I’ve talked about being a survivor of sexual assault before, but what I haven’t talked about are the specifics.
When I was 12 years old, my stepsister touched me in sexually inappropriate ways. I was not only the older sister, but was then left with confusion, shame, anxiety, and guilt. It led to us having a mutually incestuous relationship for about 6 months, that I used to try to heal, which only created more pain.
7 years later, I still feel an incredible amount of shame every time I even think about it. It gets worse when I’m in circles and spaces dealing with sexual violence, as I always question the validity of my experience. It somehow doesn’t feel ‘real’ or ‘normal’ enough; I know that others would question if this were actually assault. That’s what’s kept me so quiet, knowing that I probably wouldn’t have the support that survivors with more ‘acceptable’ scenarios would. After having been rejected and not believed by my family, it was hard for me to even believe myself.
The recent scandal around Lena Dunham’s account of her and her own sister’s sexual experiences in her book Not That Kind of Girl has many calling her a sexual abuser. Basically, she recounts an eye-raising incident of spreading open her one-year-old sister’s vagina, and describes the incident as “within the spectrum of things that I did.” She then talks about how she would manipulate her sister into kissing her and “relaxing on her (insinuating touching through clothing).” As Dunham herself says, “anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl I was trying.”
When I first heard about this scandal, (ironically, the same day I got my copy of the book) I felt anger, but then a strange sense of relief. Knowing that others saw issue with incest that I had so many times been told was just ‘experimenting’ or ‘innocent childhood antics,’ made me feel not alone, for once. Knowing that I wasn’t the only one who was outraged and wanted Lena to have accountability made me feel like it was okay to speak out and shed the stigma. That’s why I am telling my story.
The fact is that sexual abuse and violence can take many forms and yes, women and children can be perpetrators. It’s not always the scary man in the alleyway or even the college frat boy perpetrating the violence; in fact, in most cases, it isn’t.
That’s why I decided to apply to join the RAINN Speakers Bureau; sexual assault has many faces and stories like mine deserve to be told. As I was writing out the details of my story for the application, I felt shame and guilt washing over me. It was so bad that for months, I didn’t send it. I figured they’d probably silently question my credibility and my story, like so many others, and it wasn’t worth the risk.
Fortunately, I gathered the courage a few weeks ago to go to the post office and mail it off to the RAINN offices in Washington D.C. About a week later, I received an email from them, letting me know I was accepted into the bureau.
I was in shock. I couldn’t help but smile, knowing that RAINN had taken my story seriously and understood the importance of those like me, with atypical stories of sexual violence, being able to have our voices heard. I’m so grateful to them for allowing me to use their platform to speak out.
Now, I urge you to look for the stories of sexual violence and abuse that aren’t being told. Know that there are many who question weather their assault was really assault and feel that if they do tell their story, they won’t be believed, or will be judged. Know that they likely have told someone who has done just that.