I have never been sexually assaulted

female-sexual-assault-victim
I have never been sexually assaulted.

When I was five-years-old I went to an in-home daycare, run by a woman who had a son and some daughters (a combination of my age at the time and the years that have passed make me unable to remember precisely how many). The woman’s daughters were older than me, but younger than the boy. He may have been in grade six or even in high school — to me he was just a “big kid.”

I didn’t like this boy because he forced me to sit on his lap and wouldn’t let me up, causing the other kids to laugh and his sisters to say that he liked me. He had some kind of pet rodent — a hamster or a gerbil, maybe —  in a cage on his bedroom dresser. The promise of holding this small creature was irresistible, so I allowed myself to be led into his room where he promptly locked the door. The dresser was a little bit tall for me so I had to stand on tip-toe to peer into the cage, the locked door forgotten. My hands were on the dresser to steady myself when I felt my jeans being swiftly yanked down. I immediately began crying and the boy, unable to quiet me, allowed me to pull up my pants and opened the door so I could leave.

There are snippets of other memories from my time at that daycare, albeit hazy ones: Lying on his bed, staring at the sliver of my flowered underwear showing through my unzipped pants. Pretending to have a stomach ache so I would be allowed to stay in the kitchen with his mother, drinking shots of Pepto-Bismol until my mom picked me up.

… What else happened that I can’t remember?

I begged my mom to take me to another daycare, but didn’t tell her why. I was deeply embarrassed and didn’t have the words to describe what had happened.

I didn’t forget what had happened really, I just stored it away. It wasn’t until I was 19 that the memories resurfaced, and I told my mom. Fourteen years had passed by then, so I could not give a concrete statement. Neither of us remembered the names of anyone in the family. No report was made.

I have never been sexually assaulted.

When I was eight, I was riding my bike down a main street in my home town when a group of men drove by. I would never have noticed them if one hadn’t yelled, “I WANT TO LICK YOUR PUSSY!” to me through the rolled down window as they passed. The men probably laughed and quickly forgot, but I didn’t. The words burned in my stomach and, again, I was the one who felt ashamed. I wasn’t even angry at that man or his friends, only embarrassed that this had happened to me. As a result, I never told anyone, and anyway, what crime had occurred? No report was made.

I have never been sexually assaulted.

One day when I was 13, I was walking down the hall of my junior high between classes. I was alone, and saw a boy I didn’t like walking towards me. He and another boy would often say nasty things to my friends and I. Once they followed us for several blocks, loudly talking about what they could do to us, bragging that we wouldn’t be able to stop them. As he got close to me in the hallway, I edged towards the wall in order to get as far away from him as possible, but it didn’t help. The boy shoved me up against the wall, pinning me and my arms full of books. He put his face next to mine as he shoved one hand up my shirt, rubbing the crotch of my jeans with the other.

As I walked into my classroom, my face burned with shame, hoping no one had seen. When asked, I refused to tell anyone what was wrong. I lied and said I just didn’t feel very good. It never even crossed my mind to tell anyone. I was completely humiliated. No report was  made.

I have never been sexually assaulted.

When I was 15, I knew a boy who was a couple years older than me whose father let us drink at his house. So we did… A lot.

One afternoon I was there drinking with two boys and I drank so much I became sick. I threw up over the side of the front porch — so drunk I was incapacitated. One of the boys (who later went on to marry a friend of mine) came up behind me, unhooked my bra, and fondled my breasts as I vomited.

The next morning, I received a phone call from a friend, who told me that the boy had told everyone that we’d had sex. I couldn’t remember much of about had happened, but I knew this wasn’t true. I was on my period and hadn’t brought any tampons with me, but when I woke up my tampon was still exactly where I had placed it before I’d begun drinking.

I couldn’t talk to any adults about what he’d done —  I wasn’t supposed to be drinking and didn’t want to get in trouble or get my friend’s father in trouble. At the time, I believed the drinking was the secret that needed to remain hidden. This was the 80s and, as John Hughes had taught us, “pass out/put out” was a valid way for boys to have sex. No report was made.

I have never been sexually assaulted.

When I was 18, I lived with my boyfriend. One night, I went to bed before him. I was sound asleep on my side when I woke up to find his penis inside me from behind, my underwear pushed to the side. I was shocked, but it never occurred to me that it was rape. He was my boyfriend. When I asked him what he was doing, he accused me of making him wait too long for sex and begged me to let him finish. I did. Years later, after I’d broken up with him, a female neighbour told me he’d raped her. No reports were made.

I have never been sexually assaulted.

I keep repeating this because none of these incidents are included in statistics of sexual violence against women and girls. I am far from alone. I am certain that every woman can relate to at least one of these incidents. And that most of these incidences are never reported.

There are many reasons why girls and women choose not to tell anyone about their sexual assaults. We don’t tell because we don’t understand what is happening, or because we are ashamed, embarrassed, and afraid. We don’t tell because we don’t want to be told that we “asked for it”, that we “enjoyed it,” or that we are liars.

When we do tell, every question registers skepticism. We must tell the story the same way each time, and are forced to relive the assault repeatedly. We must not remember new details, regardless of our age or intoxication at the time, because it inspires doubt. We must be prepared for our behaviour before, during, and after the assault to be analyzed and know this behaviour can be used to discredit our stories. We know that if we fail to be what is considered a reliable narrator, we will be told that we deserve punishment for falsely accusing an innocent boy or man and for trying to destroy his future. We must report immediately after the assault and we must not shower, even though we have never wanted to shower more. No matter what we do or say,  someone will say,  “No one can know for sure what happened, unless they were there.” As if women are so inherently untrustworthy, their words cannot be believed unless someone literally saw the assault take place. If there is a female witness, she also becomes untrustworthy — she is biased, of course. Our assaults and responses to these assaults must fit a narrative that is accepted by society or we are discredited.

So when you ask why women don’t speak out, why they don’t report, why they remain silent for years and decades, I don’t believe you. You know why.

Deidre Pearson is currently a student at The Evergreen State College and lives in the United States near Portland, Oregon.

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  • Hannah

    There was one night my boyfriend at the time were pretty drunk and I know we started having sex but I don’t remember most of it. When we started there were some lights on but next thing I remember, it’s dark and I have this feeling like something happened, I just don’t know what. I had fallen asleep. At this point I have no memory of the past 15 minutes or so (not even sure)? I asked him what happened but I can’t remember if he answered. The next morning he tells me (and remember this is brand new information to me) that the condom fell off inside me and he had to get it out. I was not in control of this situation at all and was not able to take it out myself, so in my head I had no idea how risky it was, what exactly happened with the condom when it came off so I ended up taking plan B. I remember telling him “see? this is why it’s a bad idea to have sex when I’m too tired” and he said he knew I would say that so I had clearly expressed not wanting to do it in the first place. At the time I assumed I had just blacked out but I don’t even know why, it’s obvious to me I fell asleep. I didn’t even think anything of it until over a year later but that was because he started being emotionally abusive and almost physically abusive so I started to question everything about that relationship.

    Anyway, this article just made me think about that. Powerful article, thanks for sharing. It’s good for people to see that there is not just one narrative that falls under rape.

  • Rusty

    Really powerful writing, thank you Deirdre. I too have a lifetime of not being sexually assaulted. It’s a lifetime of being continuously violated and a lifetime of coming up with reasons to blame myself, not telling anyone, never calling it assault. It’s why women try to protect each other, even women we don’t know or don’t like, from predatory men because we all understand that the lifetime of not being sexually assaulted is a distinctly female one.

  • melissa

    “I am certain that every woman can relate to at least one of these incidents. And that most of these incidences are never reported.”

    I suspect that’s the case too.

    You know whats funny? The whole time I’m reading this I’m utterly horrified and wondering how this could happen this many times.Then i took a moment to remember every similar fucked up thing that’s ever happened to me, and i just realized i can think of 3-5 incidents off the top of my head. I just, for some reason never really looked backed much on these things or put them together as a series of events.You kind of write it off as isolated, messed up, icky, mortifying incidents(must be in the wrong place in the wrong time?), instead of a pattern.Although it never got as far or extreme as the vomiting, or surprise penises when unconscious, it would still sound pretty fucked up and baffling when you put it all down on paper like this.I think this might be the first time I’ve actually talked about this(aside from jokingly referring to these things with my friends a few times) in a remotely serious manner. Funny how people process these things.

  • Gail Baker-Morehouse

    Thank you for sharing these examples, truths and consequences!

  • Lucia Lola

    I can’t help but cry reading this. I’ll get angry, yes, but right now, I just have to cry.

  • Polly MacDavid

    Oh … I can so identify.

  • Hannah

    It’s so hard putting that connection into words but you said it really well.

  • Wren

    Don’t ever give up! We just need to start telling each other the truth because we’ve all been through similar stuff. I believe you and I know you’d believe me and that means something 🙂

    • Lisa Tremblay

      Thanks for your encouragement Wren. I’ll never give up. I promise.

  • oneclickboedicea

    Great article, I too had those same experiences, a violent sexual assault by four men at a party when I was 14, a rape by a work colleague when I was 15 and two ex partners that used violence to get their way in anything in the home, resulting in two dead embryos. When I reported the latter episodes to the police, they spent their time trying to make out I was a co perpatrator of violence rather than defending myself. When I told my father what was happening in the last relationship, he instantly asked what I had done to make my ex treat me that way. When I spoke out in my wider family, both my brothers and my sister accused me of making up false rape accusations about my father in order to discredit what I was saying about his response and about male violence in general. How do you report Nazi violence to Nazis? How do you report male violence to men and women that believe men are superior? Answer is, you don’t if you want to stay safe.

    • Wren

      “How do you report Nazi violence to Nazis?”
      Yup.

  • Cat Dancing

    Susan S. and I were walking past a restaurant and car’s driver yelled some random crap at us and did the tongue thing before he smashed into another car. Susan told me she felt sorry for him. I told her I felt sorry for the other driver unless it was two shots of karma at the same time.

    • Lavender

      That asshole deserved it. I’m just sorry someone else had to be involved.

  • Cynthia Cooper

    The story about that in-home daycare is so creepy and so sad. I feel terrible that happened to you. Please know that it’s possible to heal and move on. And there’s nothing wrong with you for feeling the way you do. But the rest of what you discuss isn’t really violence or assault. The teen stories in particular seem like awkward coming-of-age type stuff. And the one with your boyfriend is sweet and funny. I worry that the terrible trauma you suffered in your childhood might be distorting your perceptions. A good therapist/psychiatrist could help you work through your issues.

    • Monsieur Zoidberg

      “And the one with your boyfriend is sweet and funny.”

      Her boyfriend had sex with while she was sleeping (y’know, without her consent?), then coerced her into letting him finish. That’s rape.

      “I worry that the terrible trauma you suffered in your childhood might be distorting your perceptions.”

      Not, it’s not, but thanks for the armchair diagnosis on her “distorted perception” of blatant, inexcusable misogyny.

  • Lavender

    In order for a woman to get to the point where she even considers reporting sexual assault, she has to recognize what happened to her as such. Violence against women is so normalized that a lot of the time girls and women don’t even register their experience as anything other than a mistake, an accident, or a guy just getting carried away. When I finally faced things that had happened to me, beginning at the age of 5 and done to me by a close family member, it took a long time to unravel how that one event primed me for continued abuse from multiple boys and men down the road. I haven’t told anyone about most of the things that have happened to me. In retrospect, it shocks me how good I’d gotten at decontextualizing and accepting these things. It made me so angry. I’m still angry. All I know is that more and more women are speaking out about it and that is our best hope. When we’re no longer alone we can help each other heal.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Sorry that comment slipped through. Deleted.

  • Tired feminist

    I’m totally with you. Of all my sexual experiences, early or late, most were coercive.

  • fayanora

    Trans woman here. When I was about 5, I was invited to a neighbor boy’s birthday party. The boy was older than me, and I was – as far as anyone knew at the time – a boy as well.

    When I came back – early, as it turned out – I told Mom and Dad I didn’t ever want to go back there again. I didn’t tell them why, and I don’t remember what happened. I don’t remember anything from before I was 6, except things my parents told me, and even those are abstract, like something read from a book. So maybe it was just bullying, and I forgot because few people remember things from before they’re 6; or maybe it was something worse, and I repressed the memories. I don’t know. I doubt I’ll ever know.

    In high school, I was constantly being sexually harassed by boys in school. I knew I was trans, but I wasn’t out about it. But back then, I didn’t know it was sexual harassment. I was still a boy as far as anyone else knew, and sexual harassment doesn’t happen to boys, I believed. I believed that so strongly I don’t think it ever occurred to me to think for a second that it might be sexual harassment, until years later. But it was.

    A lot of it was at school. But some of it was outside of school, shouted from car windows. To this day, car horns trigger a spasm of anxiety in me.

    Since beginning to live full time as a woman, I’ve gotten street harassment even more than before.

    I could go on, but I’m tired. But point is, yes; all women go through this. Even trans women. None of us should have to go through it.

  • anne

    I hear you! Please, never forget, we are here, thousands, millions of us who trust you and each other when we speak of this violence. We are at war with abusers, with most men, and that is a terrible, hard thing to come to terms with. Many sisters never do, because it’s easier, but some of us simply no longer have the luxury of self-delusion because our capacity for delusion was shattered by experience. That’s a hard thing to deal with, but it’s safer and more liberating, to be aware, to know what we are up against. I know some days are worse than others, but you are invaluable, you are a survivor, and I hope and pray you find a way to thrive, because you deserve nothing less. Wishing you all the best xx

  • Sharon Fraser

    I wrote this a couple of weeks ago but, as you see, I am one who can definitely identify with Deidre.

    https://sharonfrasereachnewday.blogspot.ca/2017/10/women-live-cautiously-differently-from.html

  • Patricia Anne Brush

    When I was a child, I had an earl;y morning paper route, that also had me collecting the fees in the evening. A man started following me around on my route in the morning. He would throw pictures of naked women out the window of his car at me. One morning, I came around a corner and he was standing there with his pants down. The police were called but he wasn’t found.

    One evening when I was collecting, an older man pulled me into his house. I was able to get away. I told my parents. My older brother was told to collect from him from then on. The police were not called.

    When I was a preteen, I was sexually assaulted by the janitor at school, and then he paid me $5. Way to mess with someone’s head. I didn’t say anything because I felt guilty that I had been paid. I told my mother some years later and she acted like she couldn’t hear a word I was saying. The police were not called.

    When I was a preteen, I was pinned to the floor by a family friend (an older man) and mercilessly tickled while I screamed at him to stop. My family stood around and laughed. When I got free, I stomped off into the kitchen, where a family member told me that I had to apologise to the jerk’s wife because I had clearly rejected her husband’s attention and that reflected badly on her that she was married to a man who was undesirable. I did not apologise.

    When I was 18, I was inappropriately touched by two different men at different times in crowds at the Montreal Olympics. The second one, both my brothers and my father witnessed happening and did nothing.

    When I was 18 I was forced by my then boyfriend to have quickie sex in his parents’ house with his whole family wandering about, in a room without a door. I was disgusted, but he was my boyfriend so I didn’t say anything.

    When I was 20, I was date raped in public at a party. Tons of witnesses. Nobody said anything.

    When I was in my mid-50s, I was sexually harassed at work and a coworker was physically assaulted. We brought a complaint that was dismissed because they considered the behaviour to be trivial, even though assault charges would have been laid by the police if they had been alerted.

    I have PTSD. It isn’t just for returning soldiers.

  • Brinnananda

    I enjoyed reading this. Thank you, Dierdre.