When I was 12 years old, a friend of mine (who happened to be male & also 12 years old) came over on Spring Break to hang with me for the day. My Mom was home, our house was very small and we were only left alone long enough for Mom to use the bathroom or for us to play outside (she could see us). He still found time to show me his penis twice. One of those times, he was forcefully trying to kiss me and shove my hand down his pants, but I managed to push him away from me. I was attracted to him and I thought that’s just what boys did when they liked you, no matter how horrible and uncomfortable it made me feel. I don’t think I ever told anyone before this moment and he probably doesn’t even remember it. This was the first physical/sexual situation I can remember ever having in my entire life. I have had interactions with this person as a young adult and at that time, I still considered our interaction ‘just what boys did during puberty’. Now it just makes me sad.
One week before I turned 19, I spent the night with a girl friend and guys I had never met came to her house. There was no alcohol. At some point, I found myself alone with one of them. My guess is he was 21 or so, I really don’t know. He kissed me and I let it happen because I was a (relatively) normal 18 year old. No big deal. Previously, I was in a 2 year relationship so I thought I was pretty tough and could handle myself. However, I hadn’t considered that those 2 years were spent with someone who respected me and my autonomy. Being incredibly naive for 18, I was surprised when he started unbuttoning my pants and trying to shove his hands in my underwear. I was absolutely paralyzed. Having never had sex, losing my virginity to this guy was not anything I was interested in, but he was considerably bigger and stronger than me and his intentions were crystal clear. I adamantly said “no” when he tried to escalate the situation, but he persisted. I was scared in the moment and I did what I felt like I had to do to get out of the situation without having sex. I vividly remember thinking, “I just have to get out of here, I don’t have a choice now”. “No” wasn’t good enough. “No” didn’t work. Later, I thought about that incident a lot and I worried that I lead him on by kissing him. I fully blamed myself.
These instances (and the two that have happened since I got married, yes, it happens to married women, too) are certainly improper behavior. The first, I was a child and he was a child, and now I truly can’t count the number of unsanctioned male genitals that I’ve seen both in real life and in pictures (definitely not ok, guys, stop showing your dicks.. no one wants to see them). The second, I never realized the gravity of that situation until I was older and the light bulb came on — I realized I had never told anyone about it, and then when I did tell someone, they looked at me with horror and apologized. Only then did I think, “Oh wow, that wasn’t my fault at all. I was scared and I was only 18” and let it settle that I had certainly experienced something hurtful.
Nervously, I share this to support all of the women (and men) who have stories far worse than mine. The women & men who wake up every day as victims of sexual abuse from an older friend/adult/family member, the women who wake up with flash backs of hands roaming and groping, and everything in between. The idea that someone would make up such horrors just to ‘ruin’ someone else’s life is so incredibly glib that I wonder if folks even listen to themselves when they say such things (or absently click share on a meme). It is deep, internalized misogyny to believe women at large are looming in the distance to destroy a man’s reputation. That’s just insanity. Any amount of research will reveal less than 10% of sexual violence accusations come to be complete fabrications. Dismissing allegations as such tells the 90% of us that you don’t give a rip about what we’ve experienced, and maybe you don’t. I hope you never experience it.
The fact that a boy, at 12 years old, showed me his erect penis without my encouragement or consent is something that should resonate. That instance is the personification of the narrative ‘boys will be boys’ and we cannot allow such horse crap to persist. People can change, I believe that. I don’t have a clue how this human being is as an adult man with a wife and child, I can only hope that he is teaching his children to be better. I assume the second guy is, too. I hope. I have no way of knowing either. But, I don’t really want either of them influencing the laws of this country for the next 30 years. Sue me.
Finally, if you say things like, “Why did it take her so long to tell anyone?” then you have either never experienced sexual violence or misconduct, or you have and you’ve pushed it down so far that you psychologically reject the idea of people being honest about their experiences. Just a single, solitary shred of empathy for another human being should cause one to think about how the person who was assaulted may feel instead of an arbitrary timeline to report sexual violence.
We can totally do better than this, y’all. If you’re reading this and you’ve been harmed by sexual violence — I believe you and I am with you.