Is anyone else out there sick and tired of being re-triggered and re-traumatized? I know I’m not the only one. I can’t be alone in my desire to scream my effing head off—preferably in the streets, carrying a torch, alongside my comrades who’ve also survived this shit.
Brett Kavanaugh. Priests. CEOs. Movie directors. Presidents.
All this talk has set off a continuous loop that plays in my mind of what happened to me. I’ve been enraged every day for the past couple of weeks about it and—believe me—I’m well aware it’s reaching maniacal levels. It's kinda hard to get shit done when you're constantly reminded of the trauma you endured.
So what’s a gal to do? Jump on social media and scream my effing head off to speak my effing truth? Why not?!
I’ve already been through therapy for this. More than once. It helped some, but this shit never goes away. It only changes shape.
I was misdiagnosed with epilepsy when the freaky tremor disorder I developed 15 years after my attack—a form of post-traumatic shock that’s common among sex assault survivors (it's called psychogenic seizures, look it up)—caused me to miss weeks of work.
I’ve journaled about it endlessly, written letters I knew I’d never send, burned them as I prayed, hoping that their smoldering embers would somehow make my memories disappear in smoke. They didn't.
And YES, I reported it, to the people who were in charge. But back in 1988, men who weren’t police officers but mere summer camp directors didn’t take this kind of thing seriously. It was boys being boys. Kids messing around. No cops were called. No parents informed. No investigation. Why would I insist on that? I was 12.
It wasn’t until just a few years ago, in my late 30s, while performing my job as a stenographer at the courthouse, transcribing a rape case, (being triggered all over again) that I realized what had happened to me that summer day might meet the legal definition of rape.
“Penetration, however slight.” “Emission not required.” Look it up. It's in the statue.
You can imagine my surprise after all those years of being told I was making something out of nothing.
All I knew at the time was that I’d gotten too friendly with those boys.
It was my fault for getting into that situation in the first place.
I had, after all, been minding my own damn business, showing off my yo-yo tricks to a girlfriend outside the camp shower house, waiting for the younger kids to finish bathing, when it all kicked off.
Around the world. Walk the dog. I was ace with my yo-yo.
That’s when all the competitive flirting commenced. First there were 2 of them, then there were 5.
“Bet you can’t.” “Bet I can.” “Haha, show me.”
I was 4’7”, 90 pounds. They were older than me. Bigger.
My blue jeans. My favorite Cure t-shirt. Ruined.
I can hear their cackles even now. Laughing as I struggled to break free, as I screamed and cried, pleading to be let go.
Helpless under their strength.
I never saw my yo-yo again.
Punishment was handed down. The 5 boys were not allowed to attend the big dance that was planned for that Friday night, the one that all of us campers looked forward to with excitement every week.
That should have sufficed, was the message I received.
But something I can’t put my finger on, a feeling, not a word, told me clearly that you just didn’t go messing things up for people like the ringleader of those boys.
The one whose idea it was to have his buddies each pin my arms and legs down, the one who’d taken the first crack at attacking my tenderest parts.
He was a star baseball player at his school. He had places to go in life. He was on a winning track with a promising future.
You just didn’t get boys like him in trouble. You let it go.
Even if it meant suffering in silence on your own.
I stand here today and wonder what those 5 boys did the night of the dance, while I was busy spinning and sweating and jumping on the wooden floor of the Rec Hall to “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” by REM.
Did they have to sit in their cabins and think about what they’d done?
Did they have to wash trays at the mess hall?
Do they have any idea that what they did to me would haunt me into my 40s?
Do any of them hold positions of power now? Considering a run for office, perhaps?
If so, would I tell this story and name them in the papers? Subject myself to formal hearings? Be accused of destroying a man's stellar reputation? Put myself out there to save a democratic institution? Only to be made fun of, called a liar?
Later that fall, I was sent to counseling. Diagnosed with depression. Prescribed meds. Life went on.
And here I am, nearly 30 years later. Shouldn't I be over it by now, you ask?
For anyone who’s bothering to still read this, please know that this shit doesn’t go away.
It lives inside us, embeds itself in our veins, and affects EVERY decision we make from that moment forward. Whether we realize it or not.
It often leads to more of the same: more blurry, hard to understand, physical encounters. More confusion. More depression. Vulnerability. Proneness to repeated assaults. Difficult friendships. Family fights.
It’s not like a sunburn, where all the dead, charred skin flakes off and we’re fresh and new again.
It is burned all the way into our hearts and minds.
It floats to the surface every time we get close to someone.
It fills us with confusion, grief and anger that we may not even be aware exists; may not recognize the seemingly blank space from which it arises.
It spreads right into our fingertips, zips right up our spines, when a male boss or a stranger on the bus happens to look at us in that certain way. When he touches our shoulder in a tad-too-friendly manner.
Cross street. Clutch purse. Smile like it’s cool but get the hell outta there. Exit. Exit. Exit.
It can cause us to act out in peculiar ways. To over-sex. To under-sex. To over-eat or starve on purpose. To over-buy when we’re penniless. To over-drink because sometimes it’s impossible to be sober and act normal around people you might desperately want to connect with.
Because you’re never sure who can be trusted.
That is, until you feel safe. Safe with people who’ve proven themselves to be trustworthy. Again and again and again.
But long after we’re sure we’ve been there, done that, dealt with this shit once and for all, it comes back screaming like a banshee from deep inside our guts.
When we’re gazing with wonder and joy and pride at our magical sons and daughters; then, suddenly, we recognize that they have begun to navigate the mysteries of their own, curious, funny, coming-alive body parts.
PROTECT. PROTECT. PROTECT.
How can I make sure this never happens to you?
How can I make sure you never do this to someone else?
I have an idea.
How about we stop elevating power abusers to positions of authority?
How about we stop protecting their damn reputations and start believing victims who carry this shit around like a 60-pound backpack everywhere they go?
Who thrive and accomplish great things, despite this shadow that haunts them always.
We, who are judged for whining.
We, who are accused of making a big deal out of a small thing.
We, who are told we must have made a mistake.
We, who must be too confused, too sensitive, too paranoid, too pretty, too flirtatious, too sexy, too trusting, too careless.
We, who clearly brought our attacks upon ourselves.
Enough is enough. A predator is a predator is a predator.
If every woman who has ever been assaulted honored herself and honored the pain she has silently suffered by telling her story out loud, online, in the public square, and if every other woman showed compassion and respect instead of judgment, we would break the damn internet and break this damn patriarchy and break this sick culture.
Tell it. Say it. Scream it. Type it. Cry it. Let it out.
Hell, you've been living it all these years. #Ibelieveher
I'm Janeen; writer, mother, wife, and full-time, radical Reductionist. I share stupid-easy tips on how to save money while reducing your impact on the environment, & I'm committed to helping others live a life of simple sustainability.
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