Sexual Abuse. Just those two words cause people to cringe, wince and shudder. Anyone that knows me well has heard me say that it’s one of my worst fears. Statistics show 1 in every 4 women will have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. That is a lot of women. I’ve known this fact for a while and it’s always made me wonder about the hidden pain the women in my life may be struggling with but are too ashamed to talk about.
I wasn’t completely positive as to what the term “Sexual Abuse” implied. I always thought it was another reference to rape. Rape, which is every human being’s nightmare. However, I never realized the multitude of ways a person could experience sexual abuse.
According to New York Sexual Assault Laws, sexual abuse is defined as subjecting another person to sexual contact without the latter’s consent.
New York Penal Code Section 130(3) further defines “sexual contact” to include “any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person for the purpose of gratifying sexual desire of either party,” and touching of the actor by the victim, as well as the touching of the victim by the actor, whether directly or through clothing.
This information swirled into my head and wouldn’t go away. Something about this “revelation” gave me a sense of awareness I’d never had before. What was worse, I couldn’t deny relating to some of the criteria listed. Following the immediate pang of pain I felt, I started reflecting on my entire life. From childhood to present time.
From the ages of 11 to 13, I was bullied by a classmate of mine. He ridiculed me in front of all my classmates. From my hair being frizzy, to my legs being skinny. He made sure to tell me everyday how ugly I was. While no one was watching, he would grab and fondle my breasts, my butt. Even as far as going under my skirt. I wasn’t a person. I was an inanimate object for him to grope, yet a punching bag he simultaneously degraded. I remembered feeling worthless yet unjustified for my hurt feelings. I thought this was normal. Maybe this is just the way boys behaved, and it was acceptable.
When I was 17 years old, my boyfriend insisted I sleep with him. It wasn’t our first time. I just didn’t want to. Although he wasn’t physically aggressive, he persisted. He became verbally pushy and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I bent over and allowed him to have his way with me.
I remember that night, feeling spaced out while this happened. Those same feelings of hollowness flooded through my body. I gave in. I didn’t want to, but I did. Why? Because this is the way men behaved, I thought to myself. They want sex. If you’re in a relationship with a man, you had to have sex. Whenever they wanted. Men have needs, I thought to myself. This is only expected. If not, they’ll seek it elsewhere. So I spared my needs for his. Even at my own emotional expense.
When I was 18 years old, an old boyfriend of mine and I decided to have sex. He put on a condom and we proceeded. When we finished, I realized he was no longer wearing a condom and had ejaculated inside of me. When I asked him why he removed it, he said it was because I was on birth control. It’s fine, don’t worry about it, he said. He didn’t ask, and if he had, I would’ve said no. He didn’t see the issue in this. I felt violated. I felt deceived. I felt betrayed. But again, felt completely unjustified. I thought to myself “He’s right. I am on birth control. It’s no big deal”. I put my feelings on the back burner and again, dismissed them as nonsensical.
When I was 21, I went to a house party. I’d had way too many drinks and I needed a bed and some sleep immediately. I’d made arrangements to stay over and was to sleep in one of the bedrooms with my friend.
The whole night, this man tried talking and flirting with me. I told him I was not interested several times and left it at that. I went into the bedroom I was to sleep in and knocked out immediately.
I woke up a few hours later. The room was completely dark. I felt someone nuzzled next to me. I assumed it was my friend, who I was supposed to be sharing a bed with. I found myself shivering and asked my friend to either turn off the fan or grab a blanket. I slurred the words, still intoxicated from all the drinking I’d done only hours before.
I felt someone get up, and flick on the light. It was the same man I’d told to leave me alone. He was in his boxers. I remember feeling alarmed and angry. I did not invite him to bed with me. I thought he was disgusting and wanted nothing to do with him.
I found myself too drunk to protest. I opened my mouth to confront him, but my body felt almost paralyzed. My mouth felt too heavy to find the words to say and the walls around me spun. I could only manage to slump my head back and slipped into my drunken slumber.
I found out my friend had been knocking on the door all night. Apparently, the door was locked. I couldn’t have done that, because I KNOW I entered that bedroom alone and did not invite anyone in. Had I locked it behind me, I would’ve been in that bed alone. I had pajamas on, and I didn’t feel any pain or signs of forced intercourse. I decided it wasn’t a big deal and laughed it off because that felt better than trying to figure out what happened. Till this day, I have no idea what this man might’ve possibly done to my body while I was unconscious.
Years after, I was dating a man who I was happy with. We were sexually active and satisfied with each other. We’d talked about sex very openly. The topic of anal sex came up. I’d never tried it. I didn’t want to try it. I’d told him I wasn’t comfortable with it. I didn’t know that I ever would be. That if he pressured me into doing it when if I wasn’t ready, I would resent him.
We had so much fun together. We would constantly go out, and our night life was active. We came back home after many drink one night. I slightly remember coming home and agreeing to have vaginal sex. I remember flashes of the experience.
The following morning when I woke up, he told me how much fun he’d had. How much he enjoyed himself. He told me he digitally penetrated me anally. This was after I told him how uncomfortable I was with it. He sat there and boasted about how much I enjoyed it.
I sat there and all I could feel was ashamed, violated and defiled. I never agreed to this. He never asked me for permission. Had he done so, my answer would have been no. This deeply bothered me, considering the talk we’d had beforehand. He knew how I felt and still crossed my boundaries.
This became something that would happen every now and then. It was usually when I was drunk, too intoxicated to even understand what was being done to my body. My stance on anal sex always stayed the same. Yet on those drunken nights, those rules seemed not to matter to him. Just like all the other mornings, he’d brag about how great it was. Again, how much I enjoyed it.
I felt humiliated, used. Bothered that my body was again being regarded as an object. His enjoyment trumped respecting my limitations. I didn’t matter enough to be asked and considered. So, I did what I’d always done in the past. Shrugged it off and laughed because confronting a pain I didn’t understand the root of was frightening.
Society labels women as liars immediately when they come forward with claims of sexual abuse. They are blamed. They had it coming. They led him on. They are met with skepticism. They are exaggerating. They aren’t remembering things correctly. Society has conditioned women who go through these things to believe it’s no big deal.
Society has also conditioned men to seize what they feel they are entitled to. They are congratulated for their conquests, regardless of the circumstances and are left with no responsibility. So, that’s exactly what many of them do. With no regards for anyone else because there has never been a consequence to pay.
Both writing and acknowledging that the experiences in my life coincide with the criteria of sexual abuse stings. I thought this was normal. I thought for a long time, being objectified and being treated like someone’s rag doll was just a part of the experience that came with being with a man.
I write this for women who may think the way I did. This isn’t excusable. This isn’t acceptable. You are not someone’s rag doll. You are not obligated to engage in anything you don’t want to do, no matter how much guilt you’re made to feel. You mean more. Your needs mean more. You are more. Your pain is valid.