The first time that I remember being sexually assaulted was in the dark, in the quiet, in the safety of my parents’ home, surrounded by my friends. When the guy lying on the floor next to me at a sleepover unexpectedly reached over and tried to feel, through my pajama pants, the place between my thighs.
I knew that it was very important for me to lie completely quiet and still as he did this. To keep breathing evenly, to pretend that I was asleep. Nobody could know about this. Not even my perpetrator could know that I was awake. This was very important.
While keeping still, I thought about whether this meant he had a crush on me and didn’t know how else to show it. Whether we would be dating now. I thought I didn’t want to. I thought: I want him to stop. I hope this ends soon. I hope he doesn’t put his hands in my pants. I must be careful to be quiet. I hope my breathing isn’t too heavy, isn’t giving away the fact that I’m awake. In some way this feels kinda exciting. In some way this is kinda hot. I hope my breathing isn’t getting heavy. I hope nobody hears. How can I be thinking about whether I’m enjoying this? I must be a whore.
Why is this happening? Why is it me that’s the victim of this touch? This guy is kind of a loser, of course he would be someone to do this. And of course I would be the one to do this to. Everyone knows that I’m easy. That I’m a slut. I gotta keep quiet. I must be careful that nobody hears what a slut I am. That nobody sees what’s happening.
I wish this would stop.
I wish this was over.
I lay still as he slid his hands inside my pants. I breathed evenly as he slid his fingers inside my wet vagina. I didn’t want this to be happening. But what I didn’t want even more at that moment was for anyone to know that this was happening.
The first time that I remember being sexually assaulted two surprising things happened.
ONE: my body was turned on.
TWO: I just laid back and let it happen.
In the many years that have passed since this incident, I’ve learned that it’s common for victims to fail to say no, to endure, to shut down and dissociate from their body. To unwillingly assist their perpetrators by waiting it out. Because freezing feels like a less dangerous option than fighting or flighting.
And I learned that it’s common for the body to betray the mind by becoming aroused in response to an unwanted sexual touch. In the many years that have passed I’ve learned that my experience and my unexpected reactions were, in many ways, unfortunately, expected.
48 hours after the first time that I remember being sexually assaulted two surprising things happened.
ONE: I chose as my sole confidant a male friend.
TWO: he believed me.
He listened to me sob through the story and he reassured me that it had actually happened. And that it should not have happened. That it was not my fault. And he asked me what I would like to have happen now. He gave me back the control and autonomy over my body and my life that had been stripped away from me, had been slipped away from me. He gave me back my sanity.
It took me more than 15 years to fully believe him that I did not deserve to have such things happen to me. It took a lot of emotional work, learning, and sharing to find self love. And, upon reflection, it makes some sense how a single incident could hold such a devastating grip on a life. Because that incident landed on a fertile ground of sex-shamed soil. In a bed of sex-negativity, it took root and held tight. A single experience that confirmed a million other things I’d been told before and a thousand other slights I had endured before.
Although it took more than 15 years for the assault to loosen its grip. When my friend reacted with outrage and reassurance,
it didn’t even take 15 seconds for me to fully believe him that I was not crazy. That this had happened. That it should not have happened. He did not demand proof beyond the anguish and pain that he saw in me.
It took the exceptionally perfect reaction of my friend for me to be able to label this experience as an assault. To be able to begin to process it as a violent act that was done to me. And his support was the start of what I needed to begin to see things in a different way.
Even with his help, it was very difficult to cope with my first experience that I was able to recognize as sexual assault. I wish that every person who is forced to endure any kind of sexual assault could have such a great friend.
But I guess even better would be if people just aren’t fucking forced to endure sexual assaults.