Saturday, June 7, 2014

Ask Me About the Time I Was Assaulted

As many of you know from seeing the #YesAllWomen hashtag on social media, women across the nation and in other countries have turned the UCSB tragedy into an opportunity to spread awareness about sexism and sexual assault in our society today. I participated in this, and you can read my thoughts on the matter here. Some women even took huge risks and shared publicly their own personal experiences with harassment. These women willingly opened themselves up to reliving traumatic life events. Many of them have and will be ridiculed for their voluntary vulnerability. I ask those of you reading this to treat these women with the respect they deserve and to be understanding of their struggles and emotions as they choose to share a part of their lives they are not obligated to share with anyone. I admire them so much and I thank them for their bravery.

Because yes. All women live in fear of men. All women have been told their bodies are an object and a temptation. All women have been blamed for men's shortcomings. All women have experienced sexual harassment. Some women might not be aware that they have.

I am one of these women. For years, I blamed myself. I truly believed it was my fault and so did everyone else. I avoided talking about it for so long because all I could feel was guilt and self-hatred. It wasn't until almost exactly two years ago when I met someone who truly cared about me that I was able to open up. This person helped me to realize my worth and to understand I am not broken. He taught me how to be real and vulnerable and how to trust again. Because of him, I know now it was not my fault.

Being able to talk openly about the time I was sexually assaulted has helped me to deal with it in a healthy way. However, that doesn't make it easy. Please understand how much it's taken for me to get to this point where I can write publicly about these events. I'm going to be sharing intimate details here, and if you cannot continuing reading, that's okay. It might be very triggering for some of you, so please be sure to put your own emotional health first and stop reading now if you are unsure how it might affect you. But if you're still with me, I just ask that you be as understanding as possible, and be respectful of me and my experiences.

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I was fourteen years old. I was a freshman in high school and dealing with a lot of confusing emotions, as well as severe body image issues. At this time in my life, I was also not getting along well with my parents, as it was the first time we had lived together without my brother around. He had left for college in August and I was struggling with the adjustment of him not being home. I had no close friends and had recently dealt with rejection from a boy I thought I was in love with. I say all of this to paint a picture of basically: I was a typical teenage girl and life sucked.

I've never been someone that naturally emotes well, so instead of talking through my problems, I chose to lash out and rebel against humanity. Mostly my parents. I would do pretty much the exact opposite of whatever they told me to do in an effort to somehow assert my agency and individuality. Oh, teenagers.

A friend of mine's brother had recently returned home from a mission for the Church of Jesus of Latter-Day Saints, better known as the Mormon church. I don't remember how or why (and I'd rather not), but he began texting and messaging me. He flirted with me. I reveled in the attention. An older man thought I was pretty. I was actually good enough for someone.

He propositioned me for a hook up of sorts. In rebellion of my parents and everything I thought I knew, I made a mistake I wish every day I could take back. I said yes. He responded with surprise, but still agreed to meeting me. He came to my home and picked me up to attend a local musical. After the show, we went back to his car. What happened after that is very difficult for me to write and I'm filled with embarrassment, but I need to say this.

We made out. I had never kissed a boy besides my brother before this. I didn't know what I was doing. I was scared and the whole time I was just thinking how stupid he must think I am. I'm inexperienced and not making him happy. I thought I owed him pleasure.

He pressured me into touching his genitals. I had never seen a penis before, let alone touched one. At this point, I was so incredibly uncomfortable, it was cloying. I felt like I couldn't breathe. He undressed me and fondled my chest. I knew right away I did not like that at all but I couldn't say anything because I was afraid of upsetting him.

The worst part was when he reached his hand between my legs. I barely understood my own body at this point, being a fourteen year old who hadn't even had her period for a year yet. And here was a man touching my vagina without my permission. I sat there frozen, shocked into a stupor. I had no idea how to respond. A part of me was still clinging to the attention I was receiving from a man--any man--so I thought maybe I liked it and was just afraid because I had never done anything like this before. But deep down, I knew this was wrong and I didn't want to do it again.

Eventually, he took me home. Before he let me out of the car, he made me promise something.

"You're not gonna go tattling to anybody, are you?"

All the confidence I had in myself went out the window in that moment. With one question, he reduced be back to the pubescent teenage girl I was. Someone who would tattle. That was the last thing on earth I wanted to be: a little baby who tattles to her mommy. There was no way. I wasn't going to tell anyone. I was going to prove to him I wasn't some little girl. I was mature and important and trustworthy. I still had value.

I lived with my secret for four months. I started to feel worse and worse about myself. Someone had touched me. I wasn't "pure" anymore. Who in the world would want me? No one. That's who. I wasn't worthy of love. I wasn't worthy of affection. I wasn't worthy of the attention I craved anymore. And if no man would ever want me, then I must not be worth anything. I truly believed that. That's how so many Mormon and Christian girls grow up feeling because we're taught this false dichotomy that staying chaste is equivalent to keeping our individual worth. And if we make one mistake, one slip up....it's all over. We can never be forgiven for throwing away our virtue.

I finally broke down and told my bishop during a temple interview. He was very kind about the whole thing. But no bishop is perfect and I think he just didn't know how to handle the situation. I still blamed myself, so he assumed I was indeed to blame. He said I needed to go two months without partaking of the bread and water or participating in church activities. He encouraged me to tell my parents, so I did. They handled it much better than I expected. They were loving and kind and supported me through it all. I am forever grateful for that.

Unfortunately, the entire experience did nothing but further solidify in my mind the idea that it was my fault. The "repentance process" wasn't helpful; it was hurtful. I was being punished for a twenty-one year old man taking advantage of an extremely vulnerable and emotional fourteen year old girl. An underage girl. Below the legal age of consent. He NEVER should have touched me. It doesn't matter if I had literally thrown myself on him. He never should have touched me because I was fucking fourteen.

Three years I spent hating myself. Thinking I was less than all the girls at church. Believing I would never get a boyfriend or get married because I was damaged goods. I just thank my God in Heaven I met the man who changed my life around when I did; otherwise I might very well still be in that hole of self-loathing.

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I am sharing this now because it is something everyone should know. You need to be aware that this happens every day. What I went through is not abnormal. Every woman you know has experienced something similar. And it's not okay.

I'm so grateful for the brave men and women in my life that still value and love me. Because of them, I am able to talk about this and hopefully I will impact someone else's life. If I can do that, maybe then we have a shot at making a difference. Maybe we can save one woman from having to go through what I did. Maybe we can stop it from ever happening again.

And maybe someday I won't feel the need to convince you, and myself, that I still have worth.

22 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. It's very brave of you to come out and share your experiences, especially after witnessing some of the harassment other women have received for participating in #YesAllWomen. It's good for those of us who grew up LDS to be constantly reminded that rape culture still exists in the church. I myself have made the mistake of believing that certain men (or women, though not in the same context) are more trustworthy just because they are Mormon. But we need to be aware that predators exist everywhere, as well as harmful aspects of rape culture that lead victims to believe that they are at fault or have sinned when they were sexually assaulted.

    And you have tons of worth. If you need to assert it to feel it, then go ahead and do it. Self care is the best care!

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  2. Keli, I applaud your courage for sharing a very private, emotional and traumatic experience so that others may also find comfort and perspective in reading this and as a result seek help or advice from someone that they trust. That could not have been an easy post to write. You are right about the fact that many women have been exploited, manipulated and molested at a young and vulnerable age (even younger than yourself if you can believe that) by those who should have protected them and who the girls should have had every reason to trust. Your need to feel beautiful and loved and wanted as a woman is not something dirty or to be ashamed of. We all felt that way at that age. Unfortunately, at 14, being so inexperienced and naïve (as you should be at that age) you aren't emotionally equipped to deal with the assault on all fronts when an attractive older man attempts to seduce you. What he did was wrong and I am so happy that you have decided to let go of the shame and self loathing. You can feel proud of the fact that you are using your experience to help others and moving past this. Thank you for sharing. Melissa

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  3. Wow, you are incredible and brave for sharing your story. Stories like this one really upset me and make me angry. I just wish there was something I could do to help change the world so this wouldn't happen to so many young women who are so ill-equipped for situations like this. It's so unfair. Here's to you for sharing your story and trying to make the world a better place. I wish I could hear the rest of the story and find out what happened to the douchebag who did that to you. He's probably a bishop or something. Yuck.

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  4. Blaming Your Problems On Others Will Never Change The Fact That You Are A Slut!!!

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    1. Ohhh is that what it is? Apologies. Thank you for explaining. Now I know that being raped and assaulted makes me a slut.

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    2. Being taken advantage of and being raped/sexually assaulted are two different things. Horrible things, but different things. You keep throwing different words around to describe this, and I may be wrong, but you never once mentioned if you said "no" or not. I wouldn't exactly call it rape if he is not aware that you didn't want to be intimate. You even said it yourself, "a twenty-one year old man taking advantage of an extremely vulnerable and emotional fourteen year old girl". It is terrible, he should have known better, but it isn't the same thing.

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    3. Meghan couldn't have said it better.

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    4. Meghan could have said it a lot better. But thanks for opening up the door for all the rapists and pervs out there. Hear that, freaks? If they don't say no, it's all good!

      There's a thousand and one reasons a woman or particularly a girl might not be or feel capable of saying "no". This besides the fact that it was illegal for him to touch her in the first place. By law, it's a sexual assault. And silence is no more consent than "no".

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  5. It sounds like you had a bad sexual experience. You didn't say know. You went with him to a music festival. You kissed him. Things progressed. How is this rape again?

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    1. Statutory, fuckwit. Get a better grasp of the English language before displaying you ignorance. Hopefully you don't have to figure this out when your own daughter opens up. Or will you cooly inform her that because she didn't say "no", it's her fault, too?

      Unbelievable.

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  6. Okay, you know, I'm trying to be sensitive here. Fact is, yes, he did take advantage of you. But I'm just reeling, because you agreed to a hookup, which comes with its expectations. You didn't say no. He "pressured you" into touching him, and you did. Did he threaten you? Force himself on top of you after you showed a lack of consent?

    You're a victim of sexual assualt, yes, especially considering that he was at least 21. That sucks.

    But.

    If this same situation happened, but the other guy was your age, would we be having the same conversation? I understand that it sucked, and that it's unfair that it happened, and that it's not entirely your fault, but these are very fine, gray lines and --well, lashing out at the church -- it seems like misplaced anger. If you approached your bishop all like, "I touched him" instead of "he pressured me, he forced himself on me," etc, then you also have nobody to blame but yourself when he suggested that you go through a repentance process.

    This whole situation just sucks, and to be honest, you're on shaky footing. And your stance just exacerbates the problem.

    And now, in another published online article (featured on Cosmopolitan), you're advocating the BYU students should have sex. I'm shaking my head in confusion.

    The outcome for you at BYU is seriously not looking so bright. There is such a thing as the honor code -- you don't agree to it, then don't sign the piece of paper that says you agree to it. Transfer elsewhere if you must. But I'm just flabbergasted that you're putting so much time and energy into making yourself up as a victim (which, admittedly, to a degree you are, yes), and the church as the oppressor, but hun -- not everything is so black and white. I suggest thinking about this long and hard, because it aint settling well with me.

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    1. You said it all. Agree!

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    2. She was 14! What is wrong with you? Most 14 year old girls don't understand what a "hookup" is to a 21 year old male. I wouldn't be surprised if she expected to hold hands and kiss a bit. She doesn't have to freaking say no! She has to say yes.

      How could she say 'no' to him? As far as she knew, he was the only man who had ever or would ever pay attention to her. He was bigger and stronger than her. What if she said 'no'? Would he hurt her? Would he go ahead anyway? Would he throw her on the street and tell her no one would ever love her? She was a 14 year old girl who was looking to be accepted and he was a 21 year old man who was looking to find someone who wouldn't tattle.

      Nobody said either of them was being rational. What he did was illegal and wrong. She was told to not tell anyone. There was guilt and shame from the way she had been taught about sex, she had never been taught about assault or rape and had never been told that it isn't shameful to go for help after what happened to her. As far as she knew, it was her fault. Good girls don't let themselves get touched like that. She had never been told that sometimes, really bad crap happens to people and it's not their fault, it sucks and they still have major emotional (and sometimes physical) consequences, but it's not their fault.

      So what if they had been the same age? A lack of 'no' is not a 'yes' for anybody who doesn't understand consent, they should watch this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TD2EooMhqRI)

      There is no 'but' in your argument. She was assaulted and that sucks, no 'but' here. Idiot jerks like you perpetuate the victim shaming that plagues our society, that tells you girls that it is their fault, that accepts what men do because 'boys will be boys', and that accepts the daily harassment of women.

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    3. If you're going to take the word of the media (Cosmopolitan, no less), than you're in for a long drive in the dark.

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  7. The National Center for Victims of Crime states:[6]

    “ Sexual assault takes many forms including attacks such as rape or attempted rape, as well as any unwanted sexual contact or threats. Usually a sexual assault occurs when someone touches any part of another person's body in a sexual way, even through clothes, without that person's consent."

    It doesn't seem like it was sexual assult even because you stated that you may have even liked it. Also just because he was a return missionary doesn't mean that he is a perfect representation of the church, he is still a human and is definantly going to make mistakes. This may have been one of the worst mistakes he's made because he should have known better. All that being said, I'm sorry that you had to go through this ordeal and it was brave of you to share it with everyone

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    1. You seemed to have missed the "without consent" part. I'm sure your memory will be flawless, though, when it's someone close to you getting violated.

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  8. Isn't there some kind of happy medium between "what happened when I was 14 was all my fault and it made me worthless" and "what happened when I was 14 was not at all my fault and sex has no consequences?"

    Anyone who says "one slip up and it's all over" is dead wrong. Denying forgiveness is denying the power of the atonement. Jesus' advice was never, "you're worthless," but always "go thy way and sin no more."

    The repentance process can be painful for a time, but it shouldn't be painful forever. Finding the right amount of pressure to put on yourself is a tough balance. From reading your story, I do think some responsibility should fall on you for "throwing yourself at him," but obviously a 21-year old taking advantage of a 14-year old is wrong.

    But this is now years past and I worry that these huge swings between "it's 100% my fault and I've been destroyed" to "it's 100% his fault" have left you still pretty unsettled about the whole event.

    I'm no therapist, but I think taking a small percentage of the responsibility can be empowering. From what I've read here, I think saying to yourself that "I made some bad choices that lead to me being taking advantage of by a much older man" will be healthier for you than to try to burry the episode.

    Whatever you have done before now, I hope that you can find the things moving forward that will bring you a peaceful life.

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    1. "I'm no therapist, but I think taking a small percentage of the responsibility can be empowering."

      Well, I am (at least in training). Also go to BYU. Very much Mormon. Also single. Also a feminist. And very much disagree and am mildly horrified by a number of her stances and beliefs. I think many of them as partially reactive to her experience and some of the behaviors that she's alluded to are unhealthy.

      But one thing I do know is this is very much assault and "taking some responsibility" of assault is not empowering. In fact it can be damaging. Most people assume that sexual assault/rape follows some set proscription of behavior....like saying no or fighting. Most of them happen within a "gray zone" of sorts. But this is pretty classic assault of a minor and not only was this his mistake but he could (and should) have been prosecuted for it.

      Pointing out what she could have done ignores the amazing amount of differences in power dynamics. She was 14, and though obviously exploring her own personal bounds with sexuality (ie. masturbation), grew up in a setting that a sense of sexual boundaries and capacities to say no were not definitive. She did not feel she had the capacity to say no and wanted to please the other individual who was an adult and knew (obviously) very much what he was doing....and knew exactly how very bad this was (he was covering his tracks). If the perpetrator was a teen it would still be sexual assault (just not as likely prosecuted), because the touch was unwanted.

      The only thing I would hope she'd "take responsibility" for is to learn ways to avoid situations like this and being empowered to say no as well as learning what is and isn't needed to repent of. Repentance was unnecessary for her only him....though she was in definite need at the time (and probably still is) of the atonement for healing from abuse. And that's exactly what it is. Her only fault was having a moment of rebellion and choosing a guy too old for her to flirt with. That doesn't warrant what she received in the least. Flirtation does not equal sex. Not in the least.

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    2. If he could and should have been prosecuted for it, are you saying Keli should be prosecuted for the sexual assaults she herself has committed?

      Also, she went, after agreeing to hook up. She knew intimate behavior would be involved. He probably was expecting far more than she was, but the point still stands she agreed to intimate behavior. Did she deserve what she got? Heck no! But she did place herself in a situation where she knew intimacy to some level was going to happen. I'm sure her parents taught her to avoid such situations to protect herself, seeing as how she says she went in order to be rebellious. She COULD have prevented the assualt from happening by never being there. She AGREED to an intimate incounter. That means something different to a 20 year old than a 14 year old. He still took advantage of her, I'd say he still assaulted her. But he might not have realized she didn't want it till after his hormones cooled down. After all, she agreed to come and "hook up" which to many 20 year olds means sex. He shouldn't have done it, but he thought she'd agreed to it. It was still wrong, but Keli does hold some part in agreeing to hook up, and allowing herself to be in a situation when she knew it was wrong. If everything was consentual, it would still be wrong. A 20 something year old and a 14 year old shouldn't be hooking up. It can quite literally be against the law. Keli put herself in the situation to spite her parents and what she was taught, and then trusted a horny 20 something to not push beyond her 14 year old limits. It would be great if he hadn't gone further and taken advantage of her, and thats all on him, as is inviting her out. But she did say yes. She agreed to hook up. And she never said no. How was he to know she'd changed her mind?

      Take responsibility for the small part you played in agreeing to hook up with an older man. It's not so cut and dry as you think. Yes, you were abused. But you made some pretty bad choices too. Thats probably why the bishop chose to take the sacrament away. You chose to go hook up with an older man. What happened beyond that wasn't your fault. But you chose to experiment with your sexuality with him. You've got to take responsibility for that.

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  9. You agreed to go! No one forced you to say yes to him. You said you did everything against your parents. Dont speak for other girls being harrassed speak for your own self! You did not stop him from touching you n he probably thought you liked it. Yes you were under aged but no one forced you. Disnt even tell him not to touch you like this or like that which he probably thought you liked it. Dont blame other people. Move on! Grow up! There is room for forgiveness unlike what you said in last sentence of paragraph 3 or 4. OMGosh

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  10. Shame on all of your comments. I would hardly think you would be this harsh to your 14 year old sister.

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