Archives for posts with tag: empowerment

Male following female into blue night shadows

Yesterday I was walking home from an appointment. The boys were at camp and preschool, I was enjoying a leisurely walk home alone. Headphones in, phone out, reading through my email. I normally do not do this when the boys are with me, but hey, momma was alone. I happened to have a great email giving me an assignment for our local newspaper. I was about to send a text to my husband and then mom, when a young man, ran up beside me, out of breath. Initially I thought something had happened. He immediately started talking to me, I removed one of my headphones. He said something along the lines, “I thought you were really cute and I just had to talk to you. What’s your name?” At this point, my body language must have changed from elated, over my personal good news, to utterly terrified. I said, “I am married.” He said, “You’re married? You look really scared right now!” I ignored the comment and said, “Yes I am married and I have two kids.” He mumbled something else, sorry perhaps, I am not sure. I was rather uncomfortable. Then he turned around and walked away. I kept walking forward. Changing the purpose of my text to my husband from job to street interaction.

Rewind to the week before. It was around noon, I was walking home from our local coffee shop. Pushing my two year old in the stroller. I was using our small stroller, so I did not have my cup holder tray. I had on a tank top and shorts. They kept riding up as I walked. I kept cursing them in my mind, because it felt annoying. Pulling them down was tricky with two full hands. It was blazingly hot outside. We were enjoying our walk home. I was balancing my coffee in one hand while pushing the stroller, uphill, with the other hand. My little guy and I were just kind of chatting. I noticed a man approaching, walking in the opposite direction. He was swaying back and forth. As we began to get closer, I noticed an open can of beer in his hand. Again, it was noon. We were walking through a very family friendly park. There is a playground with a splash pad. Lots of trees and beautiful landscaping. There is a small dog park. There is an open field area for fitness programs, sports, playing, or laying around with friends and family. It was noon! As he got to us he looked me up and down, very slowly. I began to feel incredibly uncomfortable. No one else was around us. Just him, my baby, and me. I felt a twinge of alarm. He spoke. With slurred speech he said, “Damn! You got a lot of muscles on you girl.” I did not respond at all. I quickened my pace, my heart frantic to get my child away from the situation. In my head I thought “I do! If you touch me, I will use every single one of them to beat you.” I was ready to fight him off, to protect my baby, if it came to that. I did not feel safe. We arrived home safely a few minutes later. My son, oblivious to the situation.

Rewind even further. I took my oldest son to see Neil DeGrasse Tyson on a Tuesday. We walked home that night. It was not overly late, maybe around nine. As we left the theater another drunk man sexually harassed another woman. It was not me in that moment, but I did walk up to her and ask her if she was ok. My son asked me why, and I explained it to him, in as gentle of a way as I could. We moved on and continued to walk home. As we got closer to our building a group of men approached. College aged boys, all shirtless, for some unknown reason. One of them got very close to me and my face and drunkenly said “You are really good looking.” I pulled my son to the side and said nothing back. Again, that fight or flight took over. When my children are with me, flight wins, so I can avoid a fight. I had to have a chat this time, about why that was wrong and what had happened.

As I replayed the interaction yesterday, and how the young man seemed truly bothered that I seemed afraid of him, I recalled these two specific moments. There have been many others in my life, but I could write a memoire if I included every incident. My instinct yesterday was to be afraid, even if his interaction came from a genuine desire to connect with another human, society has made it so that women are instinctually afraid. We must be on the defense because of men like the ones who harassed me. I am not looking for a connection with a stranger, I am married. I have a family. I am not writing this from the view point of a single woman navigating the dynamics of meeting people. I am writing this from the view point of a woman who has been a victim of sexual harassment too many times to count. While street harassment is not studied enough, a 2014 study did find that 65% of women had experienced street harassment. I can recall moments even as a preteen, men hollering at me out of their car windows. I have been dealing with this for most of my life. It is no surprise that when this man did approach me and I realized what he was saying, that my mental and physical reaction immediately braced for another round of street harassment.

In today’s overly digitally connected world we are often lacking the face to face human connection. This is something that is discussed at length, if you Google that, you will find 25 million results. However, how can we, as a society, learn to embrace that innocent human connection, when so many rotten apples have ruined it? When these offenders have made us feel defensive and unsafe just walking down the street, with or without our children. In the moment, it can be difficult to ascertain the difference between someone who just feels drawn to you and someone who is sexually harassing you. Putting up your defense is usually the safest and most comforting reaction. Perhaps for some, at the risk of losing out on positive moment.

I do not have a simple solution. I do feel drawn to talk about it, though. I want to hear your stories. How do you navigate this often tricky balance? How do you determine when a stranger is just being genuine or if they are a threat? Are you like me, always having defenses up, because too many times you have been a victim of harassment? You are not alone in this battle, there is strength and safety in numbers. I do not feel bad that I came across as afraid, it is not my fault, I do however wish that our society was different. I wish that a woman could walk down the street without feeling the need to constantly be aware of her surroundings. I wish a woman could walk home at night, with her son, and not be harassed. I wish a woman could walk home from grabbing coffee in the middle of the day, without being harassed.

Initially I wrote about this almost two months ago. I shared it with a select few people. My mom, husband, and three aunts. It was a huge step forward for me. I considered posting it, but went back and forth for a few days. Ultimately, I ended up not sharing it publicly. A week and a half ago I began working on an application for grad school. One of the essay questions was about a moment of adversity you faced in your life, how you handled it, what it meant to you, how it shaped you, etc.

I shared my story again. Not quite so detailed, but I shared it. With complete strangers. I laid it out there for them to assess and ultimately make judgements about me based on that. It was one of the more difficult things I have ever done. This might be even more difficult, but I won’t know until I hit post. My advisor contacted me via phone call and told me how moved she was by my story and my willingness to share that part of myself. So maybe it is time for me to put this out there. To open a piece of myself. To expose my vulnerability. Which is a difficult pill for me to swallow, being vulnerable. I hate getting emotional over this. It is one of the bigger reasons I try not to speak out loud about it.

My story is not unlike thousands of other tragic stories that happen. In America, every 2 minutes another person is sexually assaulted. Let me repeat that in America today, every TWO minutes another human being is sexually assaulted. Here are my 2 minutes.


My mom said to me “You have to forgive yourself in order to move on. You did nothing wrong.”

I am not upset with myself. I haven’t been for years now. I am upset with him. I am upset with a society that blames victims. I am upset with a system that failed me before I even had a chance to regain consciousness.

13 years. It has been roughly 13 years since I went through the most difficult moment of adversity in my life. Over the last couple of months a lot of emotions about this have come flooding back. Mostly due to the outrage I felt over the Stanford Rape case. The details sounded eerily similar to what I went through, and I could not help but be set back a bit. It triggered a lot of anxiety and emotion for me. When you see articles that say “warning possible trigger post,” this is what they mean. I didn’t have two heroes to stop things though. I didn’t have the opportunity to face my attacker. I didn’t even have a hospital that did more than the bare minimum of making sure I was alive and then send me on my way alone and barefoot in a vouchered cab. I was 18 years old.

My mom begged me to put my story into words. We have had lengthy discussions over this fact. I lamented that I am not certain I am ready. She is supportive of whatever I decide. She wants me to have the power. If that means sharing this or that means writing and rewriting it a 1000 times and never hitting post. 13 years later and we still live in a society where the victims of rape are so often blamed or at the bare minimum second guessed. Why would I share this? Why open that can of worms? Maybe we are on the brink of change. Awareness is there. Certainly more than I knew of 13 years ago.

I was so confused. I was terrified. I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t call my parents. I called my aunts and left out the part about the questions the doctor barked at me over and over. Questions I had no answers to. I just said I had drank a lot and ended up in the hospital. Please don’t tell my parents. PLEASE. PLEASE! PLEASE!!!

The hospital sent me home with a bag of my things. The few things I had on me. My phone was gone. My shoes were gone. I walked through the building barefoot. I was a mess. I knocked on my own door until my new roommate and stranger heard me and let me in. I threw that bag of things somewhere. Eventually it made its way to the back of my small closet. I crawled into bed.

It took me weeks to look through that bag. The doctor’s questions ringing in my head. I wasn’t sure where my underwear went. I didn’t have any on when I left the hospital. I couldn’t even tell you what I WAS wearing when I walked into my room. I was still so foggy. I do know I was barefoot. That stands out. Even more humiliation. When I worked up the courage, weeks and weeks later, to look through the bag I kept thinking “please let my underwear be in there, please.”

They were not.

The things I do know:

  • I was at a party. I drank a lot. I had never really drank much before. Certainly not THAT much.
  • I remember sitting on a couch laughing.
  • There was pot. I don’t know if I smoked any. I remember the couch. And the room being kind of dark.
  • There was a door to another room to the left behind me.
  • There were guys sitting with us.
  • There was a wooden coffee table in front of me. Covered in assorted stuff.
  • I have a vague memory of the room behind that door to the left. Very blurry and foggy but there.

  • I woke up in the hospital.

  • A male doctor stood over me and barked questions at me about my genitals. I had no answers. I just didn’t know. He left. I never saw him again.
  • I begged to go home. I didn’t know where I was or why.
  • No one called the police. Or offered that as an option. Or offered a rape kit. I wouldn’t have even known what one was if they had. I had never heard that phrase before.
  • They told me I had been “found outside.” That’s all. I was left outside somewhere. Where outside? They didn’t mention that. (Imagine my panic attack when reading about the Stanford victim be assaulted behind a dumpster outside)
  • My underwear were missing. My pants were not.

It took me a while to put the pieces together. Like I said, it took weeks for me to even build up the courage to check for my underwear in the bag of things. When I did and when I was finally honest with myself, I realized what had happened to me. It took me even longer to tell people about it. Years.

I didn’t deal with things in the healthiest of manners early on. I didn’t even want to admit to myself what had happened. I pretended nothing had happened. Denial. I didn’t tell people the scariest details. I went through many phases. Partying. Drugs. Drinking. Anger. Anxiety. Depression. Nightmares. So many nightmares. For a long time I was numb. Or at least did my best to make sure I always felt numb. Then for a long while I felt everything all at once and it was all too much for me. It was like a sensory overload in my emotions.

It took time for me to put my life back together. Yet, at that point I still had not told anyone what I had truly gone through. People maybe knew I had ended up in the hospital for drinking. My parents eventually found out about that as well. I didn’t tell them about the missing underwear. Or the Doctor’s genital questions. I was ashamed. I was humiliated. I was in denial. While, I am no longer in denial, in some ways I still do feel humiliated. A lot of those emotions were brought to the surface again this summer.

A big weight was lifted when I finally told my mom. It was years and years later. I told my husband before I told her. I have shared it here and there with other people. Not so much the nitty gritty details. My mom and husband got those. Those are the above. This is the first time I have put them all in words written down at once. I still struggle to tell that story out loud. You may have known me when this happened. Yet, I didn’t share all of this with you. One of my reasons, on my list of many, for not sharing my story earlier is because of that. What would people I knew then think of me? Would they even believe me, since I wasn’t completely open then? Would they think I was making this up? The more and more I think about those fears, the more and more I realize I am playing into Rape Culture. I shouldn’t care if someone from 13 years ago is mad that I didn’t tell them the whole story. That is their problem and issue, not mine. This is MY story. This is MY journey. This is MY life. This was MY battle to win and use to find MY voice. I have the power to decide when/where/if I share my story. 

Sadly, every 2 out of 3 sexual assaults go unreported. I make up half of those two. Again, in 2016, ⅔ of rapes go unreported. Let that sink in. We consider ourselves a modern society and yet we allow our most vulnerable victims to fall through the cracks. We have created a culture of fear for victims, not assailants. What kind of world do we live in that someone who was violated is afraid of coming forward because they know there is a great chance that they won’t be believed and justice won’t be had? We can even have two reliable witnesses physically stop a sexual assault, and still the rapist gets a 6 month slap on the wrist. Why would a scared girl, without witnesses, who can barely remember anything, bother to come forward? 

My nightmares have returned lately. When I say nightmares, I literally mean I have nightmares about being raped over and over. Or being held captive and having to escape. I believe they have returned due to the fact that this has simmered to the surface again. I feel that this is a lifelong scar I will deal with. Sometimes it will be more faint and I won’t really even notice it. Sometimes it will be bright red, angry, and sore to the touch. My anxiety and panic attacks also never quite leave me. As I type this with shaky fingers. I have learned to manage them in much healthier ways these days. Pilates, deep breathing, running, meditation, visualization, acupuncture, and just talking myself out of a bad attack.

I understand a lot more about myself now that I am in my 30’s. With age comes wisdom. I use my voice. I will not be silenced ever again. I was recently called angry for speaking out against sexism. That may be, but I have my reasons. I have my reasons for wanting equality for women. I have my reasons for speaking out against Rape Culture and sexism over and over. Two of my reasons are sleeping in their comfortable beds above me. They are two little boys. I am responsible for sending them out into the world knowing they will do no harm to other humans. It is my job to keep them aware of how we treat others. No means no. We respect other people’s bodies and choices. You are entitled to nothing and no one. If you see someone being harmed, struggling, in need of help, do your best to help. I think those are some pretty solid reasons for keeping my voice loud, active, and yes, sometimes angry.

There is a lot that is still unclear from that night nearly 13 years ago. I still am missing pieces. Over the years small foggy fragments came through. Not everything, but some. I was unconscious. I was beyond incapacitated. I cannot expect my brain to put everything into a neat package for me. I cannot expect to remember every detail vividly. Maybe this is my blessing. Maybe this is my curse. It really depends on the minute, day, week, month, year. I will never remember it all. I will however, never ever forget those underwear.