Unsteady

I am doing a two sided post. I’m sharing some facts, I’m sharing a story. And I am doing so, so that perhaps, it will be made clear why I am so vehemently passionate about my life choice of pursuing law school. I’ve been pretty vocal about my stances for a while, but in light of recent events (and verdicts) I want to make my voice heard. Please stick around for the whole story, it is long, but maybe it will shine some lights on something very important.

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No one asks to be sexually assaulted. No one. And from the numbers, it looks like people are just trying to live their lives-not being “promiscuous” or “engaging in binge-drinking”.

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No gender is safe. No orientation is safe. No age is safe. It doesn’t matter how you’re dressed, what you’re doing, where you are. No one asks for it. No one.

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Ages 18-34 are the highest at-risk group. Of any gender.

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And how many of those victims do you think internalized the guilt?

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Moderate to severe distress. And I wonder if that accounts for the people who experience that distress later-perhaps decades later-after the event.

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I wasn’t sure I was ever going to make this information public. It is something I have struggled with mostly in silence, and just as I originally felt about my mental health diagnosis, I thought that it was a source of great shame. But as I listened to Kesha’s statement those couple months ago and as I cried over the statement of the Stanford victim, I knew that there was no shame in my story. And I knew that just as with my stance on mental health, if I do not take the time to let people see, there will never be any change. Let me be perfectly clear: I do not wish to take away from either of those cases or people-or the millions of others which are similar. I just want to present a different side of the struggle, to shine a light on a social issue.

I got a phone call when I was a child (maybe around 11) in the middle of the night. There was a man on the other end, asking me where I lived, what I was doing-very personal information. I was awake in an instant and told him nothing. The next morning I had my mother take me to the police department, told them everything and they called the number back, giving the caller a warning that I was a minor and that they’d come for him if he called again.

I was babysitting at the age of 14 or so and the mother was driving me home. She got a call from her boyfriend and he asked to talk to me. He then asked me if I was dating anyone, if I was having sex, if I’d been “fondled” yet and so on. I said I had a boyfriend, and that was all I said (I was lying). I quit the next day. I never told anyone why-not even my parents.

As a young teen looking into colleges for the first time, I remember being told about how since I’d grown up in a small town, I needed to be more aware that there was a greatly increased risk of sexual assault on college campuses. I brushed the idea off-I was responsible, I was modestly dressed (always), I’d only casually dated people in high school and at the time, was with a guy who respected me. What did I possibly have to worry about? I knew the “risk” factors: late nights, walking alone, dawdling, dressing a certain way. I figured I’d be fine. Of course, I would still be safe, make sure that I always let people know where I was going and the like. I was sure I would be fine and that everyone was over reacting. I wasn’t a child. I could handle college.

Turns out, I wasn’t ready for the big city just yet. I figured I’d go to a smaller campus, I’d get back on my feet and get a job, which I did-somewhere with a uniform. I wore a polo, dress pants and tennis shoes every day. Let me reiterate that. I wore a polo, full length pants and tennis shoes EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Everyone I worked with was a woman. I could not be more safe, right?

My parents, from a young age, told me that I should be nice to the elderly. They were alive much longer than me, they deserved respect. So I did my best to implement this at my job. There was a man, who I will not be naming, who was completely alone, retired and quite old. I was kind each time he came in-because I was being respectful. One day though, I was busy and someone else was helping him. He asked me if he could give me a piece of wrapped candy and I said yes. He told me he didn’t see any pockets on my pants (I was in dress pants, my back facing him) and he reached around, under my apron and placed the candy in my hip pocket, with lingering hands. I backed away, didn’t eat the candy and waited for him to leave.

It was December that year that he was talking to me about my grades in school and asked to see them. I (not being completely naive) cropped the part of the page that had my address, phone number and other pertinent information. He congratulated me but immediately noticed that none of my information was present and commented about it. I told him that that was just the way the picture had been taken, but that those were my grades. He tried to give my $2o, which I refused. He did put $5 in the tip jar though.

The January following, he came into my workplace with a small bag. He asked to see me and I walked out from behind the counter. He told me that he felt that he should get me a present because I’d been so nice to him. He’d positioned himself back far enough that no one from the front end could see us, but no one from the back end could either (a detail I noticed only later). I opened the present right there, to find a datebook/organizer. I thanked him and he reached in his pocket. It was a small patchwork heart, which he held up and pressed to my chest (without asking me first) and said that I would always be in his heart. He asked if he could hug me (I said yes). He proceeded to grope me and kiss my neck-from collarbone to cheek before I struggled away-and ran into the back of the building, through the doors and into the back office.

Immediately I called my boss and told her what had happened. She agreed that whenever he came in, I could go to the back and not have to be around him. It was only in the days following that the real devastation began. As it would turn out, not only had the old man sexually assaulted me, he’d also been stalking me. He knew my schedule, what car I drove and I wouldn’t be surprised if he knew where I lived and all the information I’d tried to hide from everyone except my boss and school. Without fail, he came in and asked for me each day I was there. Each day my coworkers denied me being there, or told him that I was busy and couldn’t be bothered. Some days he would wait to see if that was true. Some days he wouldn’t.

I remember getting laughed at and blamed for the situation that I had “gotten myself into”. I remember taking 3 showers a day for several days in a row because I felt dirty.

The thing is, that before I’d even begun to deal with what had happened, my brain decided I couldn’t take it and hid it away. What I didn’t understand immediately was why I felt so connected to the Ke$ha case, which you can read my thoughts on here. I mean, I didn’t know her, I didn’t have anything in common with her. Why was I so devastated?

I mentioned several times over many blog posts that my brain was breaking apart barriers that I hadn’t realized were there. This is what I meant. The reactions from people since remembering all this have been pretty polarizing. (Up until now I’ve told less than 5 people.) I either got the “how can I help?” question or I got the “it must not have been that traumatizing if you’re only now talking about it” or the “you weren’t raped, you’ll be fine” speech.

Let me break it down for you.

I am the survivor of harassing phone calls which happened as a minor. I do not answer phone calls to this day because of them. It’s been like that for years-you just didn’t see it. That was the first time, at age 11 that I realized I wasn’t safe.

I was NOT raped. I know that. And that makes me “lucky”. But that doesn’t mean that my experiences aren’t worth noting and taking seriously.

I WAS sexually assaulted. I WAS stalked. I WAS vulnerable. And you not being able to understand that only reflects on you. I was 20 at the time I was assaulted. And because the justice system in my state states that I (the victim) must prove that it was unwanted and there wasn’t any physical evidence, I know that I must live with that. (This is how the law was explained to me, anyway.)

Of course there wasn’t any physical evidence. That doesn’t mean that sexual assault shouldn’t be paid attention to though. Here’s the textbook definitions of sexual assault and rape. They’re both criminal offenses. As you can see, rape is the forced penetration. Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact/behavior.

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We all experience trauma in different ways. I wasn’t able to connect mine to past events at first-I just assumed it was part of my bipolar diagnosis. The signs were there from day one-but I didn’t have anyone to properly put them in place. But let me list the symptoms which have been present for years:

-I cannot go into new places alone

-I cannot “do” large crowds

-Sometimes I cannot go into restaurants and order food, especially if I haven’t been there before

-I will not use the restroom if it looks too close to a group of men

-I do not pick up phone calls. Even from people I know. Unless I know you’re calling me. And even then, I get a mini-panic attack when I do. EVEN FROM PEOPLE I KNOW

-I do not do well with the elderly. I panic

-I refuse to be alone with anyone I do not know

-I am polite and courteous, but I will rarely go out of my way to talk to strangers

-I do not share personal information which may allow someone to find me

-I vary my schedules

-My nightmares (if I dream at all) are often reminiscent of SVU episodes

-It takes me hours to get to sleep

-I let someone know where I am at all times-even going to the rest room

-I scout out everywhere I am for lines of sight

-I have been known to barricade myself in

-I do not smile at strangers (followed by periods of uncomfortable laughing and panicked smiles to prevent strangers from murdering me or worse)

Those of you with a mental health diagnosis may understand why I assumed this was all part of my disorder-at a depressive point, it’s classic isolation, at a manic point it’s classic avoidance and paranoia. But the thing is, it was so much more than that. A quick Google search will show you that these behaviors also sound a little too much like a different diagnosis: PTSD. I’ll go ahead and include a screenshot for you.

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So no. I wasn’t raped. I don’t know what that does to your mind. But I am 1 in 6-I am a survivor of sexual assault and I am devoting my life to protecting other victims. No one should have to feel like they aren’t safe. No one should have to defend the right to their own body. No one should have to defend their right to say no.

 

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15 thoughts on “Unsteady

  1. I absolutely love this post. Because you included statistics and your story, now now people can see that they aren’t alone. It’s deplorable what happened to you. I think that we as a society must come to recognize that just because we are told to respect our elders does not mean we have to compromise our safety in doing so.
    Thank you, for sharing your story. I am sure it was not easy in doing so.

    1. It’s definitely a post I’ve trashed more times than not. It makes me sick to my stomach, it’s something that bothers me to this day-three years later. I received such a wonderful community from just being open about my struggles with mental health that all I wanted was to find others who understood and whom I could help. Thanks for taking the time to read it. I know it was exceptionally lengthy. But I felt like the facts were there for clarity. There’s still a lot of stigma about dressing and behaving a certain way and it’s just not the case. Thanks for your kindness ❤

      1. It really wasn’t that long to me. And we all have that post we’ve trashed a bunch of times before writing and publishing. I really had no idea about some of the facts you included, so thank you. I will try to teach my daughter about being aware of herself. She’s very much like me and believes in the next of everyone. Seems like there’s alot of stigma around the things that negatively impact anyone’s life. I wonder if thats because those things aren’t don’t and pretty and positive…?
        Hope you are doing well after the post {Hugs}

      2. I think that’s why I put facts in there. I know that personally, I didn’t even know what had happened to me qualified as “harrassment”, “stalking”, or “sexual assault” until a few months ago. I’m not an idiot-but because I felt safe, I never bothered to prepare. A mistake I will carry with me forever. I think there are stigmas about everything that isn’t Hollywood approved. The moment there’s a crack in the face of perfection, it is shunned. I’m surprisingly at peace. I mean, you’re probably the only one who even read this, but I feel like I was carrying around a lot of weight that I didn’t need to-because I felt ashamed of my naivety and inability to see the realities of situations. But I know that I’m still working on figuring it all out and that’s okay. 🙂 *Hugs back*

      3. Being at peace is a HUGE place to get to and its not easily gotten too. I agree about “Hollywood approved”. It’s such bs that the gloss over so much. Even the mental health issues. Like ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ and Bradley Cooper’s character. I think he did a wonderful job, but there are still people in the mental health community that got pissy saying it wasn’t “accurate”. At least they went beyond the glossy part in the movie.
        I’m sure there are others who read it, but didn’t like because they can’t relate. And that’s ok. It only takes one, ya know? And you shouldn’t feel ashamed because it wasn’t your fault. 💖💖💖

      4. No, I completely agree. I set out to share my story because one person is where it starts. I’m not upset that not too many people didn’t come across it. Because I didn’t need viral recognition. I needed to be free of it. It’s been a constant struggle these last few months to go back and put pieces back together, to tell myself that I wasn’t at fault. And the logic part of me says “Sure, he was the one who was at fault. He chose to do that and he shouldn’t have.” But there is an equally loud part that says “If you’d paid just a little more attention, perhaps you’d have been able to escape before anything happened at all.” It’s conditioning versus education I think. I think that mental health in movies has gotten loads better. I mean, at least we’re not all compared to Carrie anymore. But I think there’s always more than can be done. SLP is on my to-watch list, maybe I’ll give it a go. I also want to see the Mark Ruffalo movie: Infinitely Polar Bear. I’ve heard it was great.

      5. I agree about the conditioning VS education. But no matter how educated we are there’s still the flight or fight that kicks in. And for most women it’s fight and then that voice that says “I told you so” VS rationale. I know what you mean about viral recognition and needing to be free of something. Green I’ve been blogging a bit over 2 years and I FINALLY got to a place where I was able to realize AND accept that my marriage was a joke from the beginning, that my entire relationship was. I just wanted to believe that it wasn’t. That wasn’t so much a conditioning thing more of a want VS reality thing.
        Ugh. I know what you mean about Carrie. Great movie, if I must say so. HOWEVER, the water extenuating circumstances plus IT WAS A MOVIE! GRRR! I LOVED SLP, but only for Bradley Cooper but I am in LURVE with Jennifer Lawrence. For many many MANY reasons other than her acting ability. Even she’s a little crazy in the movie, but it means sense given her characters background. I FORGOT ABOUT THAT MOVIE! I’ll see if my bf can find it and make him watch it with me. Mark Ruffalo is sexy for an older man. I’d totally do him *giggles* And I love Zoe Saldana. Fell in love with her in Center Stage. Good movie for pushing boundaries in dancing. Don’t get me started on movies, anything not scary at least 😀

      6. I’m really sorry about your marriage. I had a friend in a situation kinda like that-where she got married and was in denial about it being something it wasn’t. I think because humans are so emotional about everything (I mean, we are the most emotional species) that it can be really hard to separate conditioning and reality. It can definitely be hard when you’re invested in something.
        If I were doing anything other than this with my life, it would be folklore through entertainment-so I could talk about it literally all day lol. I’m also really glad you type the way I think. I respond to the sentences individually (or at least the points) and sometimes I forget to be specific but I completely followed this and my mind is happy.

      7. Don’t be too sorry about my marriage. 2 people didn’t work out. One abused the other and gladness them the their misery. I can’t wait for the day when I can say I am legally free of that douche bag.
        Yes it is hard because we area so emotional. Maybe it’s because we can actually TALK instead of make noise at each other…??
        Folklore entertainment! Oh that would me amazing! I’m sitting here thinking back to the midevil (spelling, sorry my phone isn’t helping!) days and Knights and jesters and jousting and minds and Queens and SIGH! Love that time.
        I’m glad my writing reflects your thinking. I just writ how I think and try to go cram everything together. Glad I could make your mind happy!

  2. I’m glad that you posted this Michelle. I have things like this in my background as well and I will never be “over” them, I just have learned to live with them. I was reckless at the prodding of friends which was what got me into these situations in the first place. Good for you for sharing!!!

    1. Thanks. I’m so sorry you also have these type stories. I hope that one day this stuff will seem completely bizarre and foreign to people-because it simply never happens.

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