One of the hardest things to address when discussing sexual assault and its impact on a victim is how telling the story and being met with disbelief harms you just as much as the actual violation.
I’ve shared in the past a little of my story. How at the age of nine I was sexually assaulted.
The details of that story are:
I was on one of my runaway from home moments. As a child I often attempted to run away from home. My home was not a happy place for me. I always thought that being anywhere but where I lived would be better for me.
On this particular afternoon in the spring I decided that I would improve on my prior attempts at escape. I had a plan this time. I left school when the bell rang, and instead of walking down the street to where the neighbor lady who was supposed to watch me waited, I walked past her house.
I couldn’t go home, there was no key to let me into the house. I could not go back to that house because the woman’s teen aged son was there. He made me uncomfortable. On the nights when I would sleep at the neighbor’s I would wake up in the middle of the night to find him standing in the doorway of my borrowed room.
In the mornings when I showered he would watch me. When he thought he could get away with it he would walk naked around me. Now the neighbor lady either didn’t know this was happening, or didn’t care but I didn’t feel safe. I didn’t feel safe at all.
I’d thought often about the last time I did feel safe. It was long ago in my little girl world, sad to say for a child at the age of nine. That place where I did feel safe though was with my father – Lewis. Even though things “happened” when I was with him, he was my father and he was my safety.
I decided that I would go to where my brothers lived. We’d driven by there quite often, and I knew how to get there. I would go to my brothers and they would get me to my father. I didn’t know then how wrong I was.
It was raining that afternoon, and while the walk from where I lived to where my brother’s lived was only a couple miles, on nine year old legs that seems like an eternity. I recall once thinking fuck it I would just go back home – take my beating – and be done with it. Only when I turned around in the distance I saw a woman walking who looked like the neighbor lady. In hindsight it was just the delusion of a scared girl but in that moment I turned and began to run like the wind. I ran for blocks and blocks. I ran until I felt like I was about to throw up and I lost my umbrella along the way. I was more afraid of her taking me back than I was of the elements that day.
When I could catch my breath I was very close to street where my brothers lived. I kept moving and turned onto their street and realized… I did not know their address. My father had taken me past the house many times, perhaps even inside once, but I didn’t know the house number.
I walked up and down that curved street trying hard to remember which house it was. Row houses in Philadelphia can all look the same to the naked eye. I settled on a house that I thought was theirs and rang the doorbell. A woman came to the door that I did not know. I asked her if she knew my brothers and if she could point me to their house. I was close… they were three doors down.
I went to the real house and rang the bell. My brother Brian opened the door. I was a soaking wet mess and he let me into the house. I asked him to call our father. He instead called my paternal grandmother. I remember how my heart sank when he handed me the phone and I heard my nana. I knew that there would be no reconnecting with my father, only the consequence of running away from home.
I sat in the dining room of that house staring out into space. When Brian hung up the phone he asked if I was okay. Yes I replied…what other answer was there? I’d not escaped. My plan failed. What was waiting for me when my mother would eventually come get me would not change.
He asked if I was hungry, and I said yes. He made me tuna. It was horrible. While I sat in silence eating and watching the clock the phone rang again. It was nana letting Brian know that my mother was going to collect me when she got off work. He said he understood and hung up the phone.
He walked over to me and knelt in front of me. He started to put his hand up my school jumper. I closed my legs and looked at him. “Nana told me to check your panties to see if you were wet.”
My radar went off and I realized something was wrong but I didn’t move. I sat there holding my jumper and told him: “no she didn’t.” He insisted that she did, but didn’t make another attempt to check my underwear. He pulled out a game of Sorry and we played some. I was nervous and confused. He tried to make me feel at ease but he was always just a little too close.
He suggested that we play hide and seek. I agreed wanting distance from him, all the distance I could get.
I hid in a bedroom, under the bed. Nine year olds don’t understand that in old houses sound travels. They don’t understand that in old houses you can hear someone walking above you even if there is carpet. He found me instantly.
He pulled me out from under the bed and then it began.
I don’t have the strength to go through the details, if I am going to tell you the aftermath.
I held onto that afternoon until I was a junior in high school. It was one of many things I held onto over the years. I didn’t attempt to tell anyone. On that afternoon there was no point – I would not have been heard. I didn’t tell anyone until I was in the Children’s Guidance Center on a suicide hold. I tried to kill myself in my junior year of high school. It was at that psychiatric center that I confessed this secret to my doctor.
He suggested family therapy and I was asked to tell the story again in front of Lewis and Esther. Esther called me a liar, she said I was just trying to get attention just like my suicide attempt was a call for attention. Lewis was silent.
The doctor was also silent.
A small piece of me died that afternoon. When finally given what I thought was a safe place to tell the story that had affected so much of my behavior over the years that safety was ripped from me.
To this day that story is not believed and it is no less painful than that day in the hospital.
I am not unlike thousands, if not millions of women who find the ability to tell their story and have that story be ignored, and denied and twisted.
The unforgiven in my story is not just my half brother who saw a 9 year old girl and thought of her as a sexual object. It is to the doctor who didn’t support me. It is to my mother who denied me. It is to my father who told me years later to get over it … it was something that happened in the past.
I can recall so little of my childhood. I often wish that that those memories were ones that fell into the black holes of my memory.
It doesn’t though. It is always there. Just like the memories of being called a liar are always there.
While I’ve learned to manage the pain of that spring day through therapy and through my kink, to manage the pain of being denied never leaves.
It colors every interaction I have with people, even the intimate relationships that I’ve had over the years. It’s even affected how I raise my child. How I fear for his safety while I recall never having been safe myself.
And it is a part of why I over reach in some areas when I hear the stories of other women who’ve lived through sexual assault and rape. It is why I am more inclined to believe the victim than the accused and why I stan so hard for this cause.
No one stood for me. So if I can stand for one person I can take away a little of their pain, and I can reclaim a part of me that was lost.
It is also why I gravitate away from rape deniers. Confronting them is a constant reminder of that afternoon in family therapy. The anger it creates in me could power a small city for a year. I can’t afford to be that angry.
And at the same time I can’t afford to not be angry.