I’m going to write something that is not easy to read. I’m going to talk about things that may trigger you. I’ve written about this before, but it’s important enough that I write about it again. Today, I’m going to write about assault and safety.
My own history with sexual assault is a relatively short one. I was 15 before I had my first experience. I had never been kissed, and had never had a boyfriend. I was painfully shy and awkward. An attractive older boy showed an interest in me and I let him lead me away from my group of friends. Alone and cornered, I was confused about what was happening. I was scared. By the time I whispered “No, stop”, he had already had his hand in my pants. Eventually someone walked by and he stopped. He thought what had happened had been consensual. He thought I was his girlfriend. When I avoided him afterwards, he told everyone that I was a tease and a slut. We crossed paths again in University. He was best friends with a 4th year and was at a lot of the program events. Luckily, I had fantastic friends who had my back and helped me avoid him.
The next time it happened, I was 17. I was asleep on a train, wedged between my nephew, my sister and my nephew’s friend. I woke to my nephew’s friend touching me with his foot. I rolled away, I pushed his foot and I silently cried but he didn’t stop. I didn’t want to bring attention to what was happening because I felt a deep shame. What had I done to make him think it was ok? I didn’t want my sister to see. Afterwards, when I talked about it, I was told by my nephew and his friends that I should just get over it. I confronted the boy and when he spoke to my nephew next, my nephew assured him that he would remain his friend. On several occasions this guy was invited to group events and I was told to deal or leave (This was out of province, while I visited family. This boy was invited into my hotel by my nephew).
The next time, I was 18. I was walking from my work ( a hotel downtown) to the nearby shopping center to meet my friends. It was the middle of the day, through a busy public park. A man grabbed me and forced me to sit with him. For half an hour, he kept me there. I froze, once again. I tried to be polite and end the confrontation without injury. He was in his 50s, I think. He was mentally unwell and was physically much bigger than me. He had decided I was his new girlfriend and that I had to come home with him to meet his mother. He talked about what he would do to me, what our children would look like, how I wouldn’t have to work another day. I managed to call my friends for help, but they didn’t come. They felt the situation was too awkward and I didn’t seem to be in distress. They stood on a nearby bridge and watched. Eventually I was able to walk away and join my friends with the promise of meeting this man the following day. My friends asked me why I didn’t cry for help. I told them I didn’t know.
The next time it happened, I was 23 and with a co-worker. He was a much older native man, who had invited me over to talk about his faith and practices. Our co-workers knew I was with him, and I didn’t know I was going to his house – I thought we were going somewhere public. He knew that I had been assaulted in the past – It had come up during a discussion in a Kumik ritual. He showed me the weapons he had, and then touched me under the guise of being part of a ritual. He told me that i had caused all of my assaults, that I needed to be punished for being too beautiful and too desirable. It was my fault and would keep happening. Eventually I was able to talk my way out of the situation and went home. I lied to my boyfriend (now husband) about what had happened and I never reported this. The man told me he would kill my boyfriend if he ever showed up at his door. I fell into a deep depression, stopped showing up for work and lost my job. I lost a few friendships as a result of my depressive state.
The next time it happened, I was 26. I was riding the bus to work. An older man sat beside me and invaded my personal space. He rubbed against me and touched me. I told him loudly to stop. He ignored me. I got louder. He got off at the next stop. I have since seen him again and reported him to the bus driver. I reported this incident to the police.
The next time it happened, I was 28 and pregnant. I was waiting at the bus stop across from the college where I worked. A man approached me and asked me questions about the college, after asking me for the time. He turned the conversation to me, asking where I worked, where I lived, what I did for fun. Because I was still on school property, I was polite but firm. I refused to tell him what department I worked in, what exactly I did or where I lived. He tried to follow me on to a bus, but I tricked him and caught a different one instead. The next day he showed up in my office. I reported this to my supervisor, manager and security.
The next time it happened, I was 29 and a new mom. I was running out to get groceries and to Shoppers to get some Advil for my teething baby. I saw a man in the Metro parking lot. I registered it, but couldn’t tell why it was bugging me. I drove to Shoppers and checked the parking lot before getting out. Upon returning to my car, I found him sitting in his car watching me. He followed me for 10 minutes. I went into a blind panic. I had forgotten my cellphone at home. I didn’t know what to do. Eventually I lost him and returned home sobbing and shaking.
Statistics Canada has found that one in four girls and one in eight boys have been sexually abused by the time they are eighteen. My experiences aren’t rare. This sort of thing happens all the time. These experiences have shaped the relationships I have. It shapes the way I interact with the people around me, both known and strangers.
What can we do about this? We need to raise our sons better. We need to raise them not rape and assault. We need to teach them to respect women. We need to raise our daughters to use their voices and to have no shame in setting limits. We need to stop blaming the victims. It is NEVER the victim’s fault. It doesn’t matter what they were wearing or where they were wearing it.
I was raised to be quiet and accommodating. I don’t blame my parents, but I know that it had an impact on my reactions. My parents outright refused to talk to me about sex. Ever. It’s important to talk to your kids – to start the conversation about healthy sexuality, about respecting your own limits and not being ashamed of them. They never knew about what happened to me because I didn’t feel like it was an appropriate conversation to have with them.
My sister in law, Beth, just wrote and posted this amazing poem about sexual assault to her blog. Read it, and see the message there. My sister in law, Rachel, wrote this great piece on female strength which is also worth a read. I keep meaning to take a self defense course, but have had a hard time finding the time or the money. It is such a great idea for everyone to do. I can’t recommend it enough. You can teach your body to react instinctively to protect yourself.
I’m not sure what’s going on in Ottawa, but I have definitely noticed an increase in assaults in the news. It may be that they are getting reported more often now, or perhaps it is just something that the news is focusing on. Whatever it is, these things keep happening. We need to start talking about it. We need to raise awareness.
Today, two volunteer female police officers are coming to my home as part if a project here in my part of Ottawa. A few weeks ago Pat and I noticed that someone had broken into our garage. A month or two before that, I had foiled an attempt at a break in when I caught a guy in our backyard, looking at our windows and back door. We reported both incidents and as a result we were approached by this program to discuss making our home as secure as possible. This is the first time in my life that i have felt unsafe in my neighbourhood. Feeling insecure in my home is a trigger for me, as you can imagine, so I look forward to this appointment. It’s a step for me – a step in my journey to healing. I will not be a victim again.