No longer avoiding a secret subject

Trigger warning – reference to sexual assault

I’ve been thinking about how I’ve never talked about being sexual assaulted. Shame kept me quiet, as if I should have known better than to put myself in both situations. It’s on my mind after watching She Said, a movie that left me feeling empowered by the women who came forward with the truth. In 2017, New Times reporters, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey wrote a piece revealing accounts of women who had been sexually abused by Harvey Weinstein. After the article 82 more women came forward with their own allegations against Weinstein. The women had waited years to be heard and validated. 

I have lived with the secret of sexual assault for 40 years. There won’t be any justice served for my perpetrators. One is no longer living.
“We have been discouraged from writing about it because it makes people uncomfortable. Because a patriarchal society wants its victims to be silent. Because shame is an effective method of silencing.” Melissa Febos, Body Work

I was twenty when my cousin fourteen years my elder, a counselor, invited me over with the pretense of offering me comfort. My long-term boyfriend and I had broken up. On his couch, he offered me condolences while rubbing my back. That’s my last conscience memory before pulling my pants back on and leaving. Many years later an ex-girlfriend of his told me she had been sexually abused by him and that he was very sick sexually. I’m sure in his case there are others. 

It’s typical to not remember, to dissociate during any traumatic event. Glennon Doyle and Sarah Polley discuss this in the March 1. 2023 episode of We Can Do Hard Things. Sarah Polley wrote and directed Women Talking. It’s very well done.

Ironically, eight years later, that cousin’s sister introduced me to her out of town friend while out at a local restaurant bar. By the end of the evening, he extended an invitation to dinner. I beat myself up for saying yes, I wasn’t that comfortable with him. The next night while my parents watched my daughter, he took me to the nicest restaurant in town. Of course, when he took me home, he offered to see me in. It was quick and furious, and he was out the door. 

I was in shock after both incidences, never spoke to anyone about it. I locked the trauma away sometimes drinking to numb the horror when I would remember the incidences. I lost trust in myself; I hadn’t paid attention to my intuition. Melancholy loomed like a cloud. 

Hearing others speak out in reported pieces, movies, books, etc. has given me courage to do the same. It helps me understand I am not to blame. I have suffered and I have recovered. 

“What I have observed is that avoiding a secret subject can be its own kind of bondage.” Melissa Febos, Body Work