Monday, October 1, 2018

I believe you

I'm sitting on my couch on the verge of tears. I've quietly sat and watched all the drama going on with Christine Blasey Ford and the Kavanaugh hearing. I've read articles about Diane Feinstein and her agenda. I've seen so many memes, and read so many heated opinions. I haven't spoken up because it hits too close to home. Because even though I know I have a story to tell, a story that is true, I know I'm probably going to be attacked and questioned, and my wounds reopened. For me this is not about politics. For me this is about believing and respecting women. That is what my tears are for. Because #metoo

I have been lucky. Incredibly lucky. I have dated boys who tried to take things farther than I was willing to go. I've received unwanted kisses. At times I was touched in areas, or found myself in situations that made me uncomfortable. And thankfully, those young men never took it further. I stood my ground and they backed off. I would never consider accusing any of them of sexual assault.

However, I still clearly remember a time when I was walking after school from the main campus to my driver's ed car. I was walking near the old swimming pool below campus. I was 15, had maybe kissed one boy (who didn't want to actually date me in part because I wouldn't let him feel me up, but also didn't force himself on me.), and was not conventionally, high school standard cute. I was taller than most girls, thicker than most girls, poorer than most girls, and definitely didn't share the same sense of style as the average sophomore. I actually remember what I was wearing, because I have questioned it many times in the decades since. I had on a white, long-sleeved v-neck shirt, black acid-washed knee-length cut-off denim shorts. I was wearing a purple felt fedora (It was 1992!) and a purple patterned fabric belt over the top of the waistband of my shorts. I had attempted this accessorizing after reading some random garbage young adult novel with a heroine known for her dramatic and unusual but incredibly stylish looks. She had paired a cummerbund over a t-shirt and the skirt of a prom dress and supposedly looked amazing in it. I attempted to do the same, though I wasn't bold enough to wear the skirt of a prom dress to school. Also, at that point, I had no prom dresses.

In hindsight, the shorts were probably too tight. I made them from a pair of jeans I bought a couple years prior and then cut off into shorts. Again, I was not built like the average 15 year old girl. While I look back at pictures of myself from that time and wish that I could be that "fat" now, the fact was I was always built more like a woman than a girl. And those shorts were probably riding a little high, and there was probably a bit of leg fat squishing out the bottoms rather than lying smoothly below my shorts. Not. That. It. Should. Matter. However, I have given this issue a lot of thought because as I walked along that spring afternoon, alone at the edge of the school parking lot, a car full of boys drove by, hooting and hollering and yelling, "SLUT!" I was the furthest thing from, I had done nothing wrong, and yet I still, 27 years later, wonder what I had done to make them call me that. I was scared and ashamed, and those feelings lingered.

The words we say matter.

I'm trying to find a way to share this without violating the privacy of those involved. It is my story, but not only my story. Someone very close to me was molested by someone also close to me. When the Victim told me what had happened, my world shattered. Time stopped. I saw my ecclesiastical leader. I saw a therapist. I had to call 3 different police stations before I finally spoke to the right one. (For the record, if you find yourself in this situation, you have to call the station where it happened, not where either the victim or the abuser lives. And CPS has nothing to do with it. And even the police stations don't know the correct protocol.) Each call was harder than the last, but I had to keep making them because the therapist gently told me that as a mandatory reporter, she would have to follow up with the police in 48 hours and if I hadn't yet made the call, I would be under suspicion, too. I can't even remember how many people I spoke to in this process, telling the same brutal story, but I do have their names written down in a file I keep, just in case. Everything was resolved as well as it could be. The Abuser received treatment. The Victim has healed.

But the worst part for me was when my story wasn't believed. There were certain people I was morally obligated to share it with and one who had a stake in both the Victim and the Abuser's lives immediately took the part of the Abuser. "You have to stop talking to people about this. We don't know the whole story yet. We can't ruin his life over something that may not be true."

And here I paused in my writing to sob. I am honestly shocked that just typing these words would break me down like it has. I'm now typing again through my tears, because even though I have forgiven the Abuser, there is still an only partially healed hole the Disbeliever ripped in my heart. He has apologized and we have moved forward, but it still hurts. It is still raw, and every time I read a glib post on Facebook discrediting a woman's experience, usually from someone I have loved and respected in the past, it bleeds a little more. We have to believe the Victims. Those who come forward do so through fear, and shame. And just because you don't feel like what happened to them matters, or matters enough to you, or you think there is some hidden agenda in their words, their words matter!

It matters to the abuser, too. In my case, this was not an isolated incident for the Abuser. He was on a path to total self destruction. Because I stopped him, others were saved. Because I stopped him, he was saved. And as his treatment moved forward, it came to light that he, too, was a Victim, and he was actually able to get the help he needed to deal with that trauma. I am glad. That said, if I were ever to hear that he was placing himself in a potentially compromising position again, I would not hesitate to act and make heretofore private information public.

I saw a post recently that said something to the effect of "Now boys will have to carefully document everything they do from their teenage years so they don't get falsely accused of something." Would that it be so bad for boys to document their behavior? If boys had to be as careful as girls, would that be the end of the world? And how many of the accusations are actually false? I welcome a world where every person watches their words and actions, not because they are scared, but because they respect those around them. Because they value the futures of girls as well as boys. As a mother of four daughters, of course I feel very strongly the need to love and protect and respect and believe our girls. But I also want them to be surrounded by good boys! Boys who love and respect and protect and believe, and are loved, respected, protected and believed because they deserve it, not just because they happen to have a set of XY chromosomes.