If I have children (God forbid I do, as I fear for my abilities and capabilities as a parent every time I stop to entertain the thought) I would want them to know that I am a survivor of child sexual abuse, and sexual assault – the latter, twice – once at the hand of a close friend and ex-boyfriend.
I would want them to know that I at first, felt like in some uncertain terms these things were my fault. That I was confused about them, that I was unsure of how it was ‘supposed to feel’ to be “raped” — that I always told myself this narrative that being “raped” happens in back alleys at the hands of total strangers grabbing you on a sidewalk somewhere, or that afterwards you feel completely ripped to shreds from the inside out and you go to the hospital and do the whole rape kit thing and so on. And I would want them to know that for these reasons, all of the assault I’ve been privy to didn’t “feel” the way I thought assault would feel. I was mostly numb to it after it happened. I carried on with my day, or days, as though my life was totally normal and I was the same as everyone else who this hadn’t happened to, and that for these reasons I thought to myself, “well.. I couldn’t have been raped or abused; or if I was, it wasn’t as bad as other people’s experiences so I don’t have a right to say anything about them.”
I would want them to know this simple thing about sexual assault and sexual molestation, at any age, by someone of any gender: if you believe it to be rape, it is rape. If you did not consent to what happened to you, and/or you were too young to consent, then you didn’t consent. And that your own personal feelings and way of dealing with that are yours and yours alone and nobody is allowed to tell you things like “you should have told on them” or “you should have been more devastated” or worse, “you didn’t say no so it wasn’t rape” or “you can’t really be raped by someone you know or invited over to your house.”
I would want my children to know that sadly, assault and abuse are more common than we’d like to think; that I know several people in my life who have dealt with the repercussions and pain and numbness and self-hatred that they’ve brought on, internalized, thought about as as a result of their own experiences with rape. Those “1 in 5” or whatever numbered statistics are true — it is true that this is a very common thing. It goes unreported because as we know now, the law does not protect or often believe survivors of assault; it goes un-talked about because for many, these conversations are still taboo and they’re still difficult to swallow and they force people to re-live their traumas over again. But is it true? Absolutely. Once you speak about your assault, others will too; countless others. Go on Twitter after a highly publicized unfair case where a rapist got off scot-free. And you will see thousands of men and women voicing not just support and solidarity, but voicing “this happened to me too”… many, for the first time. I want my children to know that those stories are painful and brutal and speak to injustice in our society, but they are true and should and deserve to be believed, and supported.
I want my children to know that if anything happens to them they should tell someone but if they don’t they shouldn’t beat themselves up about it because I never told. I never told on anyone who has abused me. One of them is dead. He went to his grave with a daughter that still looks to him as the greatest father and best friend a little girl ever had. And I could have changed an entire family and the course of an old man’s life by ‘telling’. And I wish I had. But at the same time, if I had I would then make victims of a widow and a daughter and a son who had no part in, or control over, what their father did, not just to me, but other little local girls too. Is that fair? No, it’s not. And so I am now more at ease with the decision I made than I ever have been and I’m not angry about it anymore. But as victims, do we have a duty to tell? No. We’re victims and we only know how we feel and what we feel we need to protect ourselves and protect our own reputations, lives, families, and emotional well-being. I want my children to know I’m here for them but at the same time, if they don’t want me to be they should come to their own decisions about the right time to tell me something in time.
And finally, on sexual assault and abuse I would want my children to know that at any point, the best thing to do is say no. Children say no all the time: to their teachers, their parents, to their friends. And if there was ever the best time to say no, it would be when someone is doing something that you don’t like or want in or on or around your body. Saying no to someone who cares for you will not make them hate you; and saying no to someone who you don’t know doesn’t matter because who gives a shit what they think, you don’t owe them a thing. But saying no once and feeling weird about in the moment could save your life and in some strange way, theirs too.
Consent is not an easy thing to talk about; if you don’t say no but believe you were raped anyways, will anyone believe you were ‘raped’? And if you didn’t say no does that make the assault your fault? What kind of people do you trust with your body? What kind of people can rape you? I would want my children to know that this is complicated and there are no simple answers but in time, if this happens to you or a friend, it is important to note that how you feel is the subjective but ultimate truth.