TRIGGER WARNING: contains description of sexual assault of a minor
Last Friday I started my workday as I often do: with a bowl of cereal, a cup of iced coffee, and with the TV (a luxury when you work from home). But I didn’t watch my usual programming — which, admittedly, is home renovation and cooking shows — instead, I turned on Netflix and tuned into Season 2 of 13 Reasons Why.
The show — made famous for its graphic and terrifyingly realistic portrayal of suicide — launched its second season on May 18, and while season one centered around Hannah Baker’s suicide, season two took a decidedly different approach: it focused on bullying, violence, sexual aggression, and sexual assault. Of course, I knew these themes would be prevalent. Each and every arch was set up in season one. However, I did not know how the show would impact me until I saw it.
And while the show was difficult to watch, it also made me realize it was time to tell my story of sexual assault as a teen — to claim that story.
So I wrote to my younger self — to my sweet and innocent 15-year-old self — on the day of my sexual assault. This is what I would want to tell my younger self:
I’d ask how you are doing, but I don’t need to. I know. Right now, you are shaken and scared. You are confused and afraid, and you are ashamed. You feel soiled and dirty and “like a slut.”
Of course, you didn’t feel that way this morning. You woke full of hope, optimism, teenage excitement, and joy but that is because you and your best friend were going on a date. A double date. A real “this is what boyfriends and girlfriends do” sort of date.
The place was public. We picked an area park and piled in our respective cars, and then we began the hour long drive: we began a road trip which was meant to help us bond and connect. But some time after the 30 minute mark, things changed. Your life changed. And the boy you “loved”? Well, he changed.
He became a monster.
Your “date” pulled off at a rest stop and parked in the back of the lot, as far away from Burger King as he possibly could. He leaned in to kiss you, and you pulled back. You gave him a peck before pulling away, and then he looked at you with hurt eyes. With angry eyes. With determined eyes. With eyes you will never, ever forget, before unzipping his pants.
Before pulling out his penis.
You wanted to scream. (Nineteen years have gone by and I still want to scream.) His was the first penis you had ever seen, at least in real life. In “the flesh.” And while you tried to tell him “no, not now” the words stuck in your throat. You just sat there — frozen and in abject horror — waiting for the moment to pass.
“Touch me. Play with me. Suck me off.”
But you didn’t. You stuttered. You mumbled. You tried to think of something to say.
“C’mon. You’re my girlfriend, right?”
That’s how things went at 15. If a boy was nice to you — if he took notice of you — you began dating. And this was, after all, a date. But you didn’t want to touch him, or taste him. You just wanted him to like you.
Nothing more. Nothing less.
You kept repeating the letter — the monosyllabic word — hoping he would understand. Hoping he would sense your fear, and he did. But he was not afraid. Not then. Not ever.
“Suck it or get out.”
That’s right: your boyfriend threatened to leave you in a parking lot, alone and without a phone, more than 30 miles from your home.
You had no choice.
I know, my sweet friend, you thought you had no choice so you did what you did next out of fear. Out of necessity. You gave a blowjob to survive — and you did so publicly.
You were in a car, with your body bent and head banging on the dash.
And then — when it was done — you grabbed tissues to wipe your mouth and eyes. You put on your sunglasses and were forced to spend the rest of the day at a theme park: riding rides with a person who threatened you. Who held your head onto his penis, and you smiled while doing it because you had to.
This was a dirty little secret, one you didn’t want to get out.
But I’m here to tell you that what happened today doesn’t make you bad. It doesn’t make you crazy, and you are not alone.
This was — and is — not your at fault.
You see, the world wants to blame you, or so it seems. You wore the wrong clothes. You said — or didn’t say — the wrong things. And you are angry because of it. You should have spoke up, or fought back.
If only. If only. If only.
The words haunt you of things that could have been — of things that should have been — but aren’t a slut, as you are thinking. You aren’t pathetic, as you are feeling. And you are not a cheap, easy whore, as your friends and the world implies.
What you are is a victim — the victim of a sexual assault.
Of course, you don’t believe me. You knew this boy. He was your “boyfriend.” How can you be assaulted by someone you know? By someone you “love”?
Well, in fact, 93% of all juvenile victims know their perpetrators. And you? You knew yours.
But today I am speaking up — I am speaking out — for you. For me. For us, and for all the girls and women who are too scared, too embarrassed, too angry, or too afraid to because we are worth more.
We deserve more.
So hear me when I say this: This attack was not your doing. This boy’s actions were not your doing, and this was not your fault. None of this was your fault.
And while you may be a victim, you are more than this moment. You are more than this event, and this does not have to be the story which defines you. Sure, it may shape you — I can attest to that; it has changed you — but your life doesn’t end today. There is hope. There is help. There is more.
So please, love yourself. Go easy on yourself. Be kind to yourself, and — if you find your words — speak up. Speak out. Scream. Because it matters. You matter.
You will always matter.