How Headlines Continue to Show it Matters
As mentioned on the Break The Silence Against Domestic Violence (BTSADV) website, “On average, a woman will leave an abusive relationship seven times before she leaves for good, according to The National Domestic Violence Hotline.”
Abuse is not limited to one gender. It touches almost everyone in some way. Over the years, I’ve learned about consent and how we talk about it in society, especially to kids and teens. In my experience, I don’t remember being taught. Sure many of us knew that scary older men weren’t supposed to touch us, but sometimes, that’s as far as the conversation went.
But for me, consent in relationships is something that I don’t remember discussing much, not even with friends.
When I was 15 years old, I was in a sexually abusive relationship that undermined my sense of self and self-worth. It would negatively impact my relationships with myself and others for the rest of my twenties and part of my thirties. For a long time, I didn’t tell anyone.
Why not talking about sex doesn’t work
The head in the sand tactic and the abstinence preaching strategy doesn’t quite work.
Okay, let’s say your kid stays abstinent until they’re older or married, then what? Being older (or married) doesn’t necessarily protect you from any abuse.
Instead, we need to provide kids and teens (and each other) with a toolkit of strategies focusing on what autonomy you have over your own body and how to navigate these situations. We as a society also need to face the realities that we put the burden on the victims. We must hold abusers accountable, starting from the first signs of behavior.
As children become teens, they need to know what healthy relationships and sexual relations are. For the love of God, let’s have awkward conversations and talk to them about consent and boundaries in relationships.
How do we do that? We need to learn about it ourselves.
But teens not having sex, that’s the dream, right?! Listen, being from a smaller town, one thing I learned is you can pump them full of religion, but I know when I was in seventh and eighth grade, students were doing ALL KINDS OF THINGS at church!!! At the time, this information terrified me. Yet, I was only a couple of years behind them.
As much as we want to protect them, not talking to them about these things is naive and dangerous. That, along with the idea of having them save themselves for marriage, doesn’t sound healthy either. They marry someone and have no idea how they will treat them sexually and probably no tools or experience to handle it, sounds risky.
Again, I hope no one would think I am advocating for teens to go out have all this healthy, adult sex. While no one WANTS their teens to have sex, the reality is many will. For many, the teenage years are a time of exploration in all aspects of life. It’s like going into the forest and coming out on the other side into adult life, never returning to childhood.
They need tools to survive, and we need to develop a zero-tolerance culture for abusive behavior.
Why it matters now
Remember Harvey Weinstein? When those women came out, many thought they were brave, but some imagined we could never share our own experiences.
Then there was the R. Kelly situation that became a more prevalent topic of conversation. This was something the public had long been ignoring, and the shameful truth about why it took so long for the masses to care will be something we have to face for decades to come.
There have been other public and private exposures ranging from emotional to physical with Shia Lebouf and the more recently publicized, Marilyn Manson.
It was the Marilyn Manson accounts that hit too close to home for me. The parallels were unnerving, and knowing that so many others experienced situations similar to mine inspired me to share.
The ability to break someone’s spirit, to control them, is a particular skill of an abuser. During the time of my abuse, I would take note of good and bad days. On days he was good to me, I would try to replicate the exact actions that I did that day in the following days.
If I do X at this same time, everything will be okay. If I think this thought at exactly the right time, he won’t hurt me.
Of course, these things didn’t hold. He would only have a couple of good days before switching back to terrible, whether mentally, emotionally, or sexually.
The following events could be upsetting. Please skip if you are not in a safe, emotional place to read on.
My abuser started small, first by insulting me, then showering me with attention. Then he escalated. Once, he held me down (outside in the rain) and stuffed grass in my mouth, and rubbed dirt on my face. On more than one occasion, he held me under a chair and popped rubber bands all over my body. He chased me around the house multiple times until he caught me and could get what he wanted. My abuser forced me to do acts I wasn’t ready for and didn’t want. I would cry, wager, and eventually give in. Again, I was 15 and 16 years old. In the end, I would always apologize. He would berate me, threaten to break up, storm off, ignore me for days, and constantly flirt with other girls.
He had the perfect victim. Someone he could hurt, but someone who would fiercely protect him when others would express concern.
This cycle of abuse that many of us experienced wears us down, steals our joy, and isolates us, leading us to feel unworthy.
Why do we keep quiet?
I’ve heard this throughout the years when listening to other accounts –how fiercely some of us would protect our abusers. The lengths we would go to hide the abuse.
We can’t deny that there is a massive fear of coming out with these experiences. We already know the questions that will follow.
Why did/do you stay, and why didn’t you tell someone? Why wouldn’t you just break up? You guys seemed obsessed with each other.
From what I can remember, I only told three people aside from the therapists I would continue to confide in during my twenties and thirties.
A lot of us choose to confide in someone safely outside of our circle of friends and family. Perhaps we are practicing or just testing the waters. Perhaps we need time to come to terms with everything on our own.
I remember telling a friend who picked me up one time after my abuser had chased me around the house, determined to get what he wanted. I was too fast and kept moving, escaping his grasp. He got so angry, he stormed off and drove away. I can’t remember if I apologized for my defiance later that night or a couple of days later after being ignored. I cried while telling my friend what happened. I still remember the look on her face –she was stunned and didn’t know what to say. She was young too.
So many times, especially when we are young, we don’t know what to say or how to say it or who to say it to. Sometimes people suspect or maybe even know that something terrible is happening to you. Still, not many are equipped to do anything about it.
What’s worse, sometimes, even though the person hurts you, you’ve been emotionally and mentally abused so much that you think you can’t live without them. These are heavy themes for anyone but especially a teenager.
We are desperate to be saved and yet desperate to protect the reputations of our abusers while it’s happening.
Fortunately, each time we break away, we get a little stronger. It took a long time, but eventually, I was able to break away.
I saw him a handful of times after our final breakup. It was in front of other people; I kissed him goodbye on the cheek as I left early. He was angry–angry that I wasn’t staying with him and giving him the affection he wanted. He was angry that he couldn’t control me anymore. Yet he couldn’t do anything about it, people were watching.
He contacted me sporadically throughout the next 3–6 years –checking in and seeing how I was. One of the last times he ever reached out, he said, “Did you tell someone I raped you?”
I told him I had and what he did was wrong. I said I was trying to forgive him and move on, and there was no need for him to reach out again. To my knowledge, he hasn’t since.
The details of the last few conversations are fuzzy but what’s important is I felt powerful. There is power in being able to shut the door in the face of an abuser — to walk away.
There has to be a better way of talking about these things. We have to step up and share our stories. Sexual abuse can happen at any age. How much better off would we be if we could understand the signs as they begin?
Those of us who have gone through these situations could sit forever and wonder why? Why didn’t we accept help when family and friends encouraged us to walk away. The feelings of love and shame are aspects we will probably spend the rest of our lives trying to understand.
My abuser is not powerful; he is not a celebrity, a politician, or anything like that. However, he is someone that people liked. Sure they warned me about him, but to his face, they loved him, wanted to joke with him, date him, and be his friend. Still, he is just a person.
Yet, the fear is still there. Will he reach out to me if he finds out I wrote about him? Will, he spread lies? What if no one believes me? While I can’t say for sure that he raped anyone else, I do know he inflicted pain and emotional abuse on other girls. I heard stories from some firsthand and others from word of mouth. Yet, everyone liked him. How strange. But that’s the thing about abusers; they are skilled charmers.
We could point the fingers at the people who wait 5, 10, 15, or 20+ years to share their stories. We could roll our eyes and shame them for “hopping on the bandwagon” and standing up only when others are.
It’s been almost twenty years, and I am still suffering. In hindsight, it affected everything in my life, my relationships, my self-worth, my relationship with intimacy. It’s only been through the power of time, therapy, and deep work that I am where I am now in a place where I can talk about it. But sometimes, at almost 35, I still want to collapse on the floor in a little ball.
This is why we need to be more open, honest, and vulnerable.
Let’s stop and think. Let’s ask ourselves why so many people abuse others and why it takes time for the truth to come out. I hope that these conversations help us analyze our culture and society and protect ourselves and future generations.
Although it’s scary to be so vulnerable, there is a relief from bringing these experiences to the light.