Updated: Jun 3
My friend says my paintings scare her. My response: "How do you think they make me feel? I live with this."
*TRIGGER WARNING. Sexual Assault, Rape, Domestic Violence, PTSD.
** I've deleted and rewritten this post several times. In my head and physically. There really are no words to eloquently express how I'm feeling and what I'm thinking. A string of expletives, while closer, would still be lacking. Hence, the paintings. Even they aren't enough. I've seen many depictions of emotions, and/or mental illness, and while they give the viewer a taste of what the creator is feeling/thinking/experiencing, etc. they can never convey the full message of what the creator is living. Ponder on that, please.
*** I recognize that males/non cis women can be sexually assaulted/raped. This post is about my experiences and is not meant to take away from any one else's experiences or suffering. I stand with all victims and survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. I can only speak from my own experiences and perspectives. Please know that I support you, and if you are ready, urge you to share your experiences to keep the dialogue flowing and get the word out there that sexual assault/domestic violence is more prevalent than we currently think and that the status quo must end. We can make a difference together!
A respected friend posed a question on Facebook yesterday that I've asked many times. The number 1 in 6 (I'm using the more conservative estimate here) is thrown around a lot in regards to how many women experience sexual assault in their lifetimes. She reflected that she thought that number was inaccurate based on her personal experiences speaking with women. I agree. Our thinking is that most women do not report sexual assault for many varied reasons. While I cannot provide accurate numbers, I can state that I do not personally know very many women who do not have at least one experience of sexual assault. The women that haven't shared a story with me also have not stated that they have never been sexually assaulted, the topic simply hasn't been discussed.
My follow up question is, "Does that number really reflect what those 1 in 6 women have gone through?" For instance, my '1' certainly does not feel big enough to convey the horror that I have been subjected to throughout my life. I know I can't be the only one that feels this way.
I was sexually abused/molested/raped by two different trusted family member/family friends when I was too young to even understand what sex was. My first memory of an incident in school was around second grade when a group of boys would chase me, tackle me, hold me down, and threaten to kiss me. That scared me. Told the yard duty, she said they were just having fun. In High School a male student, non consensually, held me down and rubbed his clothed erect penis on me. Then there's the comments, cat calls, flipping up of my cheerleading uniform as I walked through the hallways. And the really great experience when my math teacher said I was distracting the football player from learning even though the football player was the one that kept poking me and pulling my hair. Clearly just being in the same room was the distraction.
As a young adult I was fortunate enough to not be sexually assaulted or harassed too much. Thankfully it was your run of the mill, day to day, harassment that we women just get used to. I managed to avoid being raped or violently assaulted. (I seriously hope you pick up the sarcastic tone.)
I got married. I was young; still incredibly naive and had never received any kind appropriate guidance on healthy relationships or sex. Certainly had received no education on the warning signs of domestic violence, which can include rape and sexual assault. Apparently, neither had my then husband. I started telling my then husband that he was hurting me when we had sex. That I felt like I was being forced. I was too scared to use the word rape because that felt too harsh. He loved me. You can't rape someone you love. (I know better now.) After a few months I used phrases like, "I feel like you're raping me." Every time I asked him to stop hurting me he grew angry. I learned quickly to close my eyes and just let it happen.
Over the more than decade long marriage he used excuses like: "You just don't know what a healthy relationship looks like." "Because you didn't have a dad in your home you don't know how this is supposed to work." (I think that's more telling of his home life than mine.) "Because you were molested as a child you don't know how to let yourself be loved." (Totally excusing that I had had healthy relationships and sex partners before marriage.) "I just need to teach your body how to love mine." I was told that I was no longer allowed to tell him he was hurting me. It hurt his feelings. I was told that I needed to watch pornography and masturbate during the day while he was gone so that my body would know what to do when he touched me. When I discovered, about eight years into the marriage, vibrators and actually started having orgasms by using one during our "sex" sessions he then started telling me how selfish I was for wanting to orgasm every time we had sex. "I wish we could go back to the way it was before." Over a decade. This happened to me consistently for more than a decade. What I'm sharing here is just the tip of the iceberg. The number '1' doesn't even begin to cover that.
I want to briefly mention that during this time there was other domestic violence happening as well. I mention that because these paintings include that horror. Culminating in the morning that I thought my life was over. I still marvel that to this day, he has managed to convince so many that his actions were done out of love and a desire to mend our relationship and bring us closer together. I, now, laugh that anyone could believe that it was just a misunderstanding and that I overreacted. I woke up zip tied. Zip tied. (Let that sink in for a moment.) Unless you are consensually involved in BDSM, which we were not, there is no loving act in which you zip tie your sleeping partner. People will believe whatever makes them the most comfortable. In this case, the truth is quite uncomfortable. I get it. I was there. Hence, the paintings. (Also, of worthwhile note, especially with the current story circulating, it turns out that if you have enough money you can get your record expunged. Was not aware of that until I was told that people were looking up his record to decide whether or not I was telling the truth, and they couldn't find one. Good thing I have copies of all the records so at least 'I' know I'm not lying.)
The police were involved that morning. He was arrested. Both officers told me that they had never been called to a home for something as disturbing as what had happened to me that morning. A county judge signed a Protective Order. The courts were involved. The local judge here in our town and the prosecuting attorney apparently felt this didn't need to go to trial. I don't know why. I wasn't there. I was not even notified of the hearings so that I could state my case. I never received my day in court. I never saw justice even though all the evidence was there. With the case dismissed I was labeled a liar. This information was used to defame and bully me both in and out of the court proceedings for our divorce. I learned over about a two year period just how corrupt our judicial system is, and that is not even touching on how disturbing going through the family courts is.
In the last few years I have had a man walk up behind me, slip his arms under my arms, cup both of my breasts with his hands, and pull my body in to his. I had a man tell me what he'd like to do to my ass while at a family friendly convention. Most of the time I laugh off these absolutely inappropriate advances. They happen. A lot. They happen no matter how I'm dressed. Just a month or so ago I was walking down the street in sweats, a sweatshirt and Uggs and a man followed me for about half a block describing what he'd like to do to me. That one legitimately scared me.
About a year and a half ago I was with friends, at my friends house, and one of my male "friends" drugged me and sexually assaulted me right there at our mutual friend's house. The homeowners and my other friends (Whom I do not find fault with. None of us could have guessed this.) thought I was drunk (Nope. Not even close. Not even a little.) and moved me to one of their rooms so I could sleep it off. That's where he found me. Lucky for me (Extreme sarcasm.) I kept vomiting so he wasn't able to get to penetration. Guess the lesson there is don't drug a girl if you want to have sex with her, she might ruin the whole thing by getting sick. Money wasted. (You are witnessing my coping mechanism of humor and sarcasm here.) I'm a thirty-nine year old woman. I was with friends. I thought I was safe enough to let my guard down. Turns out the real lesson is, I'm never safe, no matter who I'm with.
I didn't report any of the assaults, except for the one's during my marriage, and that was after the fact when I was questioned about that one life changing morning. Why? Well, when I was a child I didn't know. When I was in high school I knew I didn't like it and wanted it to stop but when I'd asked for help in Grade School I was told it was normal. I actually did ask for help within the first few months of my marriage. Not from the police, from an older woman at church. I told her how scared I was and that I didn't know what to do. She told me that men need to blow off steam and to make sure the house is clean and dinner made when he got home. Again, I was told that what was happening to me was normal so I put up with the escalating abuse for over a decade. Then, when things were getting so scary I no longer knew how to handle it I went to my clergy. I was told to take my problems to the Lord and make sure I was praying, reading my scriptures, doing family night and attending the temple. I can tell you that those things did nothing to change his behavior or keep me safe. When the more recent assaults happened I didn't even bother. I had tried to use the system and it ended up being one of the worst almost two years of my life. That's coming from a person who had been suicidal on multiple occasions, and has been molested, raped, and abused. (Let that sink in for a minute.) I had no desire to put myself through that again.
Yes, technically I count as one. That number in no way reflects the number of times, since I was a child, that my body has been assaulted. That number is a sick and twisted joke. That number makes my blood boil because I know I'm not the only one. If you happen to be one of the ones that have escaped any kind of sexual assault, even verbal, then seriously, get on your knees, or to a temple, or just sit for a minute and thank god, the universe, chaos theory, no one in particular, that you escaped unscathed. Every time I share even one of my many experiences, the person (no matter the gender) I'm speaking with usually has something personal to share, or an experience a loved one has gone through. Even if the statistics of 1 in 6 are correct, those statistics do not convey what that '1' has endured.
I can't change the past. What's done is done. Now, I get the joy and pleasure of working though the trauma. It's bad enough knowing what has happened to me. Living through it once was quite enough, thank you. PTSD makes sure I don't forget. PTSD makes sure that no matter how healthy I may be at any given moment, a voice, a touch, a smell, a song, a harmless string of words, etc. can land me right back in those moments. And, boy, does it have a lot of moments to choose from. Ah, flashbacks and nightmares, you old so and so's. Still, I'm not giving up. What should have broken me has not. I'm still standing. I'm still living. (Which, is not a luxury some victims get.) I have built a support system that includes mental health professionals, doctors, trauma experts, friends, and family who have my back. Do I feel safe in general? No. I know better than that now. I know that no matter how careful I am, no matter how pious I am, no matter how frumpy and covered my body is, no matter how much I think someone can be trusted, I truly don't know. Hypervigilance. It's one of the symptoms of PTSD. It's super fun.
Things can change. Sharing our collective stories will bring awareness to these issues (for all victims) and if we stand up together we can make a difference. We can insist that rape kits are processed. We can insist that rape/sexual assault/domestic violence allegations are taken seriously, and that those few who make false allegations (which are at most 8%) are punished for abusing the system. In most cases we don't even need new laws or procedures. We need to actually implement the ones that are currently in place. We can insist that judges, attorneys, guardian ad litems, custody evaluators, etc. have appropriate training to recognize and deal with these cases. We can hold those people accountable when they clearly make a misstep. I know here in Utah more training for our Police Officers is already under way. We can insist that training happens nation wide, and that those officers who abuse their power and position are also held accountable. We can completely overhaul our current, failed, "Sex Ed" classes which in a lot of places are just religion based abstinence training. Let's start teaching consent and healthy relationship practices and skills in kindergarten. As students progress through the grades we can add sex education as part of relationship skills. We can call our friends out when they joke about assaulting another human being. We can call our family members out when they do the same. We can teach all our children about consent, healthy relationships, and the warning signs of unhealthy relationships and what to do about them. We can teach our children that they have body autonomy and that not even their grandparents or parents are allowed to force them to hug them if they don't want to. There are so many things that we can start today, this is a very small list of options, and most of them don't take that much effort. Start with some of the links below and reach out to your local chapters. Finding valid education for yourself and volunteering locally will help your neighborhoods, schools, churches, families be safer.
So that I can end this on a healing note and help myself through the trigger that is this post, I'm going to add some of my more healing pieces of art which will link you to older posts that speak to healing and acceptance. I do so not to ignore the hard topics that must be discussed. I do so because I know how hard these topics are and to remind myself, and you, that there are better days ahead. We can make better days together. I promise.
Links for more information:
RAINN , National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
National Domestic Violence Hotline : 1-800-799-7233
No post link on the first image.
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