I started writing this blog because despite being completely freaked out about being alone and a single mother, I knew that to everyone else I looked like I had it relatively together. People would comment constantly on how incredibly well I was doing and how great I looked and that of course I would rock this, just like I did everything else. And I'd smile and say thanks for the support and compliments and think to myself, "I can't even open a pickle jar." I wanted other women to know that it's okay to cry and feel alone and scared ALL the TIME and be a hot mess and they were still beautiful and whole and strong. And I have been so happy with myself for sharing and doing my part in the single mom world to "keep it real."
And now I'm writing this post because of a profoundly important hashtag, #YesAllWomen. I think that much of the backlash, and reason that people have such a difficult time comprehending that all women, yes ALL women, suffer from violence, and discrimmination, and harrassment, and fear, is because many of us walk around smiling, and strong, and beautiful, trying to get on with our lives despite the ugliness we've experienced. I am certainly one of these women.
I realize that the experiences I am writing about below are more extreme than most, and I pray and hope are not the norm. I also realize that by looking at me, you would never, EVER think that I once suffered from PTSD so badly as a result of being brutally attacked, that there were months where I would step into my walk-in closet to get dressed, and end up spending much of the day in there because it felt slightly safer than anywhere else.
When I was 14, I lived in Cape Verede off the coast of Africa. In the spring, there was a church retreat for the youth that I attended with the locals. On the last afternoon of the restreat, a boy I was sitting with tried to kiss me and I rejected him playfully but firmly. That evening as I was packing up alone in my room, the same boy I'd rejected and three or four of his friends came up from behind me and started hitting and kicking me as I quickly curled up in a ball to protect myself. I don't remember much after that, except that one of the woman who was attending the retreat as a chaperone ran into the room with a large knife and screamed for her husband who immediately came and scared them off.
The place where we were staying was far from the town we all lived in and there were no phones to call for someone and no way to get back. Luckily we were to leave the next day and just had to make it through the night before we all went home. It was a rough night however, I was extremely bruised and sore and of course traumatized, and the young men were extremely angry. The woman sat near me to watch me sleep, with her husband on the other side of the door, in case they came back. It was one of the worst nights of my life. I ended up leaving the island far earlier than planned and coming back to the states as soon as I was able to, unable to function very well for several months afterwards and needing my family.
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, "Compared to women who have not been assaulted, the odds of experiencing a new assault over a 2-year period were doubled for women with one assault, quadrupled for women with two assaults, and elevated ten-fold for women with three or more prior victimizations." I fall slightly outside of this prediction. I was assaulted again 3 1/2 years later when I was 17.
I was taking classes at a community college, and apparently I was very friendly and smiled a lot (imagine that) at a man in his mid-40's who was attending the literature class as well. He stalked me for months without my knowledge, until one day he was standing by my car and pushed me against it while he shoved his tongue down my throat. I screamed and somehow maneuvered away from him and ran to the security office next to the bookstore. I proceeded to explain what had happened but also that I was unsure if I'd done something to make him think I liked him (welcome to a 17-year-old's brain.) They said they would file a report, talk to him, and require him to drop the class we were both taking.
Several days later, I had just bought a smoothie and was walking next a large wall that surrounded pool the swim team used to practice. As I turned the corner, there he was, wild eyed and clearly angry. "How could you do this to me?!" he asked. "You stupid bitch I thought you loved me!" he yelled, as he started to choke me. I don't remember much else.
He was arrested within hours- apparently in his mind we'd had a relationship for months and were deeply in love and so when I'd gone to the campus police, he'd seen it as a huge betrayal. There had been four women before me who had pressed charges against this same man and then dropped them. So despite a previous history, he was released on bail until trial.
Fast forward several months. (Trials of this nature take a long time to prepare and are extremely tedious, apparently.) I'm a bouncy freshman at Stanford when I get back to my dorm room to find my R.A. and the campus police waiting for me. Security on campus had a description of him from the time I got there because of the situation, and so when he came looking for me they were alerted almost immediately. I spent the next two weeks of my freshman year in a safehouse, and the rest meeting with D.A.'s preparing for trial, while constantly looking over my shoulder despite the fact that he was incarcerated once he was finally found.
But despite healing physically from both of these incidents and moving on with my life, the scars are still there. They continue to define in many ways who I have become, despite my best efforts. I have spent periods of my life extraordinarily angry, or afraid, or depressed. I was ultimately diagnosed with PTSD when I was 24 by a therapist who specialized in victims like me and helped me figure out how to live the rest of my life with joy and relatively few side effects from all that I'd experienced.
It is important as a man, or woman, or anyone really, to realize that while #YesAllWomen feels like a huge generalization in some ways, the reality is that all women have the potential to be victims. And it is the safest route to assume that all women have been, because if I can walk around in the aftermath of my life with a smile on my face and a bounce in my step, then chances are there is at least one women in your life who does the same. And you, my friend, will never even know.