April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Some of my friends have opened up to share their stories in hopes of helping others. Transparency works. This is my story.
Trigger Warning: While not overly graphic, there is content that some readers may find upsetting.
I was sexually assaulted at my school and church for about three years during 7th, 8th, and 9th grade by a classmate one grade lower than me.
We both didn’t fit in at school, so we became friends. I was bullied by other kids at school, so I clung to any friendship I could get. But as time went on, the things he started saying to me got more personal and more sexual. It was at that time that instant messaging became a thing. Unfortunately, cyber bullying was not yet on anyone’s radar.
We both had screen names on AIM, and that was where a lot of his sexual statements started. They were minor – so minor, that I wasn’t even sure if he crossed a line. It escalated over time, slowly – so slowly, that I didn’t notice during it that things were getting worse. They were occasional, insignificant comments that made me uncomfortable. Nothing more.
I didn’t know the term “sexual harassment” when I was 13. I didn’t know a 12 year old boy could be capable of sexual harassment. To this day, I don’t know if he was a lonely boy with a troubled home life who was just experimenting with sexuality or if he knew what he was doing was wrong, if he was purposely manipulating me. As an adult, I look back over the AIM conversations, and I see grooming, whether or not this boy was aware that was what he was doing.
By the time 8th grade came, the sexual harassment changed from solely verbal to also physical. Things like snapping my bra. Again, it was so minor that I didn’t feel it was worth reporting to my parents or teachers. I wish I had. I know they would have taken action. I know what came next would have been prevented.
My entire 8th grade year was a daily experience of sexual harassment, especially at recess and then online at home. His comments changed from general comments to comments specifically about my body. Sometimes, it was compliments. Sometimes, it was more than that. He followed me around school – even following me into the bathroom when he knew no one else was there. He started buying me gifts, many of which were sexual. Whenever I told him to back off, he always acted hurt, and I was the one who ended up apologizing.
High school finally came. Despite being at different schools, the harassment continued. Whenever I tried to end the friendship, I felt guilty. So our online conversations continued. I knew this boy’s faith in God was nonexistent, and I wanted to encourage him to come to church and youth group. Unfortunately, it was at my church youth group where the sexual assault began.
We were always in public. I was never alone with him. But the assault still happened. Whenever no one was looking, whenever we blended into a crowd, he would grope me – sometimes over my shirt, sometimes putting his hand down my pants, over my underwear. I specifically remember this happening at a bowling alley and at Cedar Point. I remember pushing him away, but then I only received stares from strangers who only witnessed my hands pushing him, who missed seeing where his hands had been. They only saw a young boy on the ground with an angry, goth, teenage girl standing over him.
Our online conversations got more embarrassing. He started asking me for sex. He started detailing what he would do. When I refused, when I said I was waiting for marriage, he said he’d stop talking to me and move on to my younger sister. Terrified for her, I continued communication with him.
He knew my Christian faith was important to me. He knew I strongly believed in Jesus and Satan, in angels and demons. He said he enjoyed communicating with demons. He said he would send one to my room every night to watch me in all I did – undressing, sleeping, etc. He said he would then have his demon report everything back to him. As I lay in my room each night, I was terrified. I hid under my covers and prayed.
One day, he was talking to me online about his depression and loneliness. Once again, my heart hurt for him. But he then brought up sex again. When I told him no, he said he’d kill himself. The conversation ended. He stopped replying. AIM told me his computer had gone idle, so I knew he wasn’t there. I waited. About a half hour or an hour later, a friend of his contacted me and said that he had attempted suicide. I was frantic. I thought that because I had refused sex, he was now dead – and worse, dead before he had faith in God. The friend told me details, and it all sounded so real. Then the friend told me he was still alive, but barely. I was relieved. I knew that no matter how embarrassing it would be to me, I needed to get help for him. I told the friend I was about to call the police to give them the address and send help. Suddenly, they were both online, talking to me, telling me it was all a joke, begging me not to call the police. He called me, and I heard him, alive and well.
I was done. I changed my screen names. I blocked him. He stopped coming to youth group. He never went after my sister. He graduated 8th grade and moved on to a high school different than mine, out of my life, but not out of my memories.
Even without him in my life, I suffered. I contemplated and planned suicide. I hated myself. I started self harming and developed an addiction to it throughout my sophomore, junior, and senior years of high school. I got better once I had counseling and once I opened up to people. I gained a support system that helped me enter recovery. (For more on my story of recovery from self harm, click here.)
I have a document saved that chronicles all this. It contains our online conversations, has dates – everything. I thought of sharing it to demonstrate how the harassment increased so slowly, how I didn’t notice until it was too late. The document shows that once it was clear to me, 100%, that this was wrong, that his intentions were not innocent, I was too ashamed and embarrassed to ask for help. I felt like it was my fault that someone could look at me in such a dirty way. I thought there must be something about me, something wrong with me, that caused him to see me in this way. I felt that if I asked for help, those aspects about me would be revealed, and I didn’t want my parents to see me that way. I know so many girls are going through the same manipulation and false guilt right now.
It has been almost 15 years since the assault ended. It has been almost 10 years since I finally shared my story with my college boyfriend (now my husband). It has been almost eight years since I opened up to my parents and told them everything – right before my wedding. I’ve had three years of counseling concerning this topic. Today, as I sit and read the document containing everything, I still feel ashamed. I still feel dirty. I still cannot bring myself to share what he said. I find that his words were actually so much worse than the physical assaults. That’s what still hurts today. I want to share the details to help others, to demonstrate exactly how I was manipulated, how I was drawn in, how I got trapped. But I’m not there yet in the healing process. Maybe one day.
Concerning this boy… I have not had contact with him since my freshman year in high school. I do not want any contact with him. I do forgive him, even if that is something I have to do over and over again when the hurt and anger come back to the surface. I pray that he asks Jesus for forgiveness. I pray he comes to know the God I know.
Please know that if anyone says anything sexual to you that makes you feel even a little uncomfortable, you have every right to tell them to stop – not ask, but tell. If they do not stop, it is sexual harassment, and you need to ask for help, no matter how minor the harassment seems.
If anyone touches you inappropriately or forced you to do any sexual act, that is sexual assault. This needs to be reported immediately! Don’t wait!
Report this to a parent, a teacher, your boss, a superior, a pastor, a counselor – someone. And if that someone does not give you help, then ask someone else and keep doing so until you are given help. A great resource is RAINN.
Sexual predators groom their victims. They start with minor things and slowly build up so that the boundary line between right and wrong is so blurry, the victim doesn’t even know when it is crossed. Black and white become gray. Then the victim-blaming begins. Once the harassment has gone on long enough, the victim does not feel he/she can ask for help, because the situation feels like it is his/her fault. It continues to escalate, until the emotional wounds are so deep that the scars will never fade.
If you have been a target for sexual harassment or assault – it is not your fault. No matter how minor or how severe, no matter how embarrassing, report it. That person needs consequences. You can save others from being that person’s future victims.
Get counseling. Your wounds may turn into scars that you carry for the rest of your life, but you can heal. You deserve to heal. Let others help you heal, and then use your scars to tell your story. My scars – both the emotional and physical scars – show where I have been, not where I am now. My scars show that there is healing. My scars show that there is hope. My scars show I am no longer a victim, but a survivor.
God made you. He designed you with love. You deserve to be treated with care and respect, even when you don’t feel like you do.
- Talk to your kids about cyber bullying. Teach them how to take screen shots before conversations get deleted. These can be used as legal evidence.
- If your son or daughter is in 7th grade or older, and you haven’t talked about grooming, sexual harassment, and sexual assault, do so as soon as possible. You can start these conversations younger than 7th grade, but I would not wait longer than that.
- Sexual harassment and assault can come from strangers or familiar people. It can come from someone older, the same age, or younger. It can come from males; it can come from females. It can happen to females, but it can also happen to males. It can even happen in the best schools with the best teachers. It can happen in Christian churches. Know this and tell your children this.
- Tell your kids to report anything that may even have the possibility of bullying, harassment, or assault to an adult they trust – even if that isn’t you.
- Monitor your children’s activities and social lives – their text messages, their online accounts – everything. Yes, this limits their privacy, and they might be angry. I promise that their anger at you will be so much less than the turmoil they’ll feel without your protection. They won’t need counseling because you knew their SnapChat or Twitter or Facebook or Instagram passwords. They will need counseling for sexual harassment.
- Know whom your kids are with at all times.
- For those of you with young kids, teach them that no means no. My daughter is only two, but I want her to know that even her no means no. If she doesn’t want a hug, then one is not forced upon her. If she doesn’t want a kiss, then that is okay. If she is feeling shy, I tell her it is okay to be shy. Of course I am the parent, and when I say something like, “It’s time to go to bed,” and she says “No,” I overrule her. But when it comes to physical contact with myself, my husband, relatives, friends, church members, etc. if she said no to a hug or kiss, then no means no. I don’t want to desensitize her to the fact that forced contact is never okay.
It’s a scary world we live in. It’s a dark world. Be the light. Share your story! My cousin inspired me to share my story by sharing her own story and ghostwriting a story for a friend of hers. Sharing yours may just help someone avoid what you’ve been through. Write your story in a blog or on social media. Tell it in a support group. Tell me your story in a comment below. Your words have value!