One Woman's Experience with Sexual Assault AKA Growing up an American Girl
By Kelly O’Shea (Guest Blogger)
In light of recent political events, I’ve been thinking a lot about why it is so hard for women to come forward and share their sexual assault stories.
In thinking about the American women I know, there’s few who haven’t at some point been afraid of a man or been exposed to sexual assault in some form. We share stories behind closed doors, but what could happen if we shed the shame and start speaking up?
So in solidarity with the women in my life, I decided to share a handful of my experiences. Out loud and without apologies.
I was only eleven years old the first time I was sexually assaulted.
There I was – glasses and frizzy hair wearing my black leggings and over-sized t-shirt, which was all the rage in the early 90s. I was standing in line, waiting for my middle school doors to open, and someone grabbed my left buttock so hard that I felt my assaulter’s hand on me the rest of the day. His fingers went right up my crack. I didn’t know who he was or what he looked like… because I was too terrified to turn around and face him. All I could hear was his laughter.
At that age, boys were foreign – I largely only spoke to girls. I felt shame the rest of the day, and I felt like everyone in school knew what happened. I didn’t tell my teachers, parents or friends – I was too embarrassed. I felt like it was my fault.
Fast forward to college…
and I’m a university student in my second semester of my junior year. I had tons of ambition and knew I wanted to go into medicine. I was on the right track with top notch grades and a major of biochemistry. It all came to a crashing halt one spring night.
I’d been up late studying for a biology test and was exhausted. I fell asleep with the light on over my bed, which was next to the (cracked open) window on my ground floor apartment that overlooked a field. My apartment was actually sunk into the ground so my bed and window were on the same level.
I woke up foggy to someone standing over me (through the window) saying “touch, touch me” and groaning.
I woke up foggy to someone standing over me (through the window) saying “touch, touch me” and groaning. Confused, I sleepily called out “Barrett?”, the name of my best friend who would knock on my window when I didn’t hear the doorbell. “Touch me,” the voice said again. Fight-or-flight kicked in, and I jumped out of bed while screaming for my roommate to call 911.
The police got on the phone with me and said they would circle my neighborhood before coming to my door. After what seemed like a lifetime, the police came over and said they had caught the creep. He was in the neighborhood elementary school’s playground with his pants around his ankles. I assume he was trying to finish what he has started while staring at me sleeping. They took me to the playground to identify him.
There he was: drunk, tall, mid-20s white guy. He looked like he could have been any one of my buddies. I’d never been so scared in my life – because the aftermath was actually worse than the incident.
“What were you wearing when it happened?” asked the police.
“What were you wearing when it happened?” asked the police. I was wearing flannel pajama bottoms and a t-shirt that I was still standing in. What the hell does it matter what I was wearing? Would it have been ok for him to do this if I had been in a different outfit???
Inside I was seething. My assaulter was quoted in the police report as saying, “what was the harm?” He claimed that he wasn’t going to hurt me and all he wanted to do was “see some tits.”
After that night I couldn’t sleep – nightmares tortured me. I’d stay up until it was light out because it was the only time I felt safe. I failed an 8 am class that had required attendance – even after I told my professor what happened and begged for an incomplete rather than fail. She had just had a new baby so if she could make it to class, why couldn’t I?
I went home that summer and still didn’t feel safe. Two states over, I was still suffering nightmares at my parent’s house. I went to a clinical psychologist where I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and underwent psychotherapy so I could sleep normally again. I took a semester off from school to attend a local community college, and I retroactively erased that semester to avoid tarnishing my GPA.
Eventually, I went back to my university. When I attended medical school interviews, I was terrified they’d ask what happened that semester. I felt shame. I felt like I was the idiot for sleeping with my window cracked open, and I was ridiculous for being afraid to sleep.
I always wonder if my assaulter ever reflected on the incident? Did he realize how much damage he inflicted on me and my loved ones – all to “see some tits”?
Did he realize how much damage he inflicted on me and my loved ones – all to “see some tits”?
Since then, I’ve encountered drunken genital grabs at bars, “locker room” talk and my fair share of hateful online dating text messages from entitled young men who simply hate hearing the word “no thanks” from a woman.
I even had one online dating encounter where the guy started masturbating during our first phone call. Needless to say, it was our last interaction. And just last week, I was walking down X street when a strange guy in a mini-van pulled over to lure me into his car.
We can do better. We must do better.
The craziest part in all of this is that my stories aren’t in the vanguard – ask around, and you’ll quickly realize how normal this sort of behavior is for most women.
Let that sink in.
I’m in my mid-thirties and I’m so tired, sad and angry how women are treated as objects. I’m mystified how the leaders of this country can excuse this kind of behavior.
Maybe this story will help others find the courage to share theirs. Maybe one guy will think twice before doing a random ass grab. Maybe one day women will have the same respect as men, and no one will have to worry about living in a ground floor apartment.
Until then, it’s important that we speak up. Perhaps the ONLY silver lining to Trump’s entire candidacy is that it’s reminding America that even in 2016, we have major issues in the way we think about, speak of and treat women. We can do better. We must do better.