Wednesday, October 12, 2016

To Sexual Assault Survivors They Are Not "Just Words"

Last year, after twenty years of silence, I came forward as a survivor of sexual assault. It was one of the hardest things that I have ever done. You can read my original post here.

Last week, I was paralyzed by the comments made by the Republican candidate for president. He was bragging about sexually assaulting women.

I waited for his followers to be horrified.

And, then waited some more.

And then realized,in horror, that they were defending this man and coming forward in droves stating that this was "just words" and "just locker room talk" and that, they too, have said such things and heard such things and as Scott Baio said-- we should just "grow up".

Why was I surprised? After all 1/3 women in this country have been sexually assaulted and 1/6 men have, as well.( I think these numbers are actually low- nearly every women that I know has been assaulted) The abusers, so infrequently prosecuted, must be out there somewhere- everywhere. Here the abusers and their protectors now were, out in the light. I suddenly felt more unsafe that I have in years, scared moment-to-moment for my daughters, for all of us.

Still, frozen in my grief which now felt fresh again with the painful things being said everywhere about sexual assault, I chose not to write about it.

When Kelly Oxford wrote a tweet calling for people to join in with their sexual assault stories, I cried as I read the MILLIONS of tweets. I realized for the first time that I am not only a rape survivor but that I had a list, a fucking LIST, of times that my body had been violated and that I had been told to keep quiet about it. Still, I was too frozen to write here, even after I joined in the chorus on Kelly's Twitter wall.

However yesterday, a member of my own family posted a meme stating that the words spoken by the Republican candidate for presidency were "just words". This person, knowing that I nearly took my life in my pain and grief after being raped, decided that it was okay to post such a thing knowing that I would read it. It felt as small as an ant, easily crushed under the weight of the words on the meme and every like that was posted underneath it.

Today, I speak

When I was a girl, maybe 7 or 8, a friend's father would always hug me uncomfortably close and lay his hands on my chest or bottom, sometimes even underneath my dress. We had just watched a Berenstein Bears video about inappropriate touching and I knew to tell an adult. I did. Three adults in fact. All of them said that I was just being "dramatic" and that Mr. --- was a nice man and I must have misunderstood. I kept being sent over to play with his children. That man would later be convicted of molesting dozens of children.

When I was 16, I was involved in a serious car accident. I was strapped to a spinal board, immobilized  with an oxygen mask over my face so that no one could hear what I was saying. In the back of the ambulance was my dad and a volunteer medic. My dad sat at the end of the ambulance, calling family members over the rush of the road noise and the beeping of the equipment. The volunteer sat on a bench next to me, his knees pressed against me. He first tentatively pressed his hands against my breasts as we rode over bumps and I thought that it was unintentional. Then, he became more brave, eventually slipping his hands under my shirt and fondling me while watching my dad to be sure he wasn't caught. I kept asking what he was doing and tried to wiggle away, but was strapped down and he pretended not to hear me. He stopped when my dad put his phone away. When I arrived to the hospital I shared my experience with the ER nurse, who told me that I must have misunderstood. I later heard her talking in the hallway with other nurses saying that several patients had similar complaints about this man. The nurses seemed very upset but I am unsure if any action was ever taken against him. I was learning that I did not have a voice against men who touched me. I learned that I was "dramatic" and prone to "misunderstanding".

When I was 17, I was brutally raped. In the aftermath, doctors, nurses and police officers would ask me questions over and over again like "what were you wearing?", "why were you drinking", "were you a virgin" and "did I try to turn him on". I chose not to press charges, an action that will haunt me for the rest of my days. A police officer assured me that a young women who had been drinking would be torn to shreds in court and that he would never be convicted. I learned that a young women drinking while underage was considered more of an offense to many than being a rapist was. I hid the  experience of that rape for twenty years, the shame of it becoming heavier with each passing year.

These occurrences, particularly the rape, have colored everything in my life since. I became a nurse and a writer to help others crawl out of the blackness that I lived in for years. I cannot separate myself from the sexual assault survivor inside of me.  Every cell of my being has been permeated with those violent acts. This is who I am now, who we-- the millions of sexual assault survivors-- are now. We get to have a voice, too. 

Every time that you minimize the braggart's words when he is so proud of his sexual assaults as "just words", you are telling us that our experiences-- our assaults and rapes-- do not matter.

Every time that you tell us, the survivors, to "stop being so dramatic" in our horror of the words being said, you are telling us that our feelings and horror and revictimization do not matter.

Every time that you tell us to "grow up", you are telling us that being offended by sexual assault and the bragging of it is childish and we should be seen and not heard as good children are told. We are told that we cannot be vocal as women, as survivors...that we should simply shut up in order to make you more comfortable.

Every time that we are told that we should dismiss this as "locker room talk", we are frightened. Are men everywhere bragging about sexual assault casually as they dress for a workout? We already know firsthand that the perpetrators are out there, but now our world seems terrifyingly full of them.

Every time that you deflect others' attention away from these words with your "but, but, but... so and so did THIS and that is so much worse", you are reminding us of why victims do not come forward and why the attackers are not persecuted and jailed often; because we live in a society where rape, even violent rape,  is viewed as a minor crime and is just "boys being boys".

I am a single sexual assault survivor who is standing here before you and begging you to take a second look at your words before you repost a meme or make a status about how bragging about sexual assault is "just words" or tell a survivor that she is being "dramatic" or to "grow up" because we are rightfully emotional. I am a lone sexual assault survivor who is standing up for the many that are too afraid to stand publicly, knowing that we are still a society who will shame and demean us. I am one sexual assault survivor that knows that there is an endless sea of others standing, loudly or quietly, beside me. 

Words matter. They always have and always will. Choose wisely. Someone out there is feeling every word in the most painful and personal way. As you think about the people on your friends list, remember always that many of them are survivors of brutality that you may not even be able to imagine. Reach down inside and have some compassion and understanding for us, too. You've so easily been able to find compassion for a man who is proud of being a sexual abuser... I hope that you have some compassion left for the survivors, too. 

If you are a sexual abuse survivor and are struggling, please reach out. RAINN provides online chats and phone support 24 hours per day. You are not alone, Loves. You matter and you are needed here. You can find RAINN here


  1. I hear you. So many of us hear you. I am so horrified by our election this year I can't even speak.

  2. Oh you are so brave to write about your experiences Mandi and I find it incredible that adults still don't believe children when they confide what has happened to them. Thank you for having the courage to write your story and encourage others.

  3. Bravo for sharing your story and speaking against for the insane practice of minimizing acts of violence against women. Even when spoken they are violent and 'boys will be boys' is never a valid excuse.

  4. Words do matter, they are a reflection of person who is saying them.

  5. Very well said. Sadly, very many people do not seem to understand that supporting, denying and minimising the actions of abusers is itself a bad thing to do, an action that makes them complicit in the behaviour of the abusers, that means they are themselves hurting people.

  6. Thank you. A meme from family hurt so bad recently. Thank you for putting it to words.

  7. Oh my God, I am so sorry for what you have been through. Thank you so much for having the strength to persevere and heal without even the barest of support and the courage to speak out now and expose the lie of "just words!"

  8. Your bravery is powerful. Thank you for stepping into the light and sharing so that so many others can too.