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I Didn't Know I Was Sexually Assaulted

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Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. We’ve included some details to help others recognize if they are being harassed and/or assaulted, like this author was. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

I was sexually assaulted, and I didn’t know it. Someone had to tell me. I wasn’t necessarily in denial; I just didn’t know. When I was a 15 year old girl, when I heard the words “sexual assault,” I immediately thought “rape.” No less. I have a feeling I am not the only young girl or young man who had this misconception of what sexual assault really is. In case you didn’t know, rape isn’t the only form of assault. Sexual assault is more of an umbrella term, a catch-all for any and all sexual or intimate behavior that is forced upon the victim without their consent. The legal definition of sexual assault states, “Sexual assault refers to an assault of a sexual nature on another person. It can include a wide range of unwanted sexual contact such as rape, forced penetration, inappropriate touching, forced kissing, child molestation, obscene phone calls, torture of a victim in a sexual manner, etc.” I didn’t know this when it happened to me. I didn’t know what to call this “thing” I experienced. I didn’t understand why I was feeling the way that I was feeling.

• What is PTSD?

I was sexually assaulted. It took me a long time to come to terms with this, and even now I still struggle to feel like my feelings are valid, I still struggle to acknowledge my experience for what it truly is. I find it helpful and a bit more validating for me when I read about a story of assault similar to mine, so I would like to share my own. Some details may be triggering.

I made a new friend, who I will refer to as D, in the summer of 2012. I was 14 at the time. He was 16. D and I met through my best friend, we’ll call her A. D and A had known each other for years, so it wasn’t surprising to me when D’s friend told us D had feelings for A. We spent the whole summer together, and as you might have guessed, I developed feelings for D. At this time, he was really sweet, funny and just a really fun person to be around. I think he probably knew I liked him, and it turns out, he liked me too… or so he said. As you can imagine, I was confused, so I outright asked him, “Don’t you have feelings for A?” He denied this. I didn’t really believe him, but I was young, and naive, and the butterflies in my stomach made me want to believe him. We “dated” for one very brief month. It went terribly, and he and I stopped talking for a couple of months. Eventually, we made up and were good friends again. Soon after, he admitted to A that he was in love with her. A asked D why he dated me if he had feelings for her. His response: “I felt bad for her.” That hurt pretty badly.

A, however, didn’t share those feelings. This was the start of D’s sudden behavioral changes. He began dating a ton of girls left and right. He began talking about women, including us, in a sexual and somewhat demeaning manner. On the night of my 15th birthday, he came over drunk, from a day out with his maybe-sort-of girlfriend, and he kept trying to cuddle with me, touching my legs. He grabbed my breast at one point for no reason, and I didn’t know what to do. I was only 15. I didn’t have a clue what to do in a situation like this. Mind you, this was my grandmother’s house, where my cousin E resided, as well as my dad. I was just visiting. I was too afraid to tell my dad, and E was in the room when it happened. This was only the start. I just didn’t really think much of it afterwards. Fast-forward a bit, D and A had a falling out, and D was in a bad place emotionally. He started walking up and down the street claiming he wanted to get hit by a car. E and I calmed him down and brought him inside. This is when things changed.

He was all over me, cuddling me, grabbing me, touching me, holding me down on the mattress, pulling me back down every time I tried to get up. He repeatedly pulled me onto his lap, grabbed my breasts, no matter how many times I told him to stop or pried his hands away from me, he didn’t listen. He was relentless. I felt like an object, something to help calm him down, like a human stress ball. At 6 a.m., after having spent all night treating me this way, he grew tired and left. I didn’t know how to feel, I couldn’t quite comprehend everything that had just taken place. I just swallowed down these unknown feelings and pretended to be OK with it. He messaged me a few days later and told me he was sorry, that he didn’t know why but he “just couldn’t stop himself.” I told him it was OK, no need to be sorry, I understood…

I didn’t understand. It wasn’t OK, and sorry isn’t enough.

But instead of making my feelings heard, I was more concerned about not losing our friendship. I felt so bad about myself at 15. I had no self esteem, no self respect, but he told me I was beautiful. He played into my insecurities. I found a sense of worth in him. I couldn’t lose him. I thought that night would be the end of it. I thought his apology meant I would never have to endure that again. I was wrong.

He would come over any time I was visiting my grandmother, which at this time was often. And every time it was the same game all over again — forcing me down, groping me, pulling me onto his lap, rubbing my thighs. He just wouldn’t stop. And I told him so many times to stop, to let go of me. So many times I had to pry his hands away from me, but he would never listen. I felt so small, so weak. It felt so hopeless.

When I wasn’t around he would message me asking me personal questions I did not want to answer, being overly sexual and disgusting. He once made a rape joke about me. He would talk about what he had done to me, but he wasn’t sorry anymore. And I wasn’t pretending to be OK with it anymore. I told him I wasn’t OK with him touching me the way he did. He told me, “I can try to stop but I don’t know if I will be able to.” Bullshit.

Then he learned I had never been kissed, and he took on a new mission. He spent an entire night trying to kiss me. I spent an entire night with my hands clamped around my mouth. I didn’t want to be kissed. I was nowhere near ready. He would not stop. He kept kissing the tops of my hands, my cheeks and kept trying to pry my hands away from my own face. This went on for hours. He asked me to be his girlfriend again that night. I agreed — not because I still had feelings for him, but because if I thought if I said yes I could convince myself this wasn’t a problem, that this is just how guys are and that it was OK because we were dating. I gave in. He stole my first kiss, and I just remember it feeling really cold and meaningless.

As his girlfriend, he treated me with more respect — no groping, no forced anything. We’d just sort of cuddled on the couch, which was one of the only cute memories from our relationship. I still hated kissing him. I never initiated it. Never asked for it. He just kissed me, and I felt like I owed it to him as his girlfriend, despite how I felt. Then one night he wanted to show me the movie “Donnie Darko” at his house. I asked my dad for permission but found myself hoping he would say no. Dad said yes. I remember awkwardly holding hands walking to D’s house with him. We went to his room, and he put the movie on, but he didn’t actually let me watch it. He kept trying to make out with me. I hated it. I kind of blocked out much of that night. I remember walking back home, him kissing me goodbye and leaving. Then he grew distant. He told me he couldn’t talk to me one night because he was going to go see a movie with his friend who happened to be a girl.

The next day, he messaged me saying he couldn’t handle our relationship anymore, especially the distance (we lived 20 minutes apart). Honestly, I think he was just finally bored of me. I kid you not, I cheered. Instantly, it felt like a 150-pound weight had been lifted off  me. I could breathe again, and I didn’t even realize I had been holding my breath. I was happier that day than I had been in months. I felt free. At the time it didn’t occur to me this kind of reaction to our break up meant there must have been something deeply wrong with our relationship.

However, I fell into a deep depression after this. I wouldn’t get out of bed for days. I binge-ate, gained a ton of weight and hated myself. One day, I started writing. I wrote about things I felt, that I went through. I wrote about being sexually harassed at school by a former friend of mine (which happened to take place at the same time as the assault). My mom, desperate to figure out what was wrong with me, went through my computer and found out about the sexual harassment and told me I should report it. She didn’t force me; I wanted to. So we went to my high school I had transferred out of  and gave a written statement about what this boy had done to me. The principal told me  when that boy had put his hands on me, it meant it had exceeded sexual harassment and became sexual assault. This was new information to me, and it hit me hard. Suddenly, what D had done took on a whole new light. I still couldn’t accept that it was that serious. I anonymously posted my story on a forum, and they sent me pages about sexual assault and how the victim tends to feel, and suddenly it all made sense. I cried.

It’s been nearly five years since this assault, and I still get flashbacks. I have fears of any and all forms of intimacy. I haven’t dated anyone since then. I can’t. I still hold onto guilt, I still blame myself for what happened to me. I still have trouble calling it for what it is. But I am not that naive 15-year-old girl anymore. I am a strong woman who went through something I didn’t deserve to go through. I was sexually assaulted, and it wasn’t my fault. My experience is valid. And so is yours.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

Photo by Ben Blennerhassett on Unsplash

Originally published: February 19, 2018
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