There's so much I don't remember from my childhood and teen years, but a few things are crystal clear. I don't remember how old I was or who I was with, but I remember how it made me feel.
My friends and I decided to go to the high school baseball game. I think I was a sophomore. It was a warm spring day. We sat on the bleachers looking at the boys and talking about mindless things. The bleachers were semi-full, but not packed.
Before long, I felt someone brush my upper side. I assumed I was encroaching into someone's space and had been bumped. I scooted over, giving them space. It soon happened again. A definite brush in the same spot on my side, near my breast. I still assumed blame. I glanced behind me to see how close I was to this person and how far I needed to move to be out of his way. He didn't seem that close, but I scooted again to give him space. It happened again. I was beginning to believe this wasn't accidental; he meant to touch me. For whatever reason.
I was young and naive. And I was embarrassed. While I was pretty sure it wasn't an accident, what if I said something and he claimed innocence. How horrifying it would be to wrongly accuse someone. How shamed I would feel as people around me told me to relax and quit making a big deal out of an accidental contact.
I didn't say anything. I scooted again. By now I had moved away more than a foot from my initial seat. It happened again. I froze inside. I didn't know what to do. I was embarrassed and scared. I didn't want my friends to think I was being silly. I didn't want to make a big deal of it. So I got up and moved. I moved to a seat below my friends under the guise that I wanted to turn around and talk to them. I didn't want the man that kept touching me to think I had moved because of him.
I stayed there for the rest of the game, or until my friends decided they'd had enough baseball, who knows. What I do know is that as we left a couple of other girls that had been watching the game came over to talk to us.
One of them said to me, "Did you know that guy?"
I answered, "What guy?"
She said, "The guy that kept touching you."
And in that moment I knew I was right. She explained that she'd thought of saying something but thought I knew him. They had been sitting behind us and watched the whole thing. She watched him stroke my side, watched me move away, watched him move closer to me and do it again. They watched this and commented on it to each other but said nothing to me or him.
I appreciated her question and comment so much because it validated my feelings. Something was wrong and I didn't feel safe, but I didn't trust my own feelings. Until it was validated, I was too scared to say it was not okay behavior. I was too embarrassed thinking I might wrongly accuse someone.
I was about 16. He was at least 40. He kept touching me even though I tried to move away from him. And I felt like I'd done something wrong.
It would be a long time before I learned that men sometimes brush up against women in crowded places to get a sexual rush. I was dumbfounded when I learned that this was a crime that was actually prosecuted, and that it often leads to these men committing worse sexual crimes. Dumbfounded and validated.
I didn't say anything because I was embarrassed. Because I though no one would believe me. Because I thought it was my fault.
The same reasons I stayed silent over many years and many sexual assaults -- more explicit and undeniable than the one I describe here.
I have never reported a sexual assault, or an assault of any kind, to the police. I never told my parents or anyone else. I didn't want anyone to know what had happened to me. I thought it made me dirty. I knew I would be verbally attacked. I just wanted to move on.
I learned to tell my story because of a trusted friend that I knew wouldn't victimize me again through his reaction. I have since had lots of therapy. And I've told my stories many times. Because even though I still fear those things, it's not worth staying silent. Too many women have the same experiences and stay silent. I want to be strong for them and stand up and say that what happened to me was wrong. I want to offer them my strength until they find their own. I want them to know they are not alone.
My post was inspired by this post by London Feminist (contains a couple of swears). It's important that we believe each other. It's important that we speak.