Sadly, this sort of harassment and abuse is so common place in our society that it just seems part of life and I sometimes forget that this is part of my own story, my own life, who I am, too, not to mention far too many of my friends as well. It’s so ingrained into my life, that it doesn’t even occur to me to really consciously think about it, like it’s something that needs to be discussed and shared. It just “is what it is”. I don’t have the stories of men exposing themselves to me, or cat-calling (that I can specifically remember) like so many other women. My experiences are all a lot more personal than that, as if being harassed or assaulted by a stranger isn’t traumatic and personal enough. My experiences are with family members, friends of family, boyfriends, men I’ve gone on dates with or run into when I was out with my friends.
|Me, 5 years old|
The first encounter I can remember is with a female neighbor, perhaps 8 or so years older than me. I never really knew if she was a friend or a babysitter or both (or neither) but I do remember her putting me in extremely uncomfortable situations. For some reason, she used to make me take baths at her house. I don’t remember any specific event happening, like being touched inappropriately there, I just remember feeling like her presence in the bathroom with me and the whole situation not being “right”. She was controlling, manipulative, angry, and had cruel and embarrassing punishments. For instance, when I once spilled milk on the carpet, she tried to make me clean it up by licking it off the ground. One time, she and her friend tried to get me to simulate sex acts on a stuffed animal. I was only five or six years old. I never told my parents.
Fast forward to my pre-teen years, a variety of subtle things started to happen. Once, a couple of middle aged guys from the neighborhood stood in the driveway next door with their beers in hand and just watched me mowing the lawn with my parents riding mower. They never said anything to me but their stares, grins, and coy gestures to each other made me feel….for the lack of a better word: gross. A male relative of mine once made a point to call out my early-developed breasts under my t-shirt and it left me feeling humiliated, dirty, small, and like I wanted to cover myself up and hide away from the world. He and I weren’t alone, there were other people there and no one said a thing to him about it. I once received a crank call from boys at school, posing as a company doing a survey and if I answered their questions, was promised a year subscription to some teen magazine. I soon realized after they started asking things like my bra size, it was not a legit call. I felt scared and powerless and I didn’t know how to get out of the call, apparently I was “too nice” to just hang up.
|Me, 15 or 16 years old|
Once I became a teenager, the problems only got worse. A drunk, passed out relative of mine once accidentally grabbed me between the legs, I assume thinking I was someone else, when I tried to wake him up. I remember feeling an immediate and intense sense of embarrassment and general sense of dirtiness all within a split second. I felt so ashamed, like it was my fault, even though logically I knew I did nothing wrong. I cannot convey in words how intense and immediate that shame was there, all from a split second action. Another time, a friend of the family, twenty years older than me, who I had a crush on for several years, decided to take advantage of that crush. One night, when it was just the two of us, we kissed and almost had sex. At the time I didn’t necessarily think there was anything truly wrong with it, I was 14 and I liked him and thought if he liked me, I must be special. It was only when I got older that I realized that a 34 year old man has no business getting involved with a 14 year old girl like that, he should have known better.
At my first underage drinking party, I met a guy my age and we made out on the couch. I was spending the night with my friend, and we had told her mom that we were going to spend the night at one of her friend’s houses but really, we had planned on staying overnight at the house where the party was happening. The party ended up getting broken up at the end of the night and we all had to leave. Having nowhere to go and not wanting to get in trouble with her mom, we and a couple of her guy friends ended up at the guys house who I was making out with earlier. We snuck into the basement and all slept in one spare room. This guy laid down next to me on the floor and kept groping me even though I continuously told him to stop. I was afraid to make a scene, we didn’t have anywhere else to go and I didn’t want everyone else to be mad at me so I just endured his unwanted groping. The first time I had sex with a guy I was 15 years old. I was curious but didn’t really want to do it but was afraid that if I said no, he wouldn’t want to be my boyfriend anymore so I slept with him at his brothers apartment, in their spare bedroom while everyone else was outside in the living room watching TV. Afterward, I felt sad, embarrassed, and again — dirty.
|Me and my ex-husband at Homecoming|
Not too long after all that, I met the man who eventually became my first husband and enjoyed five wonderful years without any incidences with him. That did not stop other guys though, at my job, guy friends, etc., from talking to and touching me in unwanted ways. After me and my husband got divorced and I started dating again in my early twenties, a revolving door of issues began. Too many to go into every single one but I can give you a few examples. I was once told by a guy who I no longer wanted to see that on top of him thinking I was the “most boring person he’s ever met”, that “sometimes a guy just needs a hole” and that was all I was to him. There were numerous times when out with my friends dancing that strange men would come up and get way too close, would grab my hips and grind their bodies against mine in uncomfortable ways. We just came to expect it as a part of going to places like that, just something we had to deal with. Once I went to an after-bar party with a small group of people I had met that night. While one guy, the one whose apartment we were in, started to kiss me, another guy stole my wallet out of my purse. Those two guys ended up getting into an argument after I called the thief out to give me my wallet back and the police got involved. I gave my statement to the police officer and she proceeded to tell me that I should “be more careful who you go home with”. Apparently this was all my fault, according to her.
Less than a year later, I found myself out with my sister and some friends in a bar one night. A guy there was buying us lots of shots. I ended up getting sick and throwing up in the attached hotel bathroom. The guy offered to get me a room so I could lay down and rest. As I sat on the floor of the lobby, resting against the wall, barely able to keep my head up, he was putting down his credit card with the hotel clerk to get a room. I’ll never understand why that clerk didn’t say anything — clearly this was not a good situation. When me and the guy got to the hotel room, we ended up having sex. I knew going into this that it was a possibility but I was so drunk and sick and just wanted to lay down. After he was done with me, he left. As I laid on my stomach on the bed, feeling sick, I thought, “well, at least now I can just rest”. Not too long later, I heard the door open and someone come in. I thought it was the same guy but couldn’t be sure because I couldn’t lift my head off the bed to look. Without saying a word, the guy put on a condom, something that didn’t happen the first time, and proceeded to have sex with me from behind. I couldn’t say anything, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t fight back. When he was done, never saying a word to me, he just left. It turns out the first guy gave his friend back in the bar the room key so he could “have a go” at me too. I never reported it. I thought the police would just think this too was my own fault; “you should be more careful”.
After that, there continued to be a series of negative encounters with men. Some men were controlling and emotionally abusive. A couple different guys tried to coerce me into sleeping with them by threatening to kill themselves if I didn’t. One time at a house party with some friends without my own car, I started to not feel well. The owner of the house said I could lay down in his room. I fell asleep for awhile but woke up to him crawling into bed with me. He had taken off my pants and started to use one of the dirty sex toys from a box near his bed on me. I told him to stop and tried to push him off of me but he crawled on top of me, squishing me legs into my chest, and wouldn’t stop or let me leave. Fearful what would happen if I continued to fight, I froze until he eventually lost interest in me. Another time, a man who owned a hotel next to my favorite neighborhood watering hole offered me $100 to have sex with him. One “boyfriend” of mine once asked me to take my shirt off so his friend could see my boobs.
I’d like to say as I got older, these things became less common as I don’t go out to bars and house parties like I used to in my twenties but sadly, I can’t say that. Not all of these negative experiences are sexual in nature. Once at work, a male employee I supervised barged into my office, got in my face, and screamed at me, pointing his finger in my face, because he was angry about a conversation I had had with one of our board members. I was speechless and terrified in the moment and he ended up walking out of my office when he was done with his rant. I highly doubt he would have taken the same approach if his supervisor was a man instead of a 29 year old woman. I consulted the board on how to handle the situation as was told, “oh, he just needed to get that out, guys are like that, I wouldn’t worry about it too much”. This from the same board that when I questioned some of the numbers on the financial report was told with a placating pat-on-the-head attitude to not worry my little-girl brain about it.
Other situations are somewhat sexual in nature but less overt. I’ve been on a plethora of first dates through online dating platforms over the years. When there isn’t a spark with someone, it’s terrifying at times to have to avoid physical contact with them. One guy who I clearly was sending signals of “don’t touch me” felt the need to force a kiss, even though I clearly was turning my head to avoid it. When I’ve told other guys that I don’t see a relationship happening with them, they become angry and mean. I’ve had guys call me a “slut” because I didn’t want to be with them, even though we had never had any physical contact. It gets to the point where you are afraid to say “no” sometimes. You never know how they are going to react. I used to think it was just me, that I was “too nice” or weak, shy, etc. — that it was somehow a flaw in me, or that I was just “too sensitive”. The more I talk to other people about it, the more I realize it is in fact not me who is in the wrong here and that this happens ALL THE TIME, to so many women (and men too).
The #metoo campaign has really helped connect the dots on the magnitude of the problem. I have only ever told these stories to one or two of my friends and never in such a public way like this. There are so many reasons why people keep secrets like this. I know for me, I used to think this was all my own fault, that I should have known better. That I shouldn’t let myself get into situations where I’m alone with someone or in a place where I don’t have a way to leave independently of who I came with. Slowly I have learned that nothing we do ever justifies these sorts of actions. They are never OK. I hope by sharing my story here, this helps others come to terms with their own experiences as well. Far too many people can say “me too” and it needs to stop.