The 17th was 17 years to the day since the worst day of my life. I still think about it, still remember it, and still want more than just justice. I want freedom. Don't get me wrong, I have forgiven and moved forward with my life. I do not live in fear like I used to, but I still live with the sadness of knowing that there are girls like me all over the world who don't have the freedom to talk about it. They are scared and they feel alone. So that's what I'm doing. Talking (or writing, but whatever, you get my point).
So here I am at 11 years old. Perfect hair, perfect teeth, and impeccable fashion tastes (and, yes, that is a unibrow).
I am more than a little naive. I'm 11 for goodness sake. That is how it should be. I know nothing about boys or what they think about. I don't know if they are much different than me, other than the fact that they stink a little more and are kinda annoying sometimes. I'm an A/B student. I live in a small town. My parents aren't rich, but they aren't poor either. I'm average.
April 17th, 1996. I'm in my 6th grade math class, and it's about 20 minutes til the last bell, but I have to pee. I ask Mrs. Osborne for a bathroom pass, and she lets me go. I walk into the empty bathroom and into the second to last stall cause it's the one that closes the best. None of the stalls have locks that work. A few seconds later the lights go out. Very funny. "Hey turn the lights back on. Someone's in here!" Then someone comes into my stall. "Hey someone's in here!" Then someone puts a gun to my head and tells me if I say anything he'll kill me.
This makes no sense. I'm at school. I've used this bathroom hundreds of times. I don't understand what is happening.
He puts duct tape over my mouth and tells me to take my pants off. I still remember it was a Wednesday because I was wearing my green Wednesday panties. He touches me in a place I didn't think he was supposed to. I stand there quietly. I have no idea what is going on. He tries pushing me down onto the toilet. He asks me if I've ever done this before. The duct tape on my mouth prevents me from talking, so he lifts up the corner so he can hear the shaky "No." I begin to understand what is happening. I start crying. I start banging on his chest. I don't want to do whatever he wants me to do. He asks me to lay on the floor. I can't lay on the floor, I don't want to. Is he trying to have sex with me? I've heard of that before, but I thought that you had to be a grown up to do that? I thought that you had to have that period thing first. If I don't have my period yet and he tries to have sex with me will I die? It might kill me. I. have. no. idea.
As he is trying to get me to lay down, the lights came on. I see his face. He is a boy that I go to school with. I didn't know it at the time, but he had been suspended from school. He shouldn't have been able to come on campus. He puts a finger to his lips, signaling me to be quiet. I don't remember this, but everyone in the classroom next to the bathroom said that they heard a shrill scream, and the girl in the hallway saw the boy run past her.
I stand there, shaking. I have to leave before he comes back. I put my pants back on, but I forgot to put my green Wednesday panties back on so I just stuff them in my pocket. I take off the duct tape. I run.
I run straight into Mrs. Woodburn, my favorite social studies teacher. She holds me until she figures out why I'm crying. "Someone tried to rape me."
The rest of the day was police and questions. My parents were called. That may have been the hardest part. I have only seen my dad cry 3 times, and that was one of them. The principal brought a yearbook and opened it to a specific page. He asked me if the boy who did that was on that page. He was. He knew he was. Later that night, the boy was caught, and a year of trials and court dates ensued. I had to tell that story over and over again in front of a room full of strangers. I remember the defense attorney, who was a heartless bastard, asking me to redraw the gun because I drew it different this time. I must be lying. And I remember the court reporter, who gave me candy and looked at me with the saddest eyes. Long story short, the boy was charged as an adult and sentenced to 20 years in prison on first degree charges of sexual assault and attempted rape with a weapon. Justice is served. (Though it will be a good 5 years before I can use a public restroom by myself).
And here I am 17 years later, still thinking about it. As I said, I did forgive him. Not, of course, because what he did was ok, but because I did not want to live me life in fear and in anger. But honestly I didn't want to tell this story to teach about forgiveness, although I would recommend it to anyone who has been hurt by someone. I am telling it because this happens, and it happens a lot.
According to the American Medical Association, sexual assault (and rape in particular) is one of the most under-reported crimes in the nation (and I'm sure, the world). It is estimated that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men are victim to attempted or completed rape, and the number is much higher for sexual abuse and other types of sexual assault. Most of these events happen to children between the ages of 12-17. If you also take into account that less than half of cases are typically reported (especially true for boys and men), then those numbers are terrifyingly staggering. And that's just in the U.S. I can't speculate, but I assume that it's even worse in third world countries and places of war.
So, not to play a numbers game, but we are talking at least one out of every four women and one out of every ten men have experienced sexual assault of some kind, and no one ever talks about it.
I spoke with a group of girls recently at a group home. The "bad" girls who are there for truancy or running away. All of them had been abused. One girl had been raped since she was 3 years old by her stepfather, another had been raped by her brothers with beer bottles. Of course they didn't want to go home. Of course they were doing bad in school. Of course they were stealing food and selling drugs to make money. What else can a 13 year old girl do?
I could go on and on. And I don't expect this blog to change the world or the psychopaths living in it. But at least be aware. Know that this happens, and know that it is ok to talk about it. Know that the girl in your class might have gone through something like this. Or the girl you work with. Or your neighbor. Or your cashier.
And know that it is terrifying to talk about, but that's ok. You've never felt more vulnerable, weak and alone in all of your life. But it has to stop. We need freedom. And we need it now.
Feel free to discuss this further in the comments below or share this post with others.