Trigger Warning: Mentions of child molestation, rape, and abuse of substances.
For many people, sexual violence is just an idea; a definition they’ve read.
To one in every three women, it’s a reality; a horrible reality that takes years to understand, digest, accept, and, with years of “healing,” move on from. While the actual incident may differ from woman to woman, the conclusion doesn’t differ; they (we) were violated.
I was violated. I’m not talking about the catcalls I often hear walking down the street, the creepy men who have asked me out and refused to take no for an answer or the times I’ve had my ass grabbed at a club. I was molested. I was raped.
Regardless of culture, molestation by family members is quite common yet extremely taboo. I know many women who spoke out as children; they were silenced. I remained silent because I was too young to understand that I was molested.
I must have been about eight years old and my family was gathered at my grandma’s house, like always. My 14-year-old cousin and I were playing cards in the dining room, like always. It started innocently with him asking whether his hand was cold on my neck. It ended with his hand on my chest and his tongue in my mouth.
To say I was confused is an understatement. Why was I uncomfortable? He was my cousin and my friend, so he wouldn’t try to hurt me, right? That was the first time.
The same thing happened the next day, except his hands drifted into my pants. Again, I felt uncomfortable, but, as a child, I had no logical explanation of why.
I tried to fix it by making a bigger mistake; I brought my 16-year-old cousin into the picture. I made sure he was always there. He was more subtle than the younger cousin; he tickled me just enough for his hands to “naturally” drift from my ribs up to my chest or down between my legs. Tickling; innocent and makes you laugh, right?
Yet, I still couldn’t explain why being tickled between my legs made me feel weird. I avoided my cousins at all costs for two years; I only hung out with them when the family was around. Right after I turned 11, I moved to a different country and it was one of the happiest days of my life.
I moved on and suppressed everything.
Fast forward three years later to when my first boyfriend came into the picture. The minute he touched me, the memories came back and smacked me right in my face. I was lost. I wanted to gain control. I asked my boyfriend to sleep with me. We lost our virginity to each other at the age of 13.
Soon after, we broke up and I became rebellious; I smoked cigarettes, I ditched school and I made out with every remotely attractive guy I met. But I never let them slip their hands into my pants; I wanted to feel in control. I went on like this for five years… until I was raped.
When I was 18, in the summer before my sophomore year of university, I traveled with my best friend.
I met a guy through mutual friends; he was drunk and bullshitted some philosophy on love and sex to me. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and kept the conversation going. A few days later, we attended a pool party with friends. I was drinking whiskey straight and was quite drunk. I didn’t realize how drunk I was until I woke up to a loud knock with this guy on top of me. I jumped out of bed and towards the door, stuffing the blood-soaked sheets into the wardrobe on the way. I opened the door to find two of my friends there, blabbing on about something. I just kept asking them where my best friend was.
When they realized I wasn’t responding, they told me where to find her.
I found my friend, went back to our room and broke down in hysterics. At this point I couldn’t remember much beyond hanging out by the pool, walking around with this guy, making out with him than hearing the knock on the door. She tried to calm me down but the only thing that helped was downing more shots at the pool bar. I spent the next 24 hours drunk and trying to forget. When I finally sobered up, I played Jimmy Eat World’s “Drugs or me” and cried.
I was in pain for a week straight.
Then I went numb. I pretended nothing happened. But I was not okay. I started pushing away close friends. My GPA dropped and I was close to academic suspension. If I wasn’t skipping class, I was asleep. When I did go out, it was always for a drink… or six shots of tequila to be exact. When I couldn’t drink, I would binge eat my emotions. Then I would hate myself for it so I would throw up. It became a habit; I threw up every meal I ate.
My family and friends thought I was losing weight naturally because I was eating cleaner. The reality was that, generally, junk food tasted the worst on the way up and left a foul taste in my throat. I lost more than 20 kilograms in less than nine months. This was my destructive lifestyle.
I snapped out of this routine after nine months because I was scheduled for hip surgery in July. I had less than three months to become strong enough to support myself on crutches for eight weeks. I pulled myself together and began working out regularly. I had to start eating properly again. Initially, I couldn’t keep any meal down. I slowly got better and made it through surgery and recovery. It was time to get better mentally.
I opened up to guy friends from university at the time but never used the word “rape;” I would always say “I had sex but don’t remember anything.”
My friends’ attitude changed; their eyes widened, their jaws dropped, they shifted closer to me and said: “I’m sorry.” They didn’t dare to call it “rape.” They didn’t dare to ask for more details.
When I opened up to a guy I was dating at the time, he saw it as an invitation to sleep with me. “You’re not a virgin, so what’s your problem?” I stopped opening up.
It took four years for me to start saying “I was raped.” I only started using the word after a close, very blunt friend immediately commented, “You were raped,” when I told her the story.
When I denied it, she insisted, “You were raped. This is rape.”
It hit me all over again. This time, I wasn’t numb. I cried my heart out.
I knew it was okay to cry. I had moved past the self-blame, anger, and self-destruction to acceptance. I starting opening up to some of my close friends, which wasn’t easy; it took me days to muster up the courage to even say, “I need to tell you something.” I felt relieved when I finally told them.
My friends always knew me well but never understood why I act the way I do. They now understand why I’m always on edge, why I always push anyone who cares about me away and why I lash out when a stranger as much as puts an arm around me at a club. They understand why I don’t trust anyone. What they don’t see is how high my guard is and what my thought process is in any scenario with a stranger.
For example, let’s say I want to take a cab home.
The same thoughts always cross my mind. “What if he locks the car doors?” “What if he tries to touch me?” “What if he succeeds and worse?” I have various escape routes planned in my head. “If I sit behind the passenger seat, I’m further away from his reach.” “If I sit behind him, he would be pretty stupid to try and reach back while driving.”
I wish I could say that being molested and raped is something you can forget about, but they cross my mind every day. You never forget; you move on. I still have self-destructive tendencies when I feel down. I still find it hard to open up to my closest friends, who I consider my family, but they keep me going. They listen, they hold me, they cry with me.
They teach me that it is okay to have a bad day because I have them to fall back on. They show me that some people can be trusted.
Most of all, they have my back while I work hard to rebuild myself.
If you need help, please reach out through any of the hotlines here. You matter.