Have you seen it? Their hashtags, #MeToo, have gone viral on social media. So have all of the heart-wrenching stories of women (and even some men) of being sexually violated in one form or another. (Groping, fondling, verbal abuse with sexual innuendos, molestation, and rape.)
After a few famous women publicly shared their sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein, it started a domino effect. There is power in numbers. It has empowered females from all walks of life to feel safe enough to come forward to speak the truth.
What I didn't expect was for painful triggers to sound an alarm. To be filled with horrible images flashing through my mind. To suddenly find myself in fight or flight. For my heart to be racing. To not be able to sleep at night. To be engulfed with every imaginable emotion ranging from fear, anxiety, anger, shame, and sorrow.
It's time for me to break the silence.
After countless decades, I thought my own sexual assaults were behind me. Yet, they were haunting me. It didn't happen just once, nor twice. I experienced three different sexual assaults at various stages within my life. As a toddler, as a teen, and in my early 40's. Each circumstance and perpetrator were different.
The first one began shortly after my parents' divorced. I was about three years old. My newly single mom relocated my four sisters and I to her hometown. She had hoped her life would be easier at a distance from our dad who married the "other" woman.
In effort to earn income to raise her five little daughters, she joined the workforce. With an evening job, she hired a sixteen year old girl in our neighborhood to babysit us, while she worked. What my mother didn't know was this teenager, Regina, had psychological problems. She was into drugs. She was sexually promiscuous. She dabbled into the occult. She had a violent nature and was abusive. (Name changed to protect privacy.)
To say that my sisters and I were unsafe is an understatement. Over two years of my innocent life were forever altered and destroyed. As the youngest of five girls, I was the most vulnerable for this evil babysitter to prey on. During two years with this teenage monster, there was physical, emotional, spiritual, and sexual abuse.
On one night, I vividly remember Regina being the mastermind behind a twisted and wicked scheme. She had my two older siblings dress up as a devil and angel. From my toddler perspective, these Halloween costumes appeared lifelike and real. It scared the daylights out of me!
This charade was far from fun. It was no longer make-believe. It was cruel. The sinister motive behind the masquerade was to terrify me, which they succeeded.
What they didn't know was that I would spend the next 50+ years suffering physical and emotional anguish from this traumatic event. And they crushed my very soul.
On that night, Regina had my two oldest sisters, Mary and Raven, play their role like experts. From the innocent eyes of a child, it was believable. With white angel wings, Mary, was loving and kind, while Raven, dressed in red with devil horns, viciously lashed out with nasty threats to my sister Sarah and I, scolding, "You are bad girls and you're going to hell!" (Names changed to protect privacy.)
After taunting us for what seemed like an hour, Regina loudly instructed Sarah and I to go into the kitchen where she placed freezing cold ice cubes down our underpants. Then she forced us into the pitch dark basement. We were alone. We screamed and sobbed hysterically. Distraught, Sarah and I clung to each other with tears rolling down our faces.
We begged Regina to let us come back upstairs. We promised to be "good little girls." Our pleading and crying was ignored. In silence, we continued to cling to one another. We trembled in fear.
I don't recall the timeline involved with Sarah and I being stuck in the basement. It was cold and black. We became hungry and thirsty. For young children, it seemed like forever. Prior to this incident, we detested the basement. It frightened us. This wasn't the first or last time we were mistreated.
For over two years, our mom was unaware of what happened to us girls when she was at work. She didn't know that Regina abused us. As a toddler, I was too young and naive to mentally process the violence. I couldn't cognitively comprehend the nonstop torment. I was powerless.
As I grew up, what baffled me was that my siblings never discussed the babysitter who abused us. From my understanding, nobody told our mom. Only one out of four sisters ever openly admitted to me that it happened. Overwise, it was a secret. Through the years, we kept it hush-hush.
The date, November 17, 1979, is forever etched in my mind. Each year, it looms overhead. A dreadful memory that I will never forget.
I was 15 years old and excited to be going to a party. What I didn't know in advance was that I was "the party." That I'd be physically forced to have sex with a guy I had never met before. And despite my protests, wrestling, and saying, "No," I would experience my second sexual assault.
Following this despicable rape, I had returned home. In tears, I told my sister who told my mom who told the police who then instructed me to immediately go to the emergency room. In the ER, it was cold and sterile. I felt violated all over again. The medical testing for rape was degrading. It was physical and emotional torture for me.
When the necessary tests and police interview were complete, my mom and I drove home without saying a word. All I wanted to do was go to bed. To be alone. To forget this nightmare.
Gently, my mother coaxed me to take a relaxing bath. I wondered if she thought I was "dirty" from being raped? No matter how much I scrubbed, I couldn't take away how violated I felt. Or stop the painful tears from falling.
Curling up in my bed underneath the cozy covers, I was grateful to finally be alone. In my dimly lit bedroom, I sipped hot tea and tried to push away disturbing thoughts racing through my mind. I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that I never agreed to have sex with this stranger. Yet, he refused to listen to me. How come "No" didn't mean "No" to him?
Without knocking on my door, my 21 year old sister, Raven, barged into my bedroom. She was wearing a nasty smirk on her face. Coldly, she stared at me. In a snooty tone, she said, "It's all of your fault. You deserved it!" Then she marched out of my room, closing the door behind her.
In horror, I was speechless. Raven blamed me for the rape. Her mean-spirited accusations shocked me. Her ruthless words deeply hurt and they cut like a knife. This victim-shaming was unexpected. Where was her compassion and empathy?
It left a bitter taste in the pit of my stomach. I was numb. I was nauseated. I felt empty. I wanted to disappear off the face of the earth.
Despite my mom's suggestions to talk to a professional counselor, I resisted. As a 15 year old, I was a typical rebellious teen. As a second time trauma victim, I fell into old behaviors and patterns. To keep the rape hush-hush. To pretend it didn't happen. To hide my dirty little secret. To go on with my life as if I was perfectly fine. But on the inside, I was slowly dying.
In the fight, flight, or freeze response to traumatic events, such as sexual assault, flight (or escape) was my coping mechanism. The pain was incredibly difficult for me. The burden was beyond challenging. Emotionally, I was a shipwreck!
For the next 10 years, I would continue burying my pain. Stuffing my anxiety. Running from my traumatic past. Denying that anything was wrong. Pushing the shame, guilt, despair, and fear below the surface.
I wanted to escape from the truth. Because sometimes the truth rips at our very souls.
It wasn't until I was 25 and married to my high school sweetheart when I confronted being raped. I was reading a magazine when I came upon an article about date rape. It was like a floodgate opened. I couldn't stop the tears. For weeks, I cried. I grieved. I gave myself permission to feel whatever emotions surfaced.
Looking back, I think it was cleansing and healing to finally face the sexual assault from when I was 15 years old. Crying and processing my roller coaster emotions was therapeutic. Also, writing about my hellish ordeal was therapeutic and healing for me. As for my child abuse, it would be buried for two more decades before I'd be ready to delve into those dark crevices.
Fast forward to August 2006 when my rocky marriage was in trouble. Unable to compromise or resolve our conflicts, my husband and I separated. Our teenage son stayed with his dad, while our two younger girls moved into my mom's home with me.
It was a rather stressful and depressing period. For those who've been through marital strife, separation, or divorce, you know exactly what I'm referring to. Marriage problems are hard on everyone, including the children. There's nothing easy about it.
In 2006, as a woman of faith for 13 years, I struggled with the idea that God despises divorce. I felt like a failure. And growing up in a dysfunctional family with divorced parents, I knew firsthand how awful it could be.
Living without a dad who rarely participated in my life left a permanent father wound. Hell or high water, I didn't want this for my children. They deserved an active dad who would be physically, emotionally, and spiritually present.
I wanted them to have two parents who loved one another. Together in one household. But our marriage was broken and I didn't know how to mend it back together.
One month after our separation, there was a weekend in which I ended up alone at my mother's home. The two girls were visiting their dad and my mom went out of town to visit relatives. It was a Saturday evening in which I was hoping to go out since I wasn't scheduled to work.
Earlier, I had made plans with a friend. However, it was uncertain if she could make it or not. I texted her a quick message, but she never responded. In the meanwhile, I applied my makeup and fixed my hair so I could be ready if she contacted me.
An hour later, there was a knock at my door. Excited, I thought it was my friend and that we were going to go out after all. When I opened the door, I was disappointed. It wasn't her.
To my surprise, it was my sister Raven's husband, Fred, who reeked of liquor. I had no doubt that he was intoxicated. I was confused. Why was Fred here? And where was his wife?
From what my mom had told me, they were supposed to go away. I inquired why he wasn't out of town with my sister. As he waltzed through the entrance, he claimed they changed their plans.
Initially, I may have been polite, but on the inside my gut intuition was screaming, "Danger!" Nervously, I felt concerned about Fred's motive for unexpectedly showing up. With my heart racing, I kept a distance between where Fred stood in the kitchen and where I stood in the dining room.
It was summertime and I was wearing a dress. He kept trying to touch me and run his hands along my bare legs. Uncomfortable, I would step back to put more distance between us. Afraid for my safety, I contemplated what I should do. Silently, I prayed, "Dear God, help me!"
Fred was persistent. He wouldn't leave me alone. I didn't trust him, especially since he was drunk. At one point, he literally unzipped his jeans and dropped his drawers. Quickly, I spun around to avoid seeing him expose himself.
That summer night didn't end well. It became my third sexual assault. Once again, I was feeling numb, shocked, angry, and alone.
The days that followed had me questioning my faith, my family, and my sickening reality. After writing my sister Raven a long letter explaining how her husband sexually assaulted me, she kicked Fred out of her home. Shortly later, her husband came crawling back to her claiming that he "found Jesus" and begged for her forgiveness.
Fred gave Raven his version of the story. Unfortunately, it was the furthest from the truth. Words, details, and facts were twisted. He manipulated my sister into believing that I wanted to have sex with him. Instead of believing me, her own flesh and blood, she chose Fred's fabricated lies.
Denial has a way of burying deep dark secrets. And for some folks, denial is the only way to remain married and sane. Sometimes, the ugly truth hurts so badly that it's easier to run away from it, rather than face it.
Looking back, I'm disturbed that Raven and Fred expected me to quickly forgive. That they faith-shamed me, victim-blamed me, and pulled out the Christian card saying, "If you are a good Christian, you will forgive others."
There was no compassion. No empathy. No grace. No mercy. No validating my raw emotions that were ripped to shreds.
After 11 years of this sexual assault, I'm finally giving myself permission to work through my grief. To let myself cry. To vent. To write about it. To talk about it. To process this hideous crime that should have been reported to the police. (I never reported it because I wanted to salvage my relationship with my sister.)
In the midst of my grief, I'm giving myself permission to marinate in my anger, which is one of the stages of grief. To no longer stuff my anger, deny my anger, or suppress my rage about the wicked violence done to me.
And I am giving myself grace...
Grace to take as long as it may to fully and completely heal. To not rush through the stages of grief, but to take one day at a time. Grace to be true to myself. Grace to acknowledge that I've been through three horrific sexual assaults.
Grace to be patient with my wilderness journey where I will grow my faith in the dark. Grace to forgive myself for not speaking up sooner. Grace for not calling the police. Grace for not standing up for myself in the past. Grace for all of my painful years of keeping the sexual assaults silent.
Today, if you have been abused or sexually assaulted, I pray for you to offer yourself grace, too. That you can start your healing by breaking the silence. For where there are secrets, there is darkness. Please have the courage to shine the light on the darkness. To no longer keep this evil act hush-hush. To bravely share your true story.
Most importantly, if you have endured sexual assault, trust that you are not alone. Others have walked that ragged road. We understand your pain. We know how traumatic it was for you. We realize that no matter how much time passes by the anguish can still be hard. We are here to support you. To listen to you. To give you hope and offer you a safe sanctuary to heal.