CONTAINS TRIGGERING CONTENT
Over the next few months, I am going to tell my story of assault and healing. Here. On this blog.
I have survived nine assaults by men, the first at age 12 and the last at age 31. All of my attackers were friends or family whom I loved, trusted, and cared about deeply.
Each assault shattered my life. Two of them triggered a chronic illness that has fundamentally altered my ability to move freely through the world.
I have told parts of this story to many people. I have told all of it, from beginning to end, to no one.
But it is time.
It is time because this has to end.
Violence perpetrated against other human beings is always about power. Sexual assault specifically is about humiliation and domination, and that is why it has been used as a weapon of war throughout history and across cultures. It is also why the overwhelming majority of perpetrators are men. We raise our boys to be leaders, to take charge, to control a room. Too often, we do not raise them to also listen, to have empathy, to submit to others’ requests, and to respect the boundaries and feelings of others as equal in importance to their own.
Our culture does the rest with its pornography and its famous, celebrated men who boast of their abuses: They let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything.
And in that moment, it works. It always works. Whether the victim slaps their attacker or calls the cops or gives a tense smile and pretends everything is all right, it still has worked. Their adrenaline is up. Their rational mind has shut down. It’s all brainstem and cortisol and defense. The assailant has changed the power balance. And that is how sexual assault works.
Only one of my attackers ever apologized to me. The others insisted that I made things up or answered my anger with stony silence or simply walked away, unscathed, to pretend it never happened.
For some of them, I believe they simply forgot. Abuse was so commonplace in my family that I am sure my father doesn’t remember the specifics. Out of all the days and months and years he locked me into dark rooms or taunted me with spiders or pulled me into the backyard to urinate in front of him on command, why would two assaults stand out?
Memory is a jigsaw puzzle. And inevitably, pieces go missing. Most of the days of our lives, what we ate for breakfast, how exactly we spent an evening, a girl we grabbed at a party. We don’t remember. It fades.
Traumatic memories never do.
So it is time. Time for me to recognize that in my silence, I bear some responsibility for where our culture has arrived. I hope that my story will be an invitation towards a future where there is safety and compassion for those who are different, defiant, and nonconforming. Where no one can be shamed into a life lived in the shadows, fear-struck and silent and much too vulnerable to further abuse.
Those of us who have lived there, we know what should never have happened, but did. It is only for us to tell it—and to hope that somewhere, someone who could become or has been a perpetrator will hear it, really hear it, and choose another path. If I can point one man down a different road and spare the women he would have abused from ever knowing the pain I have, then maybe, maybe all this senseless, thoughtless violence can be put to some use and finally come to an end.
4 thoughts on “Breaking Open the Story”
Reblogged this on Roxana Arama.
I know this was hard to write, Melanie, so thank you for doing it. I posted a link to your story on the post about my experience, and for the first time ever I’ll try out the Reblog feature of WordPress to see if I can bring your story to my readers–if that’s okay with you.
I’d be honored, Roxana. Your own story moved me so much that I knew it was time to tell mine. Thank you for speaking up. Thank you for adding more fuel to this fire. We all need our collective truth to heal and to move toward a world where this can never happen again. Thank you, my friend.