**sexual assault trigger warning**
I just started reading a new book, a memoir from a war child, Sandra Uwiringiyimana, titled “How Dare the Sun Rise.” It’s an incredible story of a refugee who survived a massacre and then became a refugee in the United States. I could never begin to possibly understand what she went through with the massacre and moving countries, but I just finished chapter 12 in where she was sexually assaulted when she was incredibly emotionally vulnerable by a trusted adult male. I want to quote the last two paragraphs.
When talking about the choice to speak out about her abuse instead of stay silent like her culture pressures, she says,”…It is not my responsibility to protect a predator. I’ve stayed silent for nearly a decade, never telling a soul. He had counted on that. He had counted on the silence of a child, confused and embarrassed by the actions of a trusted adult. But I do not need to protect him any longer. He did this. He is a sexual predator, a pedophile who attacked a little girl. If it causes problems in his family to hear it, then he should have thought about that before he tried to rape me. I am the victim. He is the predator. If people want to blame me for telling the truth, that’s their problem.
I have decided to tell this story because I have learned I do have a voice. I do not want to be a part of this culture of silence…So many girls around the world…suffer in silence after being sexually assaulted by someone they know. Most rapes happen at the hands of a relative or friend, not a stranger. I want girls to know that they have the power to speak out. They don’t have to stay quiet. No matter what culture or country you are from, there will always be pressure to remain silent, to never tell. But you don’t have to protect sexual predators. By speaking up, you are standing up for yourself. And you might be preventing it from happening again. Tell people what happened. They predators expect you to stay silent. You can prove them wrong.”
Those who know me know recently I have been struggling. I have asked for prayers and have been seen very sullen and crying a lot. I have been jumping into emotional flashbacks (click for more information on emotional flashbacks), and frequently questioning the safety of usually trustworthy people in my life, especially at my church, and fearing I’ve made them angry, or they inexplicably hate me. I haven’t been very open to most people, though, about the source of all of this, mostly out of fear. Fear that most people couldn’t possibly understand. The fear that only comes from trauma at the hands of a trusted adult. Fear from being sexually abused.
Several months ago I wrote a song on my guitar I titled, You Are Not Alone. I write music mostly for me. My guitar is one of my very few material possessions I don’t think I could live without. My art, music, and poetry aren’t just talents of mine. They are outlets. They are coping mechanisms. They are life and air to me. I could not survive without them. I could no breathe. I could not live. They are how I channel my pain and hurt and try to make sense of the chaos inside of my head. They are my friends. My journals growing up were my most trusted companions. Poetry was my voice. Art my life. Music my air. I never took art classes, or any music writing classes, and I hated English classes. I don’t want to be told my expression is wrong or needs to change. My art is not just art. It is me. It is my heart and my pain, and it’s my refuge. So when I wrote this song, I didn’t expect to do much with it expect share it with a few friends maybe, and I was happy with that. What I didn’t expect was to feel God call me to share this song at my church.
I was TERRIFIED. I questioned God. I prayed and played and kept expecting to be wrong. To feel a new calling. To have God come out and say, “Fooled ya!” (God does that right? Come on; I KNOW he has a sense of humor.) Where was my lamb? Surely this was just a test of faith to see if I’d go through, and at first, I was okay with it.
I invited my pastor friend (one of the people who my subconscious in my emotional flashbacks keeps pushing into the dangerous category despite numerously proving herself trustworthy) over for dinner like we sometimes do so I could play her this song and see what she thought. I told her I felt like I was supposed to play it at church, but I wasn’t sure when, and didn’t really think it was up to me to decide. I felt like God would let me know when it was the right time. She was ready to have me play it that following week, but I lost my voice because I got sick and it didn’t quite feel right, so I told her. That was several months ago.
Well last month there was a police shooting of a psychiatric patient in my city and it really tore me apart. I, myself, experienced police brutality during a psychiatric experience and the internal scars are still so painful. I felt moved to record my song and share it, and that’s what I did. That’s when my other pastor asked if I would share it at church. I, still entertaining God, said let me know when. A few more weeks passed and I was contacted and we set a date. Y’all, shit got real, REAL fast.
June 11th I am to play my song, and I have been almost constantly stuck in an emotional flashback. It is the reason I have been struggling so badly. It’s the reason why every little thing someone does gets hyper analyzed by me and people who I normally trust fill me with fear. The world around me feels terrifying. It takes VERY little to push me into flight, fight, freeze mode (which, for the record, part of my disorder involves getting stuck with using just one or two of these and an inability to access the third. My go to is freeze, and then flight). Things as little as someone not responding right away to a message or text, or a very minor conflict will have me fleeing or completely shutting down. All because of playing my song at church? All because of playing my song at church. This isn’t stage fright. This is fear. The fear that only comes from trauma at the hands of a trusted adult. Fear from being sexually abused.
This is my story. I am not going to protect my predator anymore. Some may be unhappy I am sharing this. I will do my best to protect identities, but I WILL NOT stay silent. I WILL NOT continue to be a victim. In my poem yesterday To My Abuser, I questioned, how do you let go of fear. In the time since, heavily considering this, my realization is, you can’t. You can’t let go of fear; you have to push through it. There is no way around it. You either avoid it or you face it. There is no letting go. Through is the only way.
I was first sexually assaulted by a boy a year older on my school bus when I was 12. It was the first few weeks of seventh grade in a new building, junior high, which consisted of seventh and eighth graders. The back of the bus had an unspoken law that only eighth graders sat back there. My best friend, though, was an eighth grader, so I sat back with her. I was a quiet and shy child. I got bullied a lot. I had glasses and was very sensitive. I was an easy target.
The particular day I was alone in the seat behind my friend. She started to distance herself from me because I was an uncool seventh grader. Eighth graders didn’t associate with underclassmen. She was also starting to get into boys where I was still into stuffed animals.
The vocal, clown sat in a seat opposite the aisle to mine. For whatever reason, one day he decided to torment me. He started by calling at me from his seat asking if I wanted to see his penis. I tried to ignore him, but he was persistent. Finally, I shot him a glare, but the turning of my head in his direction only fueled him as he laughed and loudly announced, “She looked! You do want to see it!” I turned to the window. My face was hot with embarrassment. Tears were already starting to burn behind my eyes.
“You so stupid,” my friend laughed next to the boy she sat with in the seat in front of mine. That was the only thing she said but she didn’t say any more as the boy climbed into seat. He pressed his body against mine.
“Get away from me,” I whimpered, as he pressed himself against me.
“Come on. Do you want to touch it?” His tone no longer playful, but lustful and hungry. Malicious.
“Stop,” it was barely audible. A plea. The tears were pounding. God, save me.
He laughed, but there was no humor. “Come on,” he grabbed his hand between my legs. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t escape. I twisted my legs tightly together, but he was forceful. I pleaded, but my weakness seemed to entice him like the smells of a gourmet meal to a ravenous predator. I was his prey.
With one last condescending snort, as the bus neared school, he climbed back into his seat. I never sat in the back of the school bus again.
I couldn’t process what happened. I took my anger out on my friend. This boy was her friend. She was right in front of me. Why didn’t she stop him? Why didn’t she protect me. I yelled at her on the computer that night. I told her I hated her. I blamed her. I never spoke to her again, and I didn’t tell anyone else. I couldn’t tell my mom. She yells and get very angry when emotions are high. I didn’t want that. I wanted to feel safe, not more exploited, so I stayed silent.
I have always been very involved in church. It was my safe place. My best friends were there. I loved being there. My grandpa was a Lutheran pastor, and I idolized him and from a very young age, as early as I can remember, I felt a calling to God and to serve God. I knew I had a purpose. I prayed a lot. I sought to know him better. I was going to be a pastor or a youth director when I grew up.
My youth director at that time (12-13, almost 14), was, and is, a wonderful man. He was one of the most influential people on my faith growing up. He was safe. He was caring. He never asked questions, but if I needed out of the house, he would come and get me, and usually one or more of my friends, and take us for ice cream, or just to drive. Anytime I’d get in a fight with one of my friends (all the time because, um, I was a tween girl), he’d make us recite that Matthew verse that asks, “How many times do I forgive my brother,” and the answer, my youth director would remind us, meant infinity. He taught us about forgiveness and trusting God’s voice inside of you with stories we’d tease him for repeating, but that I can still remember. My own father was detached in his own addiction and emotionally unavailable to me and not very present. My mom, due to her upbringing, shut down emotions and responded in anger to emotionally uncomfortable situations, which for an anxious, sensitive child, feels very dangerous. My youth director wasn’t like that. He was safe. He protected me. Because I would call him every day like clockwork after school, if for some reason I didn’t, he’d call the house to check in on me. He was the biggest support system. Therefore when my church eliminated his position with the hiring of a new pastor and he took a job a state away, my whole world crumbled.
I couldn’t understand it. I couldn’t process it. I had no one to help me. He just up and moved. The pain was beyond comprehensible and I couldn’t bear, so at 13, I decided to kill myself. I was alone in my bedroom with a pocket knife to my wrist, and I prayed to God asking him to let me into his kingdom and apologizing. However, in that moment, flashes of what I wanted from life, to help others by serving God, came before me. I decided I wanted to live, but I still needed an escape. That was the day I made my first cut on my skin which, unbeknownst to me, was the start of an eleven year battle with the fiercest demon I have ever fought and only through God’s grace and mercy overcame.
I was lost. I got in a lot of trouble when it was found out I was cutting my skin. Anger is how things are dealt with at my house. I didn’t stop, though; I hid. I started to hide my cutting and my pain. I was emotionally lost and wandering. However, I still found comfort at church and began to sing in the contemporary choir which was very newly formed and fell in love. It was then, around 14 years old, I started to write poetry and dream of writing songs. I fell in love with singing and praising God this way. I even started to take voice lessons from the leader. I was her very first student.
This woman was engaged at the time to a charismatic man we’ll call Dave. Dave was funny and nice, and people seemed to like him. My old youth director, who I was still grieving, was also funny, so naturally, I liked and trusted Dave. Why wouldn’t I? I was jealous that he seemed to like my best friend who also sang in the choir with me more. She would tell me he promised to buy her a car, and being a self centered teenager, that sounded pretty awesome. It didn’t seem weird at all. Eventually, Dave started to pay attention to me too. It was fun. We’d all laugh together and hang out at practices because he worked sound system, and it was great. To me, Dave was every bit as safe as my youth director. He started to fill the void I had at losing my support.
Dave started to make comments that confused me a bit. I remember in particular, one day after practice, I was outside the church with just him and he asked me if I liked older men. He was smiling, and so I laughed, and said, “You’re not old. How old are you?” I thought he was just playing around. He told me he was 28, not that it mattered at all because I saw him as a father figure, but that was a lie by ten years. This man was indeed old enough to be my father, being more than 20 years older than me.
My gut started to tug around him. Something felt off, but I couldn’t understand it, so I stayed quiet. My friend told me how he’d buy her hundreds of dollars worth of clothes and she’d hide them from her mom so she wouldn’t know. My mom would kill me if he did that for me. She did not value privacy and would find them and taking gifts from others was strictly forbidden and punishable. I was a little jealous of all the nice stuff she got, but knew I couldn’t have it. That part didn’t really seem wrong.
However, then one day after practice, I went to lunch with this couple, the leader, I’ll now call Kimberly, and her fiance, and Dave wanted to sit next to me. It was a hot summer, and per the still trends, teenage style clothing is very little. I wore a low cut tank top (mind you even after having a child, I can wear children’s bras), and short shorts. I’m tall and lanky so shorts always look shorter on me. Later, because of what I wore would be used against me as proof I asked for all of this to happen.
During lunch, I was confused when Kimberly grunted under her breath at Dave to stop. I looked back and forth between the two confused. I don’t remember what we were doing before, but whatever Dave had done, Kimberly seemed to notice and Dave understood. In his charming way, he grinned and asked, “What?” Then he made his actions very clear as he leaned over and peered down my shirt.
I sat there, uncomfortable, and tried to match his smile, but Kimberly wasn’t smiling as she kicked him from under the table and louder and more firmly said, “Stop!”
The rest of the day and experience passed, but my gut feeling grew enormously. Still, I cautiously ignored it. Dave was just kidding. He was just playing. He wouldn’t hurt me. He was a member of church, like my youth director. He was old enough to be my dad. He cared about me like my youth director cared about me. He would keep me safe unlike my own father. Besides, he was engaged to Kimberly and he had two young daughters. He wouldn’t hurt me.
However, that summer after finishing eighth grade, a year after I began cutting my skin and still doing it as I had been bullied so badly I had engaged in my first suicide attempt and been in my first psychiatric hospital, my friendships with my church friends having fallen apart without my youth director there to help us through our arguments, receiving very little nurturing at home from emotionally unavailable parents, emotionally vulnerable, two years after my sexual assault on my school bus, Dave called me to invite me to go water skiing with him and some people from church. I couldn’t place it because even though I really wanted to try water skiing for the first time, something felt off. Kimberly wasn’t going to be there, and neither was my best friend. However, he assured me someone else from church, a trusted adult, would be. He was very persistent, and pouted at my hesitation. I had him assure me this other adult would be there before asking my mom and getting permission to go.
What happened next, I will probably never know how much of it was premeditated and how much was just really horrible, unfortunate circumstances. It turned out he had intentionally lied about this adult being there. He said something last minute came up, but she told me later, she told him from the start she couldn’t go. He had at least asked her, but I don’t know what that’s worth. So when we got to the boat it was just me, Dave, and the person he introduced as his dad. I assume it was, but because of all the lies he told me in his manipulation, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if that had been a lie too.
I was dressed for water skiing. I was dressed to swim and get wet. I wore the clothes appropriate for an activity with friend. I wore a tankini and a skirt over top of my bathing suit bottoms. This is what I would have worn if I was going to the lake with my best friend before my youth director left and her parents like I used to. This outfit was appropriate and made sense. The fact that my clothing choices would later be thrown into my face was unfair and cruel.
This is the part I’m not sure how much was planned or just really horrible fucking luck on my part, but the boat wouldn’t start. I saw it. The engine wouldn’t turn over. They both seemed genuinely upset and surprised by this. They decided to try to fix it by driving to a parts store. I was squeezed between the two of them in a pickup truck. They drank beer, which growing up in a very strict family, this rule breaking made me very anxious. My anxiety had already started to climb prior, so I was holding back from complete panic.
Dave and I looked at motorcycles in the parts store which I guess sold both while Dave’s father talked to a worker. He came back and announced the boat couldn’t be fixed and apologized. I was a little disappointed because I had gotten my hopes up a bit, liking to boat, but it was what it was.
Dave played the next very smoothly. He didn’t want to take me home right away, using my disappointment at not getting to boat to manipulate me. He wanted to take me to the mall to buy me stuff like I heard he did for my friend. Knowing, as I said, I would get in a lot of trouble, I tried to decline. He was persistent, so instead I suggested we go get my bellybutton pierced. My mom would be beyond pissed if she had found out, but it would be easier for me to hide than clothes. Finally, he agreed and we found a place, but because we didn’t have idea, even though the worked said he believed we were father and daughter, they refused us. Dave did try. At this second disappointment, he finally convinced me to go to a mall.
He wanted to hold hands. I thought this was a bit weird, but as I said, my own father was not a role model in my life, and even though my youth director never did it, I couldn’t figure out why it didn’t feel right, so I agreed. It was just holding hands, right? Little children and fathers do that. I couldn’t understand why this seemed so wrong.
Dave paraded me into a couple stores and picked out outfits for me to try on and had me come out and model them for him. I was his little doll. I was just his toy. I did. I listened. He doted on me, and part of me liked the attention. I was bullied so badly at school and even at home. I didn’t feel I was beautiful. Being told I was felt good. That is not wrong. I was so insecure and deprived of attention and nurturing, that I couldn’t see I was being fed poison. I was ravenous for love, and trusted very easily. I was fifteen, but very much a child being very sheltered and naive.
I didn’t want Dave to buy me those clothes. I knew I would get in trouble. I couldn’t tell him no. I tried. I tried to refuse, but he told me to lie and hide, and he had a rebuttal for every argument I posed. I couldn’t refuse. I tried. I tried.
He wanted to then take me to dinner. He choose a very dark restaurant. He sat opposite to me. The whole time, his hands and legs caressed my inner thigh as his hands held onto mine. I began to completely freeze into disassociation. I can still talk while disassociated, but it’s as if my soul detaches from my body. My soul left my body. Sometimes it’s the only way to go through traumatic events.
He also asked me questions that I didn’t want to answer, but my body could no longer fight. I wanted out of there, but there was no where to run. He asked me my bra size and other really inappropriate questions. His words felt just as violating as his hands.
Then, on the way to the car, he wanted to carry me piggy back. I tried to say no and refuse. I was a fifteen year old, emotionally vulnerable, insecure young girl. He was an adult male, old enough to be my father, the fiance to someone I trusted, a member of my church, trusted male. He shouldn’t have hurt me. I should have been able to trust him. Any arguments people used against me to blame me are wrong, inappropriate, and just as abusive as what Dave did to me. I was the victim, and I was NOT a liar.
I couldn’t refuse him and he knew that an exploited me. His hands assaulted me from under my skirt. I felt so violated and confused. I felt disgusting. I felt dirty. The clothes were discovered immediately and as expected I was in enormous amounts of trouble and had to pay for the $200 worth of clothes. I was violated and then had to physically pay for my violation. I wrote an email to a trusted teacher from the previous year explaining what happened. I couldn’t make sense of it. She wrote back and told me that was very wrong and I needed to tell someone. Therefore, feeling like I needed proof I was right, I printed the email I wrote and the email she responded with so I had proof it was wrong.
I showed someone at church who also sang in the band after a band practice. No one else saw it there, but they heard me talk about needing to show this person an email and that it was an emergency. Later I was accused of “parading the email.”
No one ever talked to me about my body or what to do in this type of situation. I did the best I could. The adults SHOULD HAVE been the ones protecting me and doing this. It NEVER should have been my responsibility.
I stuck the email with my stuff when I got home. My mom, who as I said, did not value privacy, found the email. I didn’t know until she came home, livid, from a meeting with my pastor, my dad, Dave, and Kimberly. She came in yelling at me I was to never go close to this man again and who knows what else. My body disconnected so quickly to spare my mom’s misdirected anger.
Dave wasn’t kicked out. There was not enough proof anything had happened. I was accused of being a liar and an attention singer. Voice lessons with Kimberly immediately ceased. I tried to email her apologizing for telling, and in her anger and hurt, she wrote back a horrible and abusive reply. It was easier to blame me and think I truly did make it all up for attention than to accept this man she also loved and trusted was a pedophile. Dave still ran sound system, so I stopped singing at church.
Dave was later kicked out when he was caught kissing my best friend in the churches kitchen. Rumors were started. I was blamed. I didn’t want to go to church, but my mom forced me, saying people didn’t care about me and weren’t looking at me and that the world did not revolve around me. It was SO painful to be at church and I was forced against my will to be there. Many adults believed Kimberly’s version and stopped talking to me. My one safe place suddenly turned into hell. A place that preaches love, and how to get into Heaven was so full of evil.
NOT ONE PERSON from church validated my pain and told me what Dave did was wrong. NOT ONE PERSON told me my body was mine and I was allowed and had power to tell someone no if they were touching me inappropriately. I was blamed. I was called a liar. I was told not to talk about it because it called into attention the actions by the leaders.
My friend, when questioned, because of this and her own fear, lied. I asked her years later and she said he had pressured her into having sex with him. She had the proof I needed, but was too scared to speak out. I don’t blame her. Eventually I lost my voice too.
And sometimes I can’t help but wonder, what would have happened if the adults at church had handled it differently? What if they had talked to me about what happened? What if they validated my pain? What if they empowered me to tell guys no? When my exboyfriend two years later lied to me and got me alone in an abandoned parking lot and raped me, would it have been different? Could I really have been a virgin at marriage to a man who respected me like I had dreamed of before? When this boy did rape me and the police were called, the officer looked at me sympathetically and said, “I’m sorry. I can see you didn’t want this, but I don’t have enough proof to do anything.” I needed proof that I had been sexually abused. At least this officer believed me unlike my church family, but what good was it? Most people even with my rape didn’t believe me or downplayed it saying I was just “taken advantage” of. I didn’t want sex. This boy knew this. He got me into a position I couldn’t escape and I lost my virginity. That was rape. DON’T try to assuage your guilt by downplaying my trauma. I won’t let it happen anymore because after that, the next times I was raped and assaulted, I stopped telling. I knew I wouldn’t be able to prove it. And by the last time, one of the two guys who could be my child’s father, raped me when I was high, I didn’t even care. I couldn’t let myself care. Too many men had been in me. I was defeated and silenced. I was broke.
I live in much fear. I am so scared of people, especially the people of my church and all men and police officers. It does not feel good to have a guy call me pretty. It does not feel good to be touched. It’s TERRIFYING. I might have disconnected from my body, but my body still went through HELL and remembers what I can’t always. It sends danger signals to my body ALL the time. It’s horrible. It makes me feel so vulnerable and I begin to cry and I can’t always say why.
Singing at church has triggered HORRIBLE flashbacks and nightmares. I began to think I couldn’t do this even though I felt so sure this was God’s will. I still go to this church. There was a several year gap I didn’t, but it’s my home and God didn’t hurt me, people did–very broken people. I’m broken too.
No one would blame me if I didn’t sing. The last time I sang, Dave was up in the sound system. I can see him. I can feel him. I can feel all of those guys and still feel like a victim and a terrified, invalidated child. So why am I?
I am because the only way to move on is through this fear. I REFUSE to stay Dave’s victim. I have to do this. I am so scared I might literally pass out. If you are present, I am sure I will be shaking, a very annoying, uncontrollable symptom of my anxiety. I’m scared I’ll forget the words even though I wrote them. I’m scared people will laugh at me or talk about me behind my back or spread rumors like they did all those years ago. I’m scared I’ll be up there and people will be judging me for what I’m wearing or how I sound. I am scared I’ll freeze and flee and look stupid. I’m scared I’ll start to sob. I’m scared I’ll freeze and do nothing. I’m scared. I am filled with fear. The fear that only comes from trauma at the hands of a trusted adult. Fear from being sexually abused.
But, despite all of my abuse, I kept my faith because God shows himself to me all the time in the kindness of strangers and in the faces of new, wonderful friends. My pastors, both, including the one who was there at the time of the abuse, are two of my biggest supports and people I trust and love very much. I sometimes need reassured of their safety in an emotional flashback, but when I’m not in it, I know they would never hurt me. I have wonderful friends at church who I believe would not talk about me or abandon me or put up with others hurting me even behind my back. I have support at work from wonderful people who have been allowing me to cry and take time off even though they don’t understand. I am not alone as I take back my life.
I am doing this because the only way to no longer become a victim is to become a survivor, and the only path there is through this fear. I want to get through so I can show others it’s possible no matter how hard. I have to believe with God all things are possible because without him, this is impossible. I’m going on faith.
This was long. If you really read this all, I sincerely thank you from the bottom of my heart. I promise I will make it through and I will keep using my voice to help others. I will make it through for you and because of you.