I, as a child of 7 or 8, knew for absolutely certain that what he was doing was wrong.
And yet I did not stop him.
When he put his filthy hands up my shorts I sat in silence and let him do it, under the blanket, RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY GRANDPARENTS.
When he asked, “Does it feel good?” I nodded my head.
When he said, “You won’t tell anyone, right?” I shook my head.
For weeks, I let him. I encouraged him with my head nods. I kept his secret.
It was the nightmares that gave me away. My mom had to play twenty questions to figure out what had happened. “Kristen, what IS IT? Did someone touch you? Was it G___?”
She picked up the phone and dialed, no matter that it was 2am, and okay, this is one of the highlights of my life: “If you ever lay a hand on my daughter again, I will CUT YOUR FUCKING BALLS OFF.”
But… he was family. The secret went into the vault, as these kinds of secrets so often do, and I still saw him at the occasional family event. He didn’t try anything else though; my mom’s threat stuck.
Anyway, it wasn’t his fault. He was just a horny teenager.
I’m still trying to figure out how the shame part of it works. Aside from my grandmother innocently asking, “Well sweetie, why didn’t you just say something?”, no one ever shamed me or led me to believe any of what happened was my fault.
The knowledge that I sat like a stone and let him do those things to me, that I kept his secret as long as I did (How long? One week? Three? I can’t remember), it STUCK.
I LET him.
After all these years, I still make excuses for him. I still ask myself why I didn’t shoo his hand away, why I didn’t shout DON’T TOUCH ME, why I didn’t tell sooner. Shame pops up in other weird ways, too, ways that I’m to embarrassed to even talk about here. And what happened to me wasn’t even that bad. He didn’t even rape me.
I know I’m not alone in dealing with shame; I know that the mere existence of society’s absurd double standards are enough to cause an otherwise mentally healthy woman to have her own private battles with shame.
Also, I’m not sure it would have made any difference if my family had outed my abuser and made a big stink about it, or if I had received counseling. Maybe I am just built for shame.
Wow. See how that works? I really just wrote that. That nonsense really just tumbled out of my head.
No. I was not built for shame. I was not built for secrets. I was not built for SILENCE.
And neither is anyone else.
Can we change things? Can we change how instances of family abuse are handled? I hate to use a phrase like “make an example out of these guys,” because it sounds so cliche and… well… cruel (there’s that shame again, it is always there), but I’m going to just cut the bullshit and say it anyway: Let’s do things differently. Let’s make an example out of these guys. Let’s send a message.
Boys. Men. No you may fucking NOT. Keep your fucking hands to yourself. That girl IS A PERSON. When you touch her, you take something from her, something that CANNOT BE GIVEN BACK. You change her for life. FOR LIFE. Are you listening? Pay attention: Her silence is not consent. Her shy “yes” IS NOT CONSENT. She does not have the ability to consent to ANYTHING, because she is just a fucking LITTLE GIRL. HANDS TO YOURSELF. That girl you’re lusting after is A PERSON. I said that last part twice, I know. Because I mean it.
Girls. Women. This is not a secret you have to keep. This is not a bag you have to drag around with you. You have no obligation to protect him. Talk about it. OUT HIM. Live your life without shame.
Parents. Authority figures. It’s time to stop letting these boys get away with hurting girls like this. A few weeks of hard labor on uncle so-and-so’s farm isn’t enough (I’m looking at you, Duggars). It’s not okay to protect abusers, teens or not, by keeping their transgressions secret. It’s not okay to put the victim back in a room with her abuser. It is incumbent upon you to protect her from him. Show her she matters. Remind her that this is not just something that happened to her; it is something that was DONE TO her. It was not a passive event. Remind her, for as long as it takes, until she gets it, that she is blameless. No matter now many times she nodded her head, no matter how long she kept his secret. She has NOTHING to be ashamed of.
Look, I wrote that last part even as I swim in my own thick cloud of shame.
Gary. His name was Gary.
What was your abuser’s name? #CallHimOut
This post originally appeared on the author’s blog, Abandoning Pretense.