This week has been a flood of Me Too statuses on Facebook and retweets on Twitter. I’m used to the somewhat common outreach from the Start By Believing campaign. I’ll see the occasional billboard around town or posts on Facebook by them, so that’s expected. What was not expected was seeing friend after friend on posting Me Too as their status. Friends that I never knew shared a similar horror as myself.
When I was a scared 12 year-old girl crying in the school counselor’s office with a large male police officer staring at me, I felt alone. In that moment, it felt like my whole life was a lie and I wasn’t sure how I would survive this ordeal. I didn’t know (or thought I didn’t) anyone who had been sexually abused.
Until an hour ago, I didn’t know what sexual abuse was or that it was even something that could happen. In that moment, I felt hopeless and alone. I spent the next 2 years feeling even more alone while the court system forced me to talk to doctors, therapists, and lawyers. None of them reassured me that they had been through the same thing and it would get better. At no point did someone tell me that they knew what I was going through because they had. I know now that 1 in 4 children will be sexually abused before they legally become an adult. With those odds, someone I talked was a survivor as well.
For example, I went to get a professional massage. It’s the third one I’ve ever had and I always put on the paperwork that I am a sexual assault survivor. I put it because I don’t want to startle them too much if I emotionally lose my shit on their massage table. I don’t owe them an explanation, but I’ve learned from experience that it’s far less confusing for them if they know in advance. She read over my paperwork and didn’t mention it. I’m used to it, the topic makes people uncomfortable.
I do still get a bit nervous, so I have a tendency to nervously talk the entire time. We talked about my built-up tension in my shoulders and neck, and then how I relax. Essentially, I don’t. I work my day job full time, and when I’m not working, I’m usually working around the house or writing. This led me to discussing the headache of trying to publish my memoir and what all it entails. At some point, I slipped up and instead of being vague, said that a marketing plus for a publisher would be that survivors find other survivors encouraging. I wrote my book to share my story with other survivors in hopes that they could open up and start talking about their own. Without a pause she added, “Talking is what helped me deal with my own.” We didn’t need to get into details. We didn’t get uncomfortable. Actually, at that point, I relaxed a considerable amount.
Think about this next time you are in a room or group of people. If there are more than 3 people in that room, chances are 1 of them was sexually assaulted at one point in their life, or 1 of them will. Looking up the statistics is frustrating and confusing. Every site has statistics have varying numbers. Part of that is because SO MANY victims and survivors never report their assault. How can you accurately quantify a crime that is only reported 25% of the time?
3 different men abused me without knowledge of the others. I didn’t know I was being abused until I saw a video explaining what abuse was. I accidentally reported 1 of my three abusers because I had a breakdown right after the video at the school. It was a year later before I remembered the other 2 abusers, and I didn’t report them for fear of not being believed. When I told my mother, she believed me immediately, but I was still terrified that people wouldn’t believe that 3 separate men had done the same thing to me. Now I know that it’s not uncommon for children to have more than 1 abuser, but as a child, I felt alone. I personally have a 33% rate of reporting abusers.
Survivors can be anywhere. We can live normal lives and not reveal ourselves unless we choose to. We have husbands, wives, and children. We can work all kinds of jobs and have all kinds of personalities. We don’t have a type. We can unite in the knowledge that we are not alone and continue to fight to survive. We are Survivors.
Years later I discovered that I already knew survivors. Several in fact. A year doesn’t go by that I hint at it during a casual conversation and the person I am talking to is a survivor as well. So many times, I have said something, and they have agreed. In that moment, we both acknowledge each other. A silent agreement to persevere and reassurance that we believe. Many times they have never admitted it before; never had the courage to tell someone. Because of the fear from the other person not believing, denying, or even accusing them. We can find support and a kind of camaraderie among other survivors.