Trigger warning: This article contains content that may be trigger to survivors of sexual assault.
With the birth of the #metoo and #timesup movement, hundreds of thousands of women have found the courage to come forward with their horrific stories of sexual assault and rape.
One of the most sobering aspects, for me, that came from the outpouring of these stories has been the shock that came from (mostly) men at what women have dealt with since the beginning of time. But even more tragic than this are the people who believe these women are making false accusations for attention, fame, money, or [insert a never-ending list of bullshit reasoning here].
Without numbers to back me up, I can positively say that every single woman on this planet was, or has a friend/family member who was, a victim of sexual assault or rape.
After a quick Google search, I found multiple sites giving the number of 1 in 5 women having been a victim of sexual assault. Just take that in for a moment. When you go to the grocery store, 1 out of 5 women that you pass has experienced the trauma of being sexually assaulted. The woman strolling her three kids in a cart. The young girl trying to pick out the ripest cantaloupe. The elderly lady who just asked you to reach a can of soup from the top shelf. They all carry stories that were imprinted in their minds and hearts at the hands of their abusers who did not think of the effects of their actions, or more than likely did not care.
With recent allegations coming out against famous men who come across as sweet and “gentlemanly”, sometimes it can be hard to not roll our eyes at their accusers. It’s easier to believe that these women are in search of fame or a big settlement than to believe Morgan Freeman (I mean come on, the voice of God?!) has violated them in horrific ways. But after looking at the statistics, is it really that difficult to believe?
Which brings me to the experience I had this past weekend at one of my girlfriend’s bachelorette party. After a long, fun night of drinking, laughing, and dancing, we headed back to the house we were staying at. In conversation, one of the women opened up to a small group of us that she had been raped years earlier. One of the other women, who knows her very well, rolled her eyes and questioned the truth of the statement. I can’t blame her for her doubt since this was the first time she had heard this from someone she knew her entire life — plus we were all well past the point of sobriety and the conversation had taken a quick turn towards killing our buzz. But, I immediately told the woman who had confided in us that I was there for her to talk to — that I understood. That she should not feel ashamed.
You see, a few years ago in my mid-twenties, I began a relationship with a man who I felt completely safe with, one whom I trusted more deeply than any other person in my life. This man would soon become the father to my children. And shortly after being with him, memories from my childhood that I had never had before started to flood my brain.
It was the moment when I felt safest, that my mind allowed me to remember the sexual assault I had endured as a child. I could so vividly see my abuser leading me into his room. I could feel his hands on me under blankets as we watched a movie with our siblings sitting right next to us. I could taste the fear in the back of my throat as he forced my hands down his pants.
I was in shock. For over 15 years, my mind had erased all knowledge of these events. At first I didn’t trust the memories I was reliving. A few days after the first flashback, I called my mom to ask her about it. Even now, I have blocked portions of that conversation from my head, but she verified that what I was remembering was real. That the parents of my abuser had come to her and admitted that their son had told them a portion of what had happened. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t understand that for years I had no idea that this had happened to me.
Since rediscovering this truth from my past, I had only shared my story with the man who would become my husband and my closest friend. But that night, on the bachelorette weekend, after everyone else retreated inside, I opened up to this woman who had confided in us, and one of my other best friends. Every emotion poured out of me that night. My pain, my disgust, my hurt, my betrayal, my confusion, my sadness at lost innocence. Through sobs, and what seemed like never ending tears, I was able to release every emotion by telling my story to someone who understood.
And afterwards, I felt free. I had unlifted this tremendous weight that I had unknowingly carried in my soul for so long, and it brought me peace — a peace I had never known before. In telling my story to someone who had been there, I let go of it all.
So ladies, and gentlemen too, next time we see a headline of accusations against our favorite actor, or when one of our friends or sisters, mothers or daughters, comes to us to unload their burden, do not judge. Do not speculate. Do not question. Just listen. Offer your support. Acknowledge the strength it took them to open up. Recommend assisting to find them professional help if needed. Be a friend. Sometimes telling our story is all we need to begin to heal.