Walk a Mile in Her Shoes…. [Sexual Assault Awareness Month & Approaching Year 10]

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault, Suicide

Ten years ago, I could not have imagined this post because I thought it would never happen to me. Nine years ago, I could not have imagined this post, because I thought I would never have the ability to speak these words. Yet, here we are. And this year, I’ve struggled to find the words to type for my Sexual Assault Awareness Month post.

 

For a month, I’ve had the head knowledge that this post needed to be written. I had the passion to do it. But I have felt a lack of courage. And also a lack of motivation as life has been overwhelming.

One night I thought I found the place in which to write, but as the words formed, I decided I could not for fear of it being too emotional.

Even now I wonder— Can I be vulnerable enough to share this?

This year has been particularly rough. I have a myriad of reasons I believe it is so rough.

It’s year nine…which means in November I will have survived ten years since being assaulted…which is largely significant.

I’ve struggled with things at work, grad school has kept me busy, and I’m busy with wedding planning.

My autoimmune disease and pain disorder have kept me on a run for, what some days feels like, my existence.

My anxiety and depression have been on the attack full force and I have no doubt that this is the enemy using where he knows I am weak in an already trying schedule.

I’ve fallen down on my self-care more than once because I’ve run out of time on so many days.

So today I sit in a Starbucks, sipping a skinny vanilla latte, after leaving the rheumatologist, hoping being in a public space will allow me to keep my emotions in check to write this.

The night I felt I could a few weeks ago. I lost my courage. But the moments in which I felt ready, it was because I realized how much my assault still affects me in my every day.

I froze. And I don’t know how long I was frozen where I stood.

I had been contemplating the words to write. I had been thinking about my assault. I had also been having very vivid nightmares and flashbacks.

I was standing in the shower and everything in me froze. My mind played back my assault. The details. The weight of him. The screaming. The woman walking by and refusing to stop. Watching it happen to me and thinking this can’t be happening to me. The thoughts that this was someone I knew and this only happened when a stranger assaulted you. The way I froze and stopped fighting and tried to leave my body until it was over. His words telling me he knew I enjoyed it. The way I apologized to him afterward. The realization that my innocence, and the purity I cherished about myself, was taken from me. The words whispered about me in hallways. How only one person knew the truth for what felt like so long.

It was a while before I realized the shower water was burning my skin, I was sobbing, and I had been standing there far too long. So I did my best to pull myself together and went on about my day.

[I’m now being stared at in Starbucks because I just choked up a little]

So why am I writing about this again? Haven’t I done that enough? Doesn’t that make it harder for me?

I’m walking in “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” on Saturday hosted by Safe Alliance. Funds raised from the walk, go towards their mission of helping women domestically or sexually abused. A dear friend will walk with me. And even as I type this I’m shaking.

But I want to tell you why I’m choosing to walk this year. Maybe you’ll choose to donate to Safe Alliance, join us to walk, or both.

You can find the link here.

I want you to walk in my shoes; a brief walk down memory lane of what the last ten years have held for me in the grief, and the growth.

  • 10 years ago, I was 15. My boyfriend at the time was very jealous and possessive, but I thought that meant he loved me. He even shoved me against a locker once for hugging a friend. But nobody who watched it said anything so I didn’t think about it. Looking back now, I should’ve known he was trouble.
  • Sometime in spring 2009, we broke up. But he continued to give me attention. My family didn’t like him but I saw him around them knowing I was seeing him.
  • In November 2009, he assaulted me. He told people I was a slut/whore/slept around.
    I whispered the words “he forced me” to a friend later that week, but swore him not to tell. We never talked about it. He didn’t tell anyone to my knowledge. But people talked about me with the rumors that had been spread.
  • In 2011, an old friend was assaulted and killed. I was torn up over this, and struggled heavily (and I many days do still struggle with) with survivor’s guilt.
  • In January 2012, the new boyfriend of the year heard the words, “I think I was raped,” after something we watched on TV. He encouraged me to tell somebody. I told my bible study group at NC State.
  • My group leaders set me up with a counselor. A girl in my group when she heard said the words,Wow, you must have sinned really badly for God to punish you like that.” I began to doubt God because if that was the way God worked, I was not a fan.
  • Later that spring, at my home church, I asked for prayer as I continued counseling to work through it. I was asked what I was wearing, how far I had gone with him before he assaulted me, and what I had done to lead him to believe I wanted sex. In a phrase, I was victim blamed. That week I decided I really didn’t like church and began to pull away.
  • In the fall of 2012, I transferred colleges, and my life fell apart in a series of events, some of which still tear at my heart. Among these was a series of successful suicides by multiple people I knew or who were my age. I began drinking, and self-harming, believing God either didn’t exist or hated me (I mean he had punished me pretty badly, remember?), and that my worth was basically nonexistent. I was put on medication for a misdiagnosed condition that messed with me mentally. I gained a ton of weight. And my self-harm worsened as I wanted nothing more than to get my pain from the inside to the outside so I could deal with it.
  • On April 28, 2013, my sister found me in the bathroom with cuts on my wrists, and God wrestled with me in the ER to bring me back home to him and my family.

But this isn’t nearly the end of this story, is it?

Even with a new found faith, the enemy has made sure to continue my anxiety and depression and panic attacks, sometimes coupled with flashbacks.

    • And there are always plenty of people to victim blame and perpetuate rape culture.
      Over the course of the last 6 years, I was privy to one significant other telling me that it was okay that I had been assaulted, he didn’t begrudge me that or my past as a result of it….and that he was still going to vote for Trump even once the p****-grabbing tapes were released.
    • I’ve been asked countless times what I was wearing, what I did to lead him on, why I couldn’t just have sex with him, or why I had sex then called it assault.

 

  • I’ve been told that rape and assault are nonexistent because who wouldn’t want sex. As I write that sentence I wish I was joking that that has been said to me.
  • I’ve been told that my willingness to speak, and write, about this without holding back and without fear of how ‘this would hurt him,’ means I have not truly forgiven him, and maybe I should work on forgiveness.

 

  • I obviously was fired up over the Brett Kavanaugh investigation and subsequent appointment. 
    • Among my personal favorites in that incident is how many people jumped on the #HimToo bus…like I’m still waiting for Ashton Kutcher to tell me that was a joke and I was being filmed. I had family and friends tell me I was going overboard in my defense of believing survivors. Oh, and of course there were the jokes. But most of all the assumption that anyone who is assaulted comes out immediately and if they don’t, they’re clearly liars. [I’m currently shaking thinking about this]
    • I have seen a plethora of jokes in my years of dealing with this. I have cut multiple people out of my life as a result. No matter what you think, I’ll let you know, they aren’t funny.


Yet, despite every bit of this…and how it still hurts so many days…the Lord does not waste a hurt.
Never, does He waste a hurt.

Because of my assault. Because of my anxiety. Because of my depression. Because of the low self-esteem I battle. My outlook on life is different. My ability to emphasize and sympathize is different.
My heart for serving others has grown in ways I cannot describe to you, because I want to make the difference I have yet to experience.
My testimony allows me to connect with people who have felt people in the church would not understand them or would be too good for them.
My story allowed me a beautiful relationship with one of my former students and she and I have matching ribbons we wear in April because of the phrase #MeToo and that was all it took for us.
And because of all I’ve seen and been through, the long, weary miles I have walked, I know I don’t walk alone.

So today— will you walk with me?*

Because, let me tell you, for the culture we live in…

For the abuse that is perpetrated every day….

For the 1 in 3 women, and 1 in 6 men, sexually abused in their lifetime (based on reported numbers), who feel they will never see justice….

your support, your love, your voice matters.


And almost just as importantly…for the 0.05% of perpetrators who are convicted in my area….#TimeIsUp….we will tolerate #NoMore.

 

*Even if you choose not to walk or donate. I implore you to consider the way you speak and think as it pertains to sexual assault and abuse. If you take part in rape culture or victim blaming, I encourage you to pledge today to stop. If you are someone who has not believed survivors in the past, I hope that this has helped bring some perspective of what just one account of the millions looks like in the every day; and that you will believe the next survivor who comes forward. Become part of the change that is so absolutely necessary.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

I have been debating writing this words for weeks, months,….years.

April is recognized as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Nationally the #MeToo and #TimeIsUp movements have become popular and extremely relevant, especially as many celebrities have been accused of being assailants. That includes one of my favorite actors.

A few months ago, a young woman in my life walked away from a conversation to which I was a witness,  when a young man said “Rape is not real, especially with men, like no man would say no to sex, and women probably don’t either.” … when she returned a short time later, I looked at her and said, “Me. Too” and she said “When?” I responded “16” and she said “I was 14.” and I knew it was time to write this, but I have still struggled to do it.

The “Universe/God/My own life interpretation” told me again that it was time when at the Sweeps Pageant in March I was asked why I thought women didn’t report sexual assault.

So, here we go.

I was 16 (2009). I knew him. It ruined me. I only told one person and swore them to never tell. It was 2012 before I spoke about it again.

I told my bible study group and one girl remarked “Wow, how badly did you sin for God to punish you like that?” Shortly after, I started counseling to deal with it. I learned a lot although my counselor wasn’t the best and projected a lot of her own circumstances and feelings on me. I completed my counseling round and planned to transfer schools; mainly because I changed my major but also a new beginning.

I tried to talk to people I trusted about the incident and was appalled at how many times I was asked what I was wearing, if I had led him to believe I wanted him to do that, if I had been with him before, and if I tried to make him stop. I was so severely disillusioned by the way people, especially “Christians,” treated me. It pushed me so far away from the church (If you know, or ever hear, my testimony, this is the first time I thought I wanted to be out of church and wasn’t sure about God.)

I watched a documentary called “Forgiving Dr. Mengele” and Eva Mozes Kor changed my world. I emailed her and told her about my experience and she responded within hours about how forgiveness also shapes our experiences. I still have that email and read it from time to time.

In late 2012 and early 2013, things got really bad. In 2013, I found God for real for the first time. In 2013, I got saved. I found a new church who accepted my past and my story and the testimony from the test.

In 2015, I spoke to a club at the school I teach at, called “Feeling Beautiful” about what it looked like to be an adult who had been a victim of assault. But it isn’t something I frequently speak about. It was hard. The students there watched me cry as I choked out the words of my story. But I felt like I did what I needed to do.

I still don’t frequently speak about it. If it is brought up, not in my classroom of course, I’m willing to talk about it. But it still isn’t easy. I don’t know if it ever will be.

It’s been over 8 years. I have survived over 8 years. I became determined a long time ago to be a survivor and not solely a victim.

I determined to be the flower. I determined to grow despite the ways I had been crushed. I determined to not let his sinful actions define who I am. 

There are times I still cry about it. Sometimes I still have panic attacks. Sometimes I still have survivor guilt that someone I knew was killed by her assailant, and I wasn’t. I will never know the right words to say about it, or how to make someone feel better if it happens to them.

I still get really bitter. I still get really angry. I still feel like I missed the chance for justice. but I also have a hope that the ultimate justice will be paid out by God. I do feel like God accepts the anger and bitterness and also tries to soothe the pain that I still have.

But some days, I don’t think about it at all. I don’t want him and his actions to be what defines me. I don’t want other people to look at me and that be all that they see. But it does largely shape my political opinions, it does largely shape the way I empathize with people, it does largely shape the way I interpret a lot of what is said and done around me and in the public sphere. 

I’m not sure how to wrap this up.

I guess maybe I encourage you to not take part in rape culture. And let me side note my definition of rape culture: blaming a victim, asking what they wore, asking what they did to deserve it, asking about their sexual history and/or preferences, not believing them that they were assaulted. It is also raising our boys to believe that it’s okay to do something without consent or to coerce a woman into consent.

I encourage you to be empathetic and recognize others and the scars they carry.

“Why do women not report sexual assault?” Women and Men are sexually assaulted. Both have problems with reporting because they are afraid and embarrassed. Colleges have an issue with under-reporting sexual assault statistics hoping future students will still want to come to that school. Victim blaming and rape culture is too common in our culture. With movements like #MeToo and #TimeIsUp perhaps more women and men will feel comfortable coming forward as they see it happens to others; but until we allow victims to feel comfortable and not accused when telling their stories then there will continue to be a lack of reporting and pressing charges…until we allow them to become survivors and not just victims this will be cyclical in our society. And a little Sandra Bullock for you here…every culprit of sexual harassment or sexual assault should be charged, tried, convicted, and punished.

All my love,

L