In my pre-teens, I was groped by a teenager.
In my thirties, I was groped by a stranger on a plane.
In between, I was raped by a co-worker.
It has only been in the last year that I labeled the actions of my co-worker as “rape.” In my head knew he had forced me but to say “rape” meant something I wasn’t ready to face. I’m not sure I am now. But I am compelled to write it down, to get it out, to make people see that when you say, “why didn’t she come forward sooner” you are part of the problem.
I was nine when a teenage boy groped me in a hotel room. I don’t remember his name, it might have been Michael, but it doesn’t matter. I remember lying in bed when he joined me. He touched my chest (I had no breasts to speak of yet) and put his hand down my underpants. How much further he might have gone remains unknown as my sister, Karen, came into the adjoining room putting an end to it. I never told anyone and he didn’t have to tell me not to as I knew what he (I originally typed “we” because even now it is hard to put the blame where it lies) had done was wrong and shameful but to my mind I shared some of that shame. Do not ask me why because I cannot explain it even now. I did not participate beyond being the body he chose to touch but that shame is still there. I do know that even now I excuse him because he was someone with special needs who I am not sure understood what he was doing but knew enough to understand I was a convenient target.
A convenient target is apparently someone who is sleeping on an airplane, too. (Sound vaguely familiar?) In the early 2000’s I traveled a lot for the company I worked for and on a summer day I was on a plane traveling from Minneapolis to Kansas City in first class because I I had enough frequent flier racked up to do so. I hate talking to strangers on a plane so I usually read a book or take a nap; I am usually asleep before beverage service starts and wake up about the time the wheels come down. On this flight, because it was summer, I was wearing a sleeveless sheath so I asked for and was given a blanket under which I warmed myself. I had just dozed off when I felt a hand on my thigh over my dress but under the blanket. I sat there trying to make sense of what was happening. And why. I did not know the guy in the seat next to me. We had not changed even basic pleasantries but he apparently thought me being asleep gave him license to feel me up. I shifted a bit in my seat acting as though I was still asleep and his hand left my leg. But, alas, my seat mate was not one to give up so easily. Soon, I felt his hand on my back. When I had shifted I turned slightly away from him, which he thought was a signal to fondle my backside. I calmly suggested he remove his hand before I told the flight attendance and he wisely did so. The guy seated across the aisle asked if I knew the guy groping me so he was aware something was going on. The flight passed without further incident but my groper thought it appropriate to approach me at baggage claim to apologize and inform me that he had never before done such a thing. I told him to get away from me. I was not remotely interested in hearing anything he wanted to say but now wish I had told him exactly how I felt then and feel now.
Women often accept touches and kisses and pats as part of normal behavior. We asked for it, encouraged it, men are just being men, we should feel special and pretty. No, we should no longer accept that women want this attention or that it a man’s prerogative. Men, whether they hold positions of power or not, have too often been given a pass while women are made to feel blame and shame. We are made to feel that our actions forced a man to act inappropriately.
Wherein we come to the part of the story I am not sure I am ready to tell for more than one reason.
For several years, many years ago, I had a relationship with my boss, my married boss. It is not something of which I am proud but it happened and we’ve both moved on, literally. I never told anyone about that relationship but he did … in a bar to his friends. Likely he was bragging about getting a piece on the side, I don’t know. But I do know that this emboldened one of those friends, also a co-worker of mine, to suggest we hook up. I might have been sleeping with a married man but I was not interested in any short- or long-term liaison with this guy.
Virgil, for that was his name, and I were at a bar with other co-workers. Eventually, as the evening wore on, people made their way home until it was just Virgil and me, and maybe one or two other people. I freely admit I was drunk, enough that I shouldn’t have driven home but I did. Fast. Virgil had been making suggestive comments part of the evening but I had rebuffed him and then decided just to go home. He followed me out of the bar so I drove very quickly trying to lose him as he followed me on the interstate. I never did lose him and he followed me into my apartment. And into the bedroom. And he raped me. I can say it now although it hurts. Part of me wants to erase it from the page but I cannot erase it from my mind. I cannot erase the memory of lying there crying because I didn’t want him inside me, because it hurt physically and mentally. When he was done he said, “Now I understand you.” I have no idea what he meant by that. We never spoke again outside of necessary work topics, which luckily was not often.
I went back to work and pretended nothing happened. It was years before I told one person and even then I minimized it and took much of the blame. You see, I deserved it for being in a relationship with that married man. I deserved it because I was drunk and must have encouraged him. I deserved it because I let him into my apartment and let him to do me what he did. I didn’t scream and force him to leave, and to this day I cannot explain why. Any more than I can explain why I didn’t call the police or someone who could help me. I doubt I would have been believed. I was drunk, I probably didn’t show the physical signs of rape, and I didn’t fight him to get him to stop.
And for all that I still feel shame and there are those who would add to that shame by blaming me for any or all of that. There are those who question why I didn’t come forward sooner if it was true just as they do with most victims.
None of my abusers are famous. I have nothing to gain by telling my story except that what we are reading and hearing about so many of the victims who are now coming forward is just so damned frustrating and maddening.
I am not looking for sympathy or comfort or validation. I want anyone whose first reaction when a victim comes forward is ask “what took her so long” to look in the mirror and realize he or she is part of the problem. And then I want that person to be part of the solution.