May, 2013. My palms sweat, my heart races. An infinite loop plays over and over again in my mind: “What if people blame me? What if they boo and hiss when I bring up this topic?” I’m in line with other people to ask Patrick Stewart a question, but I am really there to thank him. One thing burns inside me, drowning out all of my doubts: I have to thank him for giving me perspective on my own experience. I had finally been able to give it a name.
February, 2013. While surfing the web I find a video of Patrick Stewart at Amnesty International. He starts talking about his father. As he continues recounting the violence, his hands betray a tremor, his voice shakes. I see a reflection. He’s a survivor, a victim. I hear a word… “abuse”. I realized it was abuse – my partner had abused me, sexually and with threats. I felt hot tears run down my face. I hadn’t done anything “wrong”.
2012. I’m in college and the class discussion shifts. There is a statistic that 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted in their life time. Statistically up to 3 of us could have already been assaulted. I think about how I must not count in the category because it was someone I knew.
2011. I tell a friend I think I might have been raped, multiple times, by my past partner. She looks at me with disgust, tells me I’m making it up. I promise myself to never bring it up again.
2010. It doesn’t happen every time we have sex, but today he tells me he loves me as he forces himself on my body. He whispers how much I “want it” when I am silent, scared to move. If I bleed afterwards, he says it just means he’s impressive. Later he punches walls, smashes things, but never breaks eye contact with me. I apologize. I try to do anything to calm him down. I must have done something wrong.
2009. In my anatomy class a nurse comes in to give us the school’s approved “sex education” for a class. STDs and condoms are discussed. Sneering, she tells us the percentage of how many students will lose their virginity before leaving high school. She never talks about how many of us will be assaulted before we graduate, or what to do if we are.
2008. Rumors spread that a girl in my school was molested by someone on a sports team. The boy isn’t punished. He stays on the team. People start to say she was doing it for attention. “She must have wanted it.” “What was she wearing?” “She made it up.” They say she must have done something wrong.
2007. I just moved to a small town. Over the years I spent growing up there, the town was proud of saying it was one of the safest in the world. “Nothing bad ever happens here.” At the time, I believe it.
2005. My parents are screaming at each other. In the end, my mother begs for the topic to change, for him to stop yelling. She keeps apologizing. But he doesn’t, he keeps going. He says Mother didn’t do something right, that it’s always her fault. In the end she starts (and even I start) to believe it. She must have done something wrong.
2003. My favorite movies always have the princess being saved by the prince. I was learning from my school, my television shows, my friends, and all around me that being a girl was different from being a boy. That there were a set of unsaid rules I was supposed to follow. I couldn’t talk too loud, run too fast, or play too hard. If I did, I needed to apologize. If I was lucky, I might one day marry the man of my dreams and my partner would save me from myself. As long as I didn’t do anything “wrong”.
After the Patrick Stewart video and the tumblr post spread rapidly over the internet, I started to receive hundreds of messages in my inbox. At first I was terrified at being attacked. I thought I would be blamed for what had happened to me, like I had seen so many other women throughout my life be blamed for being abused. But instead I was receiving stories. They were written from all ages and genders. Some said they were finally realizing they were in an abusive situation, some were finally able to recognize their own abuse in their lives, some were finally seeking out the help they needed, some were sharing their own stories of abuse, and some were just thanking me. But it was them I was thanking.
I had gone years without knowing that what I had gone through had a name…abuse. I had always believed I was alone in my situation. But with the internet, I was able to gain perspective. I learned how anyone is capable of becoming the oppressor, or the oppressed. I learned that the internet can be just as threatening as the world in which we live in. But the most important thing I learned was that I wasn’t alone, and that we had the power to uplift one another. I gained a critical eye. I could now see the victim blaming, rape culture and other serious issues embedded within our society. That by listening and having compassion I was able to connect with others, and become stronger. I am still learning, still recovering, still fighting, but I became empowered, and I gained my voice.
Heather Skye is ……
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