Why I Didn’t Report…and Why Didn’t You Believe Me When I Did
Let me start by saying that I’m not an advocate. Nor do I have a desire to be, for a variety of reasons that I won’t go into today. I’m not anyone special…well…maybe to my husband, my mom, and the few select derelicts I get to call my friends. I don’t even think I’m special to my dog. He just sees me as the only one who gets his meals right, gives him the belly rubs he needs, and picks up his poop. So, yeah. I’m nothing special.
I’m also not a victim. I’m not a survivor. Although I technically fit into those categories. I don’t even care how you define me. That’s for you to decide. But, what it’s not up to you to decide is when and where I speak. Nor the millions of other women like me. You see, I belong to a select, but ever growing, group of girls, teens, and women who have been fondled, molested, sexually assaulted, raped, and sodomized for the enjoyment and sense of power someone else felt over us. It may not have even been that. It could have been for their own selfish gratification. It doesn’t matter. It happened. It continues to happen (we been seeing you R. Kelly).
The First Time
I remember my FIRST sexual assault. Do you? I was about 5 years old and was at an aftercare program. A little boy named Damone kept trying to look under my skirt and lift it. He was a little older than me….I think. I don’t remember. Anyway, he finally went so far as to lift the back of my skirt, scratching my leg with his nails. It hurt. I screamed. I cried. I ran to report it.
What cannot continue to happen is anyone, including many of you, telling me, and others like me, when and where to speak our truth, our story, our journey, our hurt, pain, suffering, anxiety, PTSD, depression, anger, fear, and so much more. We are no longer going to tolerate a society that asks us, rather condescendingly mind you, “Why did you wait to tell? Why didn’t you tell then?” We will no longer tolerate being told, in effect, “Speak now/then or forever hold your peace.” You know why I spoke? Why the thousands of women and men part of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have spoken?
We spoke, and continue to speak, because we reached a point where we had no more peace. We spoke because a judge who could make life altering decisions for us would be appointed to a life-time position, a Hollywood actor or director could have their own casting couch by drugging or blatantly assaulting their victims, a famous singer songwriter wrote jams that were so good that he literally was the “Pied Piper” that led females into his trap while leading millions of others blindly down a musical trail that warranted them waving off decades of accusations…They all left a trail of damaged psyches in their wakes — allegedly. We spoke because someone else suffered at the hands of our attackers. We spoke because we wanted to break a cycle. We spoke because for so many reasons, that included one very important and oft overlooked reason — We. Were. Ready.
I Don’t Remember…
Now, I don’t remember too much more about the incident. I don’t remember the date. The time. I do remember we were at Ms. Christian’s house. (She didn’t like me because I was actually different from the other kids — more well-behaved, I was smart for my age — and she took that to mean that I thought I was better than the other kids. I never believed that.) Hmmm…did I talk too much, being an inquisitive child? Maybe. Likely. I always had something to say. Always had a ton of questions. Until that day when she taught me how and when to keep my mouth closed.
I could go through a laundry list of why I, and many others, didn’t speak: personal fear, fear of hurting someone we loved, fear of destroying our family, feelings of being ashamed or embarrassed, not understanding what happened to us, the inability to handle or process our own feelings, even blocking it from our memory until something triggered it.
But…I DID Report It!
You see, I reported my assault to Ms. Christian. She blamed me for being a “fast little girl” and told me to get back outside. I showed her the scratches on the back of my leg. They hurt! There was a little blood even. And there was a long scratch, in particular, from the back of my knee to my panties. She dismissed it. I only told one other person about the matter because I didn’t want to get in trouble — thinking I did something wrong. I told my mom when she picked me up. Perhaps on the ride home. I don’t remember. I do remember that I wasn’t at Ms. Christian’s much longer after that…to the best of my recollection.
The McMartin Pre-School case of the mid-80s. That was my trigger when I was about 11 years old. There was a story on the news about the case. It was everywhere and permeated my thoughts for some reason. I didn’t know it at the time and it took years to figure out. At that age, I had never had sex…as far as I knew. At that age, I was just really starting puberty. My little nubby breasts were poking through my shirt, I was getting hair in places I never had it before. I was part little girl, pre-teen, pre-woman…a walking puberty bomb just ticking away….tick, tick, tick, tick, tick….then one night while I was sleep another bomb went off that changed my life!
I felt a sensation I would later become familiar with. I dreamed about someone, can’t really remember who at this time, doesn’t matter because what I do clearly remember is the feeling of a penis in my vagina. How could I have known that’s what it was — specifically? How could I have known what that felt like? I literally felt an entire penis in my vagina. I woke up, there was no one in my room. Just me. Alone. I didn’t really know what masturbation was, so I know I hadn’t been doing it to myself. I was confused and perplexed for months, until the actual memories came.
The only way I can describe what came back in a flood. Movie clips of people…sounds…tastes…smells…movements…the last was the physical feelings. The feeling of being pinned in my bed with a sock in my mouth as my mom’s friend’s son vaginally penetrated me. Feelings of me rubbing up and down on the carpet of my bedroom floor as a cousin vaginally penetrated me. The smell of my other cousin’s vagina as she directed me on how to provide her with oral sex. The feeling of a reverse bowel movement. Instead of something coming out something was going in….my other cousin’s penis…and on and on…I can’t even put into words how I began to synthesize all of that information because I’m still processing it to this day — over 30 years later.
I Do Remember…
The things I do remember about being at Ms. Christian’s with Damone was that I was terrified of the two of them daily, especially after the skirt lifting incident. The other kids wouldn’t protect me. And there were no other adults around who could or would protect me. Mom was the only one and she could only do so after the fact.
Triggered…it’s a funny word. We often associate it with someone having their finger on the trigger of a gun, ready to fire at any given moment, whether the target is ready or not. That’s what it’s like every time a new accusation comes out and a round of “Why didn’t they report it then?” questions start. Or when I read statements like, “They were fast little girls”, “They chose to go with him for fame or money”, etc. My emotions, my panic and anxiety, my anger, my defenses respond to being the target of someone else’s trigger-happy words and thoughts…thoughts they speak without compassion, without trying to be empathetic, without trying or wanting to understand. Only to pass and use judgment to explain away what was an unwelcomed (at best) and/or criminal (at worst) act.
I Wasn’t Believed
The fact that I don’t remember dates, times, etc. doesn’t change the scared and chilled feeling I have recalling that particular situation with Damone. It doesn’t change the fact that it’s impacted me for so long. It doesn’t change the fact that when I did report it to someone, the one person who should have helped me decided to mock me, didn’t believe me, made me to feel less than, and humiliated. Many of those same feelings come rushing back every time I hear someone ask a victim — a survivor — “Why didn’t you report it?” and every time they make some other insensitive statement.
Don’t get me wrong. I was one of them, too. Why did they take the pill? Why did they go to the room alone? Why did they drink so much? Why were they alone with him or her? Why? Why? WHY?! And then I had to take myself out of our country’s rape culture mentality. Because she trusted him and what he was giving her. Because she thought it might be okay to be alone with him…after all, they had been alone before with no issues. Because she felt safe. Because she liked him. Because she was interested in sleeping with him until she didn’t feel comfortable doing so. Because she made a simple mistake. Because she thought he would fulfill his promises, be her sugar daddy, or whatever until she realized it all got TOO real. Because she was a child, because she was told to by her mother or father, because she was trying to protect her younger sibling(s). Because. Because. BECAUSE!
I’m sure that gave me pause the next time — correction — times I should have reported and didn’t.
Oh yeah…so…why did we take so long to report? Because it was our decision to determine when and where we tell our horror(s) and to whom. Taking that choice away by saying “She should have told then, it’s too late now” or “She could have left, why did she stay? She’s grown!” is the same as taking away all of our other rights, especially a right to decide what is or is not best for us or further demeaning us by implying we are stupid, immature, and self-serving. Period. Don’t sit and ask those questions. Don’t keep playing into rape culture. Don’t keep closing your ears to voices that won’t stop speaking, shouting, and whispering into your ears — begging to be heard, to be understood especially when you ask those questions. Don’t keep ignoring the tears from years of suffering in silence. Don’t keep ignoring the invisible and physical wounds that have never completely healed because they keep getting ripped anew every time someone asks, “Why didn’t you report it then?” or “Why did they stay?” In fact, don’t even fix your lips to say such a thing, even if it crosses your mind.
Instead ask, “What can I do to help you heal today?”
Trust me, most of us don’t want to keep talking about “it” and reliving “it” over and over. Whoever says it gets easier lied. It keeps you connected to all those emotions you’re trying to work through. And every time you think you get over the hurdle, someone comes along and says those infamous questions, and you start all over again. I’m tired of starting over just to educate you and your ilk. I’m tired of having to keep telling the stories, not to help those going through it heal, but to help those who are ignorant get educated.
Yeah, I know that sounds pretty crass. You know what else does? Asking me why I didn’t report when you felt I should have. Asking females, “Why did they stay?” when “you would have left.” Telling me that I should forever hold my peace and not speak since I didn’t speak then or leave when you thought I should have.
My peace was taken a long time ago. And I will shout, holler, scream, claw, and fight to get it back….even if that means telling my story again, and again until you, too, are no longer at peace even asking those questions or tired of accepting the false realities and narratives that are a result of such faulty thinking. Because the reality is that we live in a society where many are choosing not to listen when it’s reported. They are choosing to judge the victim/reporter more harshly than they ever considered judging the (alleged) perpetrator. Therefore, the questions aren’t, “Why didn’t you report it?” or “Why didn’t you leave?” The question is — Why didn’t you believe me when I did?