I started therapy one month ago - probably 44 years late. Today was my third session. When a friend asked before my appointment if I was feeling better, I said no. I compared it to surgery. I said, "It's like before I can be fixed, they have to cut me open and look inside. And what's inside hurts a lot.... more than it hurt before they cut me open." The pain that is inside of me started with the trauma of being sexually assaulted 44 years ago when I was only 13. But more painful than the pain of that event was (and still is) the pain of not being heard. #IStandWithHer because nobody stood with me.
The predator was my mother's friend. It was 1975, when child safety instruction emphasized looking both ways before crossing the street and the threat of “stranger danger.” Do not trust strangers. Do not talk to strangers. Do not go anywhere with strangers. Do not accept anything from strangers. There was all this emphasis on strangers when we now know that the perpetrators of sex offenses against children are most likely to involve people the children know.
Although my mother was not a witness to or aware of any of the offenses, she was there. Blinded and deafened by the comfort and complacency of being with her friends, people she trusted. In one incident, my mother was sitting right next to me in the backseat of the car with her friend, the predator, on my other side, groping and grabbing. But it was dark. And she had been drinking. And he was her friend. And his wife was driving. So there was no perception of danger. No suspicion about why he wanted to sit next to me in the backseat when the front seat was empty.
There was no suspicion again the next morning when he wanted to take me alone to his cabin many miles away, deep in the woods. I begged my mother not to make me go, I begged her to bring us home, but she chastised me. I was embarrassing her. I was ungrateful. These were her friends.
I couldn’t say the words I needed to say. Nobody taught us those words. And the words for our body parts were considered dirty. We weren’t supposed to say them. But she was my mother. She loved me. I was certain that she could see my terror, feel my fear, hear my silent cries for help. She didn’t. She fed me to the lion, her friend.
Weeks later, back at home, I broke into tears while visiting a friend. When she asked what was wrong, I told her I was raped. She was also 13 and had no idea what to say. So she said nothing. But she told her mother, and her mother called my mother, and my mother called me into the kitchen. She looked at me with cold and accusing eyes and asked in a hostile tone if there was anything I wanted to tell her. I braced myself against the pink countertop in my grandparents’ old kitchen, holding on so that I would not collapse.
I said ‘no’. She asked again and again and I said ‘no’. It was an inquisition. She was treating me with contempt. Then she asked if anything happened during our weekend in the Poconos. She knew. She knew. Why is she acting like I did something wrong?
I said ‘no’ again. Then she asked pointedly, as if I was the criminal, “Did Kenny rape you?” Finally, I said “yes.”
But she asked again, incredulously. “He raped you?!”
“Do you even know what rape means?”
I hesitated. I thought I knew. I thought it was the right word. “Yes.”
“Did he put his penis inside of you?” My body tensed and my stomach lurched at the sound of that word.
I gripped the counter harder. I felt myself slipping. I wanted someone to hug me and hold me and wipe away my tears. I had been assaulted. I felt like I was being assaulted again. I was a child. Why is she angry at me? He did not put his penis inside of me. He did other things, used other things, tried to get me in the bed with him. He wanted to put his penis in me. But I finally found my voice, grabbed the two sides of the doorframe leading to his big canopy bed, and made him stop.
What is the word for what he did to me? I can’t describe it, it’s too much... too painful.
Again… “Did he put his penis inside of you?”
In her mind, there was nothing left to say. In her mind, I was a liar. In my mind, now my mother had betrayed me too. She failed to protect me and keep me safe. She failed to give me the comfort and assurances to tell my story. She robbed me of my safe place… my safe person. She didn’t listen. She didn’t believe me. And 44 years later, I have started therapy to try to heal because... she did not stand with me.
That is why #IStandWithHer and #IStandWithHim and #IStandWithEveryone. Look. Listen. Love. Empathize. The severity of trauma experienced by a person can be mitigated when #YouStandWithThem. If you can’t be that person for someone else, help them to find someone who can. Do not leave them alone.