Sarah – “I want to use my voice to tell sexual assault survivors that they are believed.”

Sarah – “I want to use my voice to tell sexual assault survivors that they are believed.”

 

 

S: I grew up in a very different household than most children. My mother was very, very sick most of my life and she ended up passing away when I was 14. My dad worked crazy hours, mostly because of my mom’s and of course, he was worried about health insurance and all of the costs. It was a terrible ride. I definitely wasn’t very socialized, but I was very smart and spent a lot of time reading and doing quiet things like that. I spent a lot of time alone.

We got our first computer when I was 6 or 7 and I was online a lot of exploring, unsupervised. When I was 11 or 12, I started using teen chat rooms on sites like AOL. When I look back, I can’t believe how naive I was. Parents should not be letting their kids do this. But no one was “letting” me. My little sister was usually the focus of attention and because I was just older, I was left to my own fun. I had way too much time alone, no supervision, and even though there were so many big red flags, I had no idea what the risks were.

I started developing at around 12 or 13. By 13 I was much more developed than most of the girls. They didn’t like me very much. The boys did, but they weren’t very nice about it. To them, I was just kind of a toy. Something to do, or something exciting. But I knew that I was smarter and more mature than them because I couldn’t talk to them. I preferred to talk online, and looking back, maybe it was because someone had to talk to me without looking at me.

I met a boy named Kevin who told me he was 13 and said he was from Arizona. We talked for about a year to a year and a half and things got intense, I trusted him. I wouldn’t say he was my boyfriend but he was the first person who talked me into doing things I’d never done. He was the first person I ever showed my boobs.  He was the first guy that taught me how to masturbate. He was charming and told me everything  I wanted to hear.

Eventually, I did give him my address and telephone number and he would call me all the time. At that time my mom was getting sicker and he would talk to me about that too. Because we were online, he had to talk to me, he had to ask me for things about myself, so I felt like he was interested in me.

I got caught sending him pictures of myself, my body. My parents didn’t exactly sit down and explain things to me. Instead, they said “You shouldn’t be doing this. You don’t know who this is. You don’t want to be a slut.” Eventually, he just disappeared and I never knew why. It broke my heart.

I found out years later that he was not 13, he was a grown man and I was a victim of a pedophile. I was so embarrassed and felt so stupid that I wasn’t able to tell anyone.

When I was 19 and in college, I had a friend who was a year older than me. She was always involved in bad relationships and other kinds of trouble. I was living at home and we would sneak out together. One night she picked me up and said we were going to hang out with a guy she really liked. It was no big deal, nothing different than any other night.

When we got there, the guy was waiting with his friends. We had drinks, smoked a little and then I remember feeling really tired and wanting to leave. She wanted to stay. She was driving, and I didn’t want to ruin her night, so I agreed to stay too. No one would be checking for me because no one ever did.

I fell asleep and the rest feels foggy. I remember feeling someone on top of me and my pant being ripped off when I woke up. The room was so dark but I knew there were other people there. I couldn’t move and I felt like I was dreaming but I was awake. They took turns. I think there were three of them. I was raped.

My body was in shock and I feel like I don’t know what happened to me. That’s why I never told anybody. Even my friend I was with that night doesn’t know. Nobody knew. Nobody knew until recently. Even though I’m sitting here talking to you and I’m perfectly fine, I’m shaking. I can feel my body getting tense and it’s like, I know I’m okay, I’m at a good point, and it’s been a while, and I feel like I’ve conquered it a little bit, or at least to the point that I can talk about it. But it’s still insane.

Seen & Heard: S, you’re a survivor and you’re strong. Telling this story is a sacred act.

S: I think so.

Seen & Heard: It’s true. Tell me more about losing your voice.

S: Well, I was raised in a southern home and there were things I was not supposed to do. I definitely was not supposed to be on the wrestling team, which I was, and specifically because I was told that I couldn’t be. I wasn’t supposed to break the rules, which I have. People always had expectations of me that did not include the things a normal teenager did.

Because my mother died and I was raised by a single father, I was automatically a Lifetime movie. People expected the worst from me. They didn’t think I would finish school. They thought I would get pregnant. I did the opposite but in a lot of ways it didn’t matter.

Despite how hard I tried, I think my voice was taken away pretty much as soon as people  found  out that I had taken skanky pictures for somebody online. I will never, ever forget that there were very few things that my mom really sat me down and talked to me about before she died. One thing she told me was that the worst thing you could ever be called is a slut. You don’t want anyone to ever call you that because that means you are the worst thing. It means you’re just no good. No one is going to want you, and basically, you’ll never get married and blah, blah, blah. When I was little that sounded fucking terrible. Of course I will not get called a slut. But you know what, just because I had boobs so young, people were calling me that  anyway. And of course, I was talking to that guy, I mean grown man, on the internet.

Even as a little girl, I was so sexualized. Even though I didn’t know any better and I was 12, I went from being a little girl to a little disappointment very quickly. I always had to overcome that. I was forever the trouble maker and that’s not just because I’m an outspoken, opinionated, even bossy person who knows what I want. It’s not just because I stand up for what’s right. It’s because I wasn’t considered a child and a victim when the pictures happened. I was labeled as skanky and branded a whore even as young as 13 because of my family’s stigma and perception of sexuality. That’s when I feel like I lost my voice.

Seen & Heard: And you told no one? You kept these experiences to yourself.

S: Yes, definitely. When that happened I woke up and the quickest thing I could do was to pretend that it didn’t happen. I just thought that would make it go away. I thought you know what, I got myself into this situation I shouldn’t have come over here, who am I going to tell, I don’t even know these people. I still to this day don’t know their names. My body was in such shock. Plus you watch what happens to other women. Like the woman from Vanderbilt and you see these getting away with it. Once you’re raped, it’s like you’re scarred and you can feel it when someone else has been and you feel like no one will believe you. So yes. And how can you say something when you don’t even believe it happened to you? When you physically cannot, and mentally cannot remember that it happened because your body doesn’t want you to remember. And how are you supposed to tell people who don’t understand. For a long time, I felt there was no point.

Well, I don’t want to say it’s been good because there was a long time where it was not very good. When I was younger, I lived into what people told me I was. In high school I thought if you’re going to call me a slut, I’m going to be one and you’re all going to deal with it. With men, I would date guys and I would never get attached, even when they did. And it was fun for a while, but then I realized that I was just trying not to get hurt. I was doing it so I would never have to feel anything. I had to let that go. I’m married now and he’s is perfect for me.

Seen & Heard: It sounds like you got tougher. Did that serve you?

S: Yes, I created a shell. It could be good, it could be bad, but even if it wasn’t ideal, it was still what I needed to do to get through it. There was a long time where I was trying to live up to other people’s standards and doing so many things for everyone else. This was the opposite.

Well, I’ve learned not to give a fuck about what people think. This is the world we live in and these things are happening to everyone around us. Shame doesn’t help anything. I felt like there was a point where people around me needed to know me and see me. I’m a perfectly successful individual and I’m not what people may expect someone with my story to be. But I also realize that people see me as a very strong person and can’t imagine that I am a victim of rape and child pornography. But I am. SO I am not afraid to talk about the truth. How many of my friends have gone through this? Once I start talking about it, everyone else starts talking about it and it becomes normal to talk about it. That’s what matters. That’s why I don’t care what people think.
Also, caring what people think leads to trying to please people and live up to their expectations. I’ve learned to live in my own time and not worry about what people who do not understand me expect me to be. There is no such thing as doing life wrong.
Two ways. This first is that I want to talk to girls who are like I was who don’t understand how dangerous the internet it. “Kevin” could have killed me, but I was so young and so naïve that I had no idea. I want girls who are likely to fall into the wrong hands to understand how serious this is so that they can stay safe.

The second way is that I was to tell victims of sexual assault 3 simple words – I believe you. That’s what victims need to hear most.

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