SPEAK UP

CULTURE | 7 mins

I need to talk about my sexual assault.

It happened when I was 19 years old. My sexual experience up to this point had been a single peck on the lips by a middle school boy after winning an arm wrestling bout. That was it. I was a “good girl” who spent every weekend in church. I did well in school. I wouldn’t even go on a date until I was in college. I’d decided to wait until marriage to have sex, though so far, it had been an easy choice since I’d never even had a boyfriend. I didn’t think sexual assault could happen to me.

I naively thought rape and sexual assault were exclusively things that happened in dark alleys by strangers in big cities. I didn’t think I could be abused by someone I knew, someone I loved, someone I trusted. But this is overwhelmingly the case in sexual abuse. The U.S. Department of Justice found that in 8 out of ten cases, the victim knows their abuser.

I knew mine.

When a friend invited me to hang out with him, it wasn’t unusual. We laughed and talked, just like we always did. Suddenly, in the middle of a story (a story I can no longer remember), he kissed me. I was stunned.

I was innocent enough to think this kiss meant he loved me. Why else would you kiss someone? Clearly he had been harboring feelings for me all this time. I didn’t know if I shared those feelings, but I was 19 and had never really been kissed, and so when he kissed me some more, I didn’t stop him.

My head was spinning. What happened now? Were we dating? Was this serious? Was I going to have my first real boyfriend? The kissing progressed, and I felt uncomfortable. But I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I didn’t know how to say I wanted to stop and talk about our feelings. Good girls didn’t kiss boys they weren’t dating—and no one had ever really talked to me about consent.

He began to push for more. Suddenly his hands were wandering, and I realized I didn’t know what to do. I could feel panic rising up in me. He undid my pants, and I reacted by grabbing his wrist, trying to push him away from me. I pushed with all my might, but he didn’t budge. This boy was stronger than I was. There was nothing I could do to stop him. We wrestled for just a moment before he broke my hold and pushed his hand into my pants.

My head was screaming, but my body had frozen. I remember distinctly feeling like I was trapped in my own body, unable to say anything, unable to move. I just laid there like I was in a coffin.

When it was over, he drove me home. He told me, “Don’t think too much about this.”

My heart was shattered.

Guilt overwhelmed me. I wasn’t a good girl anymore. Who would want me now? All my life, I had heard how important purity was for a girl. I felt dirty and used. Ruined. I didn’t tell my parents. I didn’t tell anyone. I hated myself for letting it happen, for freezing up instead of fighting.

I tried to tell a friend about what had happened, but he shut me down almost immediately. “I can’t listen to this.” I felt trapped in my silence and overwhelmed with my feelings of guilt. So I did what many people do with their trauma. I hid it from everyone else.

But it showed itself in my behavior. I had frequent nightmares. When guys brushed my arm, I jumped. I stopped seeing myself as someone who had value and worth. I started dating, and when my dates wanted my body more than my mind, I accepted it. This was what I deserved. I wasn’t a good girl anymore. I was broken. I didn’t feel worthy of love.

It wasn’t until the #MeToo movement that I began to be able to put into words what had happened to me. Almost 15 years after it happened, I could finally say, “Yes. Me too. I was assaulted.” Listening to other women’s and men’s stories of abuse was painful, but it was healing. Their words made me realize that it wasn’t my fault. What happened to me was wrong.

IT WASN’T MY FAULT. IT WAS WRONG.

In some ways, I’m still processing what happened to me. This year I’ve had to pull out this secret hurt and deal with it. It’s been painful. But I’m healing.

We live in a culture that lies to us—constantly. It tells us that a girl’s value is tied to her sexuality. That a boy’s power lies in his ability to get girls. That boys can’t help themselves. That it’s OK for people to use another for pleasure with no regard for who they are as a person. These are horrific lies.

We need to stop telling girls that their bodies are the most important thing about them. Start telling girls that their minds and their hearts and their souls matter. That their preferences and consent matters. Women have a voice that makes them powerful. They are worthy to be heard.

We need to tell our boys things, too. They have the opportunity to change the world by respecting the girls around them. It is a worthy, honorable thing to listen and protect the people around them. This is God’s heart—for us to love one another as he loves us.

The truth is that God was never disappointed in me. He was deeply grieved. It broke His heart that I was hurt by another. He never saw my value lessen because of being assaulted. He loved me then, and he loves me now. My worth was never determined by my body. And there was nothing another person could ever do to me that would diminish who I was to Him.

Know that you are worthy of love.

God loves you so enormously. There is nothing that you can do or that anyone can do to you that can separate you from His love. He hurts when you hurt, and he wants you to find healing. He sees you, he hears you, he loves you.

If you’ve been a victim of sexual assault, I’m so deeply sorry. This was not what God wanted for you. Healing can begin by finding a way to tell your story. You don’t have to do this alone. Tell God. Find someone in your life who might be a safe place to speak up. Better yet, find a therapist or a support group. I kept my secret bottled up for far too long, but letting it out (to safe people) has been so powerful and therapeutic.

Sexual assault is a terrible thing, but it doesn’t have to define you. Find a way to tell your story. We all need to hear it.

Pretty words won’t change your life. This might:

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