When my middle school gym teacher slapped my butt, I felt shocked and confused. I hadn’t yet experienced the feeling of fearing a man, or questioning his motives. So even though there was a part of me that knew this was wrong, I also didn't know if I was suppose to say anything to anyone. Was his gesture playful or wrong?
I watched a lot of lifetime movies when I was younger, and saw men hit their girlfriends, throw them down stairs and rape them. Speak was one of my favorite movies, which as I’m writing this I realize that sounds dark. Though I resonated with her sense of alone. I felt that too.
Anyway, men assaulting women wasn’t something I felt like could happen to me. My naive 13 year old self thought that was ‘just for movies and other places that weren’t Dublin, Ohio.’
As I stood there on the sidelines of a flag football game, my then gym teacher told me ‘stop standing around and get back in', then he grabbed and slapped my butt.
I knew this wasn’t okay. Maybe men coaches slap the asses of men football players, but a male teacher knows better then to touch any part of a 13 year old, especially her butt.
I told 2 of my friends, and they said the same teacher touched them as well. The 3 of us walked into our principal's office and as we nervously told her what had happened, she asked us “are you sure this is what happened? This is a very serious accusation you’re making. Maybe you should go home and come back on Monday after you think about it again.”
That was the first time my voice was silenced. I understand what we were coming to her with was heavy, and her desire to discern truth from lies.
But we weren't lying.
Then came the time I was in highschool, when my friend wanted to have sex with this guy, but he would only come over if his friend could come over too.
My friend told me to go into the other room with him while she went to have sex. I told her I didn’t want to go, but she was upset knowing her guy would leave if I didn’t.
The guy I was suppose to go in with was a big guy. He was a football player and well liked I suppose. I had no desire to be his friend, let alone be in a dark room with him where I knew he’d want to have sex with me.
But I went in, and I’m still trying not to get upset with myself that I did. That in some fucked up way I thought going in was making me a good friend.
I sometimes wonder if friends in high school are actually friends or just scared people finding other scared people so we are all a little less scared.
Football guy laid on the bed. In his smug football guy way, like he felt like he could have any girl he wanted, he asked me to lay on the bed. I could see right through his bullshit, but I laid down. I wanted to leave but there was a part of me that wanted a friend so deeply that I stayed, and I was also scared. Two girls alone in a home, with two guys twice our size. I wasn’t scared that I was going to be hit, but I was scared of upsetting them.
We kissed and I would move my head so my mouth didn’t have to touch his. I hated his mouth. He would tilt my head back up though each time I would move it away. Was he that dense that he wasn’t understanding I wanted no part of this? Was he that stupid?
No, he knew.
Just like he knew that when he unbuttoned my pants and I buttoned them again. I wanted no part in it.
Just like he knew when I said no, I wanted no part in it.
Did I mention that I said no?
He pulled my pants off though, he touched me and I cried. I was crying. Water was falling from my eyes but I didn’t get up.
This is the part where I wonder what my dad is thinking? 'Why didn't you get up Rachel?'
Scared. At 14 you may think you know things, and understand things, but you don't. Not sex things, not like this. My biggest understanding of sex was HBO movies, and the one time my high school boyfriend tried to have sex with me and I cried. So as I laid there, I was frozen with feelings of deep confusion that I said no, and wasn't heard. Anger, fear and sadness.
I wondered if I even existed? Why aren't you respecting me? Aren't you suppose to respect me? Or perhaps did you just assume that because you're you, and parents aren't home that the rules no longer exist?
My voice, silenced.
He pushed my head places I didn’t want it to be, I said no and got up, we played a bit of tag as he said ‘come here’, and ‘lay back down’ and 'stop running away', my escape to the door wasn’t fast—why wasn’t I fast? He pulled me back down and pushed me where he wanted me to be.
As he tried to insert himself inside of me and I said no again, he still didn’t stop.
I am hurt that I didn’t think of this night as assault until many years later.
I am hurt wondering how many other girls said no, but didn’t get up.
Does it make you wonder how I was raised? Why didn’t you get you? Didn’t you watch the movies? Don’t you know what to do? Yes, I knew to get up and leave and call someone, anyone. I was raised by a wonderful man who taught me to be strong and yet I still can’t describe it in words that make sense. Other than fear paralyzed my bones and my voice didn't feel like a voice anymore after saying no so many times and not being heard.
This went on for hours, and I eventually lost track of how many times ‘no’ left my mouth. I wonder how many times he’s heard no and acted like he didn’t hear it all.
When I finally exited the room, my friend made some joke about how much I clearly enjoyed it because of how long we were in there.
No, friend, I didn’t enjoy it. “Yeah”. And that was the end. Well, the end of me talking about it. Not the end of the school hearing that I was a s l u t.
When I entered a relationship with a kind guy. One who had a good job, liked his mom, and was nice, I thought surely this will be great. You know? Like obviously those things make a great relationship and we will be great. Super great.
You don’t need to know about our relationship, while that wasn’t great, at all, there’s just one moment that left me feeling empty again. Silenced, again.
We were fighting one night and he was mad, so mad. I asked him to get out of my house because he had woken up my son with his angry, loud and hurtful words. That was it, I thought. I can't take it anymore.
I told him to grab his things and go.
“If I leave I’m never coming back.”
Thank god, I thought. He left. I laid in bed, crying. How could someone you love be so hurtful? Then I heard someone running up the steps to my house. I knew it was him but didn’t want to unlock the door. He banged on the door so loud that I opened it because I didn’t want him to wake Cooper again. Big mistake.
We started fighting again and through tears I said “I just want to go to sleep so I can wake up and go to work and be happy”. I was exhausted.
He wasn’t my boss, but he kind of was, I guess I should just say he was above me. He knew how tired I was, tired was an understatement. My bones were tired.
Then he said to me, “your job? If you don’t let me sleep with you I’ll have you gone and you won’t have a job”.
I couldn’t feel my body. My jaw dropped and I stared at him, more tears started gushing down my face.
This time I knew this wasn’t right and I said something.
“That’s sexual harassment, you can’t do that”. To that he then acted like he never said anything. Like I was making it up. I ran to my bathroom and locked the door, quickly I tried to text my boss because I knew that she wouldn’t believe me. That she would think I was ‘being too sensitive’, and question if that what had actually happened.
He was pounding on the door trying to get in, again I unlocked it because he was being so loud. He immediately asked if I was texting our boss, ‘no’, I lied. I never sent that text.
When I went to tell her the next day, he had gotten to her first and she asked me “are you sure that’s what happened.”
Yes I'm sure, but I know you won't believe me. Or perhaps you do believe me and don't want to believe me because it would become too messy for you. Yes, that one.
Oh, he slept with me that night. I cried then too. I was a single mom with a job up until that point I adored more than words could describe. I didn't want to lose my job and if you're thinking I'm a bad feminist, I know. I couldn't afford to lose that job. I felt stuck. I felt like I was drowning in a hell that would never end.
This article isn't a Taylor Swift song calling out everyone who has wronged me, it's been years in the making.
For years I stayed silent because I felt like my sexual assault wasn't 'big enough'.
Or my favorite reason for not saying anything was because when I would, people would say "She's just really sensitive" and "are you sure that happened?".
As more women continue to come forward, I realize that sitting on my words in some kind of hiding I feel like is protecting myself is the worst thing I could do.
I've wondered what people will think. Will you think I'm complaining about things past? Will you wonder who I'm talking about? I know you will and I almost didn't write it because of that.
Then I thought about all the times I said no and wasn't heard and all of the times I didn't want to rock the boat and upset anyone and I wondered what would happen if I had a daughter and one day she asked me what it was like when women were scared and came forward and took action. Would I say "I did nothing, I stayed silent." Or would I say 'I was really scared, but I didn't stay silent. I wanted other women to feel less alone and know their voices matter.'
Now I know.
Your voice matters, your story matters, and I believe you.
I wish someone had told me those things, so while I can't go back in time—I can tell you what I wished I needed to hear.
Assault and harassment are hard things to talk about because. Hard because you were violated and maybe you were like me and thought that these were things that just couldn't happen to you. That maybe they are too dark, so when they do, you feel like you're a ghost in your body and unsure of how to communicate what feeling violated and empty feels like all at once.
Maybe you're afford to rock the boat, or that you won't be believed.
I get that, in my bones I understand how you feel.
If you're scared, you're not alone.
I want to remind you that you story is important, and that we are no longer in a time in place where you have to stay silent.
But if silent feels safer to you right now because you are physically scared, I urge you to speak to the police, or a therapist or reach out to me and I will listen. I won't give you unwanted advice, I'll hear your story and I'll believe you.
Sexual assault and harassment aren't things that just happen on Lifetime.
We need to create conversation, safe spaces and empower women to use their voices and stop the silencing.