There’s a fantastic new song by The Willis Clan called “Speak My Mind.” I believe Jessica Willis Fischer wrote it and her siblings recorded it. If you haven’t heard it yet, click the link below and give it a listen. This song is very much on my mind as I write this post.
I’m choosing to share this bit of my story now, not because I want or need you to feel sorry for me (please, please don’t), but because this piece of my story needs to be told for a variety of reasons.
When I was about 14 years old and a freshman in high school, a classmate of mine sexually harassed and assaulted me after school on school grounds.
With permission from a teacher, while waiting for my Mom to arrive to take me home, I went back to my locker to retrieve a book I had forgotten. He and a few of his friends followed me. I didn’t think anything of it. His locker was close to mine. I figured he had forgotten something as well and was simply visiting his locker too. I had no reason to think otherwise. We had been classmates throughout grade school and knew each other fairly well. When we turned the corner and were out of sight of fellow classmates and teachers, he and his friends began taunting me and saying things like: “Come here and kiss me. I know you want to.” “Yeah, give him a big kiss!” etc.
I responded with, “What? No! That’s not funny. Leave me alone.”
The taunting and rude suggestions of what to do to/with him increased in volume and content.
They continued to follow me as I tried to escape.
Nothing I said or did worked. No amount of pleading made them stop. Finally, he had me pinned against a wall and was trying to do things (I’m purposefully leaving out the details) while his friends cheered him on.
Sometime during this, my sister had gone looking for me because our Mom had arrived to take us home. She found me and saw that the boy had me pinned against the wall. At this point, the boy and his friends stopped what they had been doing, although they continued laughing at me as I practically ran from the building with my sister.
Once we were safely in the car, my sister told Mom what she had seen. Mom asked me what happened, and I told her. She turned the car around, went back to the school, and against my protests made me tell the principal what the boys had done to me. I didn’t tell him all the details. I was too ashamed and too afraid.
The principal assured us that the boys would be punished, he would be assigned a new locker far from mine, and teachers would be informed that he was not to talk to or sit anywhere near me. I was then told not to talk to anyone, even my friends, about the incident and that he and the friends who had been part of it would be told the same thing.
I kept my silence.
He did not.
He told everyone who would listen that it had only been a joke and he and his friends had just been kidding around and that I was making way too big a deal out of nothing and he never would have done what I said he did.
They believed him.
My reputation, with classmates and even with teachers, suffered. I was teased mercilessly. I was told I wasn’t pretty enough to have caught his eye in this first place. I was called a liar and how dare I exaggerate to get him in trouble, and if he had actually done anything, I must have somehow instigated it or asked for it, because he’d always been such a good guy up until then. They shamed me for speaking up and reporting the incident, and the constant barrage of “it’s your fault” made me believe it really was my fault.
One teacher even complained how inconvenient the whole thing was because now it would make their seating chart planning more difficult.
I learned not to trust my classmates or adults. People who should have come through for me, massively let me down. Adults who should have protected me, participated in shaming me for reporting the incident. As a result, I don’t trust easily.
This is also why I’m terrified of certain types of crowds. I am well aware of what horrible things sober people are capable, and even more so, drunk people whose inhibitions are dramatically lowered.
It’s also why I generally hate having my back to a door or having my back against a wall.
I never talked about the full details of what I went through during the initial harassment and assault and I’ve never talked about what I endured afterwards. In so many ways, I didn’t know how and I felt like, even if I did know how, who could I trust? So, I hid my feelings. I hid my pain. And I did my best to bury the memory.
The thing is, burying traumatic memories, ignoring them, and trying to forget, doesn’t magically make them disappear and erase the effects of the trauma. Avoidance doesn’t fix it. Wounds that are soul deep, don’t heal overnight. By God’s Grace, I’ve made a lot of progress, slowly but surely, over the years
For almost 20 years, I’ve stayed virtually silent about the entire thing.
But the thing is, I don’t have to stay silent anymore. I’m not a child who has to obey adults.
I can finally tell this piece of my story. (This incident is one, small part of my story.)
I don’t want to. I’ve been thinking about this for over a year now. And I still very much do not want to share this.
But the thing is, this really isn’t about me.
This is about how our society shames the victims and tries to excuse the perpetrators.
This is about not letting what happened to me, happen to another child.
And maybe, by finding my voice and telling my story, I can help others.
This is hard. Really hard.
But if my story can help even one person, just one, then whatever I’m feeling in this moment as I tell it and whatever negative comments I may receive because of it, is all worth it.
Adults, especially educators, as you begin a new school year, pay attention to your kids and students. Watch out for them. Believe the girl who’s always been trustworthy when she reports abuse/harassment/bullying etc. Take steps to protect that child and follow up with them. Check in and ask how they’re doing. Assure them they can be completely open and honest with you, and prove to them that you’re trustworthy by following through on whatever you tell them you will do to protect them. If they’re not comfortable talking about the incident with you, help them find someone with whom they are comfortable and encourage them to talk about it with that person.
If you’ve been harassed/assaulted/abused, please know that you are not alone and that there are others who understand what you’re going through because of that trauma. I’m so sorry you’ve experienced it too. Please know, that there are people willing and able to listen to your story and walk with you through the aftermath.
It will take time, effort, courage, and patience, but it does get better. For me, it’s been a slow process, especially since I hid it for so long and refused to acknowledge and deal with the trauma and it’s effects. PTSD doesn’t go away by avoiding it. It has to be dealt with head on. Take your time. You can’t rush the healing process, even though you’ll wish you could. There’s no time limit on the healing process. Rest when you need to and fight again when you’re ready. Two steps forward, five steps back, one step forward, one step back, ten steps forward, two steps back is totally normal and there’s nothing wrong with it. You’re not failing; you’re healing.
Know that if you ever need me, I’m right here and I’ve got your back.
If you’ve stuck it out and read this entire post, thank you.
To all my friends and family: thank you for your support and encouragement as I continue in the healing process.
#metoo #breakthesilence #endthestigma #bethelight