Maybe because of the Bill Cosby news lately, maybe because the fiction I’m writing deals, in part, with a rape and its aftermath, maybe because I’ve been sexually assaulted five times–whatever the reason, this is the post I never wanted to write. And yet, I have to tell this story. You wouldn’t know by the statistics, which are lower than I expected, but I think it’s almost every woman’s story.
Five times. Is that a lot? I can’t bring myself to dig that deep into the raw data, and anyway, most victims are probably like me and don’t report these crimes. Being assaulted sexually, short of rape, seems tame. Seems like whining to complain. Seems like I got off easy. Should be grateful. Should shut up about it and get on with my good life. Which, until today, I mostly have.
Nobody knows my number. Five. I didn’t know my number until last night when it hit me while watching the news and I wrote down names and then remembered another, and another. My list got bigger as I wrote. That surprised me. So I looked up some government stats and was dismayed by the low number. I mean, I’d be happy if I believed them, but I don’t.
I decided to write about the sexual assaults that happened to me because if one person who has just been violated this way reads it and finds some kind of weird solace, then it’s worth it. Because nothing makes you feel more alone than the only girl at the party who gets pranked in a sexual way. Yeah, that happened to me and it wasn’t pretty. I was 16, on a date I don’t remember. I don’t remember anything that happened that night. I only know about it because an old friend recently told me he was there, he witnessed what happened, and he wanted to apologize for not stepping in and stopping it.
He told me the name of the guy who did it to me, but I almost immediately forgot. It was someone I knew, but not well. I didn’t ask, but I’m pretty sure I knew a lot of people at that party. Maybe some of them are my Facebook friends. Maybe one or two of them are reading this. Maybe like me, they forgot all about it until someone reminded them. In my case, I’d say it was more like I’d repressed the memory for my own sanity. Teenage girls are fragile enough without carrying around that kind of knowledge.
What happened was I fell asleep. On the floor, passed out. I’m guessing everyone was high. Some asshole got it into his head that it would be funny to take my breast out of my shirt and put it into an empty wine goblet. Glass full of tit. Hahaha. Great party trick. Apparently many attempts were made, but the breast kept slipping out of the glass. I woke up and pushed the guy away, buttoned my shirt, and walked home. Alone. I don’t remember any of this, but knowing who I was then and who I am now I was probably pissed off and humiliated in equal measure.
But I forgot all about it and got on with my life until it happened again. I can’t talk about the next time. It was the worst and I never forgot it and that’s all I can say. The other three times happened in professional circumstances, with a teacher, an employer, and a dentist.
Yes, a dentist. The same dentist I’d been seeing since I got my big girl teeth. Guess when I got my big girl breasts it was just a little too exciting for him because as I lay helpless in his chair, he grazed my nipples, again and again, over the paper bib dentists use on patients. No dentist since has ever wiped his hands on my bib so often or EVER in such a location. And I’ve been to a lot of dentists. I love my dentist, but I still have to take a pill just to go to the office and not only because of the sound of the drill.
At first, I thought, no, I’m imagining it. But this guy, he was blatant. He kept doing it. And I finally got my nerve up to get out of that chair, rip that damn bib off my neck, and tell him to fuck off. I was angry. And humiliated. And somehow, now that this had happened to me three times between the ages of 16 and 17, I was beginning to wonder: was it somehow my fault? I talked things over with my mom, and she assured me that no, it was not. Men were pigs. And boys were just little men. Mom doesn’t hate men, she was lashing out on my behalf. I have a husband, a father, brothers, cousins, sons, students, friends, a grandson; I know all men are not pigs.
For a long time, I never told anyone except my mom. Of course people knew. Those people at the party. But I’d forgotten that, Pushed it firmly down after the second horrible incident. The one that never went away and haunts me still. I wonder how many girls that dentist did his little trick with. I remember raging in the outer office that he was a pervert. Maybe somebody heard, maybe he decided he’d better not try that again. Maybe he figured out some girls have bigger mouths than he thought. I sure hope so.
When I was 18, I got a job tending bar at a place I still remember the name of…it’s not called that anymore. I remember details, people I met there, the older woman I worked with, and my boss. I won’t say any of that because he has kids and he’s probably dead by now anyway. One day he asked me to help him bring up stock from the basement, so I followed him down the stairs and as I bent over a box of whiskey, he grabbed my breasts. He laughed and roughly fondled me until I could push him off and step away without falling over stock. He was still laughing when I said I quit and walked up those stairs and out the door.
Was kind of the same thing with the teacher. He laughed it off, but it wasn’t funny to me. By this time I was 25, with two little babies and taking some college writing courses. I was so insecure about my intelligence I wasn’t sure the community college would even let me in. But they did and he was waiting. A predator. I knew he had a rep, but not until I told a friend from class what he’d done to me. “Oh yeah, he tries it on with everyone. He brags about bagging a virgin every term.” This was in the early 80s. College has changed since then. Professors do not sexually assault their students; they don’t even have consensual affairs. It’s totally unacceptable.
But rape on college campuses happens all the time to girls at parties. Like I was drugged and taken advantage of, so are they, but in ways much worse. I’ve always thought of my assaults that way: I was lucky I’d never been raped. So many of my friends have been. Gang bangs where they were bound and gagged. Incest when they were too little to protest. Just a someone they thought was their friend but wasn’t after all.
So, sexually assaulted five times and I count myself lucky. Now if that isn’t a hell of a logic. Because I didn’t deserve any of that shit. And if it ever happens to you, if it already did happen to you, you don’t deserve it either. Complain to someone in authority. Sexual assault, even without rape, is a crime. And even worse, it ruins you in some ways. It robbed me of self-esteem, crippled my ability to have a healthy relationship, made me afraid. And that’s the real crime: the one against the psyche.