International Women's Day: On Sexual Abuse
Women and girls put up with a lot of shit. A LOT OF SHIT. Today (and everyday, really) is a day to speak out in protection of women and women-to-be. It's a day to lift up those around us. It's a day to share and shake demons. It's a day for me when I say "enough," and unearth some really sad events I have refused to allow to define me. Instead, these events instilled a fire from which I draw to right wrongs, compete harder, earn more, and walk away from situations I recognize as destructive or toxic.
I hardly know where to start. Maybe it's with these hands that are typing. My right hand and wrist are adorned with several two-, three- and four-inch scars I've had since the age of 14. My left hand is responsible for these scars. At that point, I'd already been sexually abused by three different people for half my young life!
Mom and stepfather sent me to a psychiatrist when they finally noticed the cuts, but the psych certainly wasn't interested in why I was cutting and only asked me about life at school, in a new city. I was a strong student so school was fine. He filled out insurance forms every visit, never looking at me or REALLY talking with me, and he wasted no time prescribing me psychoactive drugs...right after the first visit, come to think of it. I put them in my mom's medicine cabinet and let them be. Later, in a blue spell when I felt I needed them, I discovered my stepfather had taken them, leaving only an empty bottle. He told me my mom didn't need to know about that. I have heard that before. The psych never learned why I cut. I was a crypt where secrets were safe and peace was kept.
When I was six, I was asked to conceal our babysitter's husband beating my little brother (note: my mom was a single working mom until I was 10). Vicky was the evil witch's name. When the beatings continued, I had to say something. We ended up with a new babysitter and soon after I was the one being abused.
At age seven, a neighbor babysitter, the daughter of a prominent Coronado family counselor, corralled me, my brother and another boy (family friend) to perform lewd acts on her. On more than one occasion, she would enter our bedroom after we'd gone to bed (bunk beds). She was usually drunk and typically had boys over at our house, but once they left, she did that. She was my mom's "date night" babysitter.
That replacement babysitter mom had us stay with for after-school care was a lady who had a litter of her own mostly-grown kids. There were Jesus figurines and crucifixes all over her home, including the bedroom of her son Rich (19? 20? at the time) who lured me in, shut the door and blocked me from exiting. Threats. Whispers. Lewd acts. Reciprocation. I kept looking at the crystal doorknob from his bed, wanting out. Then, as if my stomach hadn't turned enough, he finally opens the door to let me out, puts a few coins in my hand and whispers "buy yourself some candy." I played outside with the sitter's neighbor kids pretty much every day after that for the next couple years.
By age nine, my mom started dating a new guy. She was happy. He started to stay more and more. When she was gone one day, had me undress completely on the living room floor. His hands went everywhere. I stayed perfectly still and silent. I knew it was wrong. My mom was in love. She wanted to marry this guy. She struggled to put food on the table. Brion and I both sometimes stole candy and snacks to eat; that was after once running up a school lunch account and getting busted. He would provide for her. And us. I said nothing.
I was furious when she came back married to him one extended weekend (we were babysat that particular weekend by a junkie who shot up for three straight days), but feigned happiness for her. For her, it meant love and security. For us, not so much (read: three schools, three cities, four years). We were uprooted from Coronado after a couple years and moved too much. Many inappropriate incidents followed in the years to come, coincidentally (not!) on those rare occasions my mom traveled to see family.
While living in Walnut Creek, mom had left town for a visit, my close brother at a sleepover and the baby bro asleep, and my stepfather announced we were going to play a drinking game: one shot of beer each minute, versus all 100 pounds of me at the time. Within the hour I was vomiting in the bathroom. I woke up late the next morning in my bed--without clothes--and no recollection after puking. Then in Boise there was the shower incident. I had a talk with mom about that one; she went crazy. But then I had to deal with confrontations from him. Pretty soon I just stayed nights with my boyfriend instead of coming home.
I had enough credits to graduate HS early. I also had a full-ride textiles scholarship in Idaho (Vandals!), but I'd be damned to stay there. I was ready to go home to CA, see my dad, friends, and start my own life, one in which I had complete control. I also decided it was time to share everything with my mom. I wrote a letter and hid it in the attic bedroom and instructed her to find it. She left my stepfather the next year. She had him documented as a sex offender in Idaho on her way out.
A few years later, while living back in CA, I received a letter from the x-step, asking for forgiveness. My skin crawled when I thought of his hands manipulating the pen and and touching the very paper I was holding. I couldn't reply. Never did. I was still filled with rage. I wanted him punished. I wanted him destitute. Scot-free.
"Familial" inappropriateness aside, I took some more external knocks coming through those years. At 16, I was date-raped by someone I really liked (but I wasn't ready to have sex with him). I blamed myself until years later when people actually started to talk about date rape. It happened again when I was 20 by someone else. Lesson: don't go to HIS place unless you intend to be penetrated. I wish I was kidding. What's worse, someone I with whom I was in a steady relationship in between decided to take liberties one night while he was wired on speed - I've written about that not too long ago. And you know what? That's just as icky as being date-raped.
Even in college, a professor pursued me, showing up several times at my work (a public place); it deeply offended him when I refused his little gifts. I dreaded having to go to his office for the required lab time with him, alone. He was never talking academics, just flirting and being disgusting. Compared to what I'd been through, this was easy. I talked to the dean and the prof's female assistant, who had also been harassed by him. In those days, there wasn't a campus advocate to get shit done. I was granted a class change to a new professor, but that didn't protect the next poor girl to get his class, right?
Women and girls have to ask for help. And they also need to be educated early on that THIS SHIT IS NOT OKAY, and it's not their fault, and to take action to get out of the situation. We need protection and enforcement. I didn't have that. Without advocacy it's easy to fall into the background, or end up in a rotten relationship you don't know how to leave. How do you know what unacceptable is if the bar has been set so low in your upbringing, or you lack self-esteem to can rise above a pile of poo?!
Relationships with name-calling, belittling, bullying, threats, financial abuse and physical intimidation are just as serious problems as sexual abuse in my book. I have seen firsthand the lives changed through the work of the Dove Project on Vashon. If there is one place you want to make a donation today, put it there!
Through it all, I'm okay. I know my sense of justice is a perpetual chip on my shoulder from these experiences. These scars on my arm have softened and flattened over time; the hurt is long gone, but they'll always be there, like a rough road traveled to get to the open highway.