Content warning: This story includes details of sexual assault that might be upsetting to some readers.
It didn’t start out the way that I’d heard. There was no creepy old man luring me into his van with candy or an adult male family friend. I wasn’t walking alone on some street in a dangerous part of a city. Of all the scenarios I’d been told to fear when I was young, this one never came up.
I was 12 years old when I was first sexually assaulted.
He lived next door to my grandma.
He was my age.
It was fall. The school year had just started, and my mom had decided that we’d go visit my grandma. During the winter, we’d visit Saturday nights for Scrabble and microwaveable nachos, but this was something extra. Just a quick little visit.
I don’t remember him stopping by, only that mom and grandma were talking in the kitchen while he and I sat on the couch and watched TV. I was up against the corner, he was sitting a respectable distance away.
At some point he scooted closer. I remember wanting to ask him to scoot away and give me some space, but I didn’t. I’d always been taught to be polite, and it would have been rude of me to ask him to move.
One second we’re watching TV and the next his hand is on my exposed thigh, resting on my inner leg. I regretted wearing shorts despite it being 90 degrees out.
He leaned in, his breath heavy on my face as he said, “You’ve got nice legs.”
As his hand drifted up, I couldn’t move. I looked toward the kitchen, but my voice was caught somewhere in my throat. My thoughts were foggy, the only thing registering was the general panic that floated through my limbs. I felt like I was going to puke. All I could think was that I needed him to move, to get away from me, but I couldn’t speak.
I was scared.
Eventually, my grandma called for us from the kitchen and he pulled away, shooting her a grin as he replied to her — like it hadn’t even happened.
At first, I didn’t think much of it. Sure, there was some general panic every time I saw him in the cafeteria at the school. I scrubbed at my skin harder in the shower. I started covering up more. I panicked when people I didn’t know touched me. I flinched when men would put their hands on my shoulders.
But I never thought that it was sexual assault.
That’s why the #MeToo movement is so important. That’s why we need to talk about sexual assault. It’s been 11 years, and I’m still questioning whether this counts. Google tells me that it does count, but maybe it doesn’t. Just because I cried while thinking about this when I began writing this piece doesn’t mean anything.
Maybe I’m being over-dramatic.
Maybe I asked for it somehow.
The fact of the matter is that while I’ve mostly recovered from this and forgave him for what he did, there are others that aren’t as lucky as I am. They’re stuck thinking that they’re dirty and that somehow this is their fault or that they deserved it. They may have no idea that there are resources out there for them and people to talk to.
But maybe, if people start talking about this more and it becomes less taboo, survivors might realize that they’re not alone. They can get that help that they need.
Because it wasn’t their fault.