the couch. He never said anything, he just did it. It was like my body belonged to him and therefore he could do whatever he wanted.
Then he moved away. I found myself relieved instead of sad. And happy instead of torn up. I thought I could move on with my life and forget about him. That I could take time to sort through the baggage that he had left me with. But then I saw him again. We ended up going to a camp together. At first I didn’t feel anything. I might have even been happy to see him because he was not an all bad person. We did have fun together. And he had once been sweet to me…
We ended up staying up talking after everyone had gone to bed. Talking turned into tickling and I knew we were going to a place I didn’t want to be. I tried to stop, to move away, I told him I was tired and wanted to go to bed, but the next thing I knew he was on top of me. Like always he didn’t say anything. He just started grinding against my body. I was so frightened. All I had to do was call out. There other people right down the hall who could have helped me. But all I could think about in that moment is that they wouldn’t believe me when I told them what had happened. I thought I would be blamed for being alone with him. I started to cry. So I just laid there, very still, hoping he would get the message. Eventually he did, either that or he became bored with me being unresponsive. He kissed me on the cheek and said goodnight. Then he left me there, under the cross, crying and unsure of what to do.
I went to bed and did not get up until people were packing up to go home. He acted like nothing had happened but to me everything had changed. I had to drive home with him in the car, right next to me. I felt like throwing up and couldn’t even stand to have him bump against me.
A couple days later he caught me getting into my car. All he said was, “Please, don’t tell anyone.” Then he walked away. And I didn’t. I kept his secret. I sat through discussions in church about purity and felt dirty. He made me feel used and disposable. It has taken me almost five years to even tell this much of what happened. It was wrong and sometimes I still struggle with how to feel about myself and what happened.”
I want to thank this young woman for sharing her story and you for listening. If anyone else would like to share a story please use the contact form to email me. I realize this month of posting will be hard for people but it is important. Sexual violence is something that is very prevalent and has a lasting impact of survivors and their families. It is something that needs to stop. I once again just ask that you remain respectful to the stories of others. It takes a lot of courage to share.