This is not the time or place to detail the sexual assaults which I survived. I could do that, but you would lose yourself in sympathy, horror, or both. You would miss my point. Suffice it to say, that both before and after puberty, boys/men touched me in sexual ways, without consent, using force, and causing both physical damage and emotional harm.
On several occasions, I did not understand the exact nature of what had happened due to my age or naivety. But even then, I knew that I had been subjected to a terrible violation. In later years, high school, college, and beyond, I understood the full import of what occurred.
Again: Details would trigger some and derail others. A few would assume exaggeration or untruths. So I will not say what happened, but I will tell you what these events did to me, why I never told, and how Christine Blasey Ford’s public testimony moved me.
I never told because I believed that the abuses inflicted on me only happened to worthless girls. You could argue that I devalued myself before they occurred. But these experiences confirmed my defective state. Disclosing the abuses would announce to the world that I should not be around “good girls” and the boys/men who dated them, married them, and walked proudly with them down the street for all the world to see.
I also believed that I deserved to be mistreated. My worthlessness justified any ill-treatment, especially by boys/men. I endured the abuses because I believed myself to be no better than a whipping post. If I had been prettier, smarter, less crippled, then I’d be treated nicely. Boys would invite me to prom, give me their class rings or letter jackets, and take me home to their moms. Men would call me and arrange dates where they’d strut beside me, holding my hand.
Of course, I know better now. Plenty of beautiful women suffer sexual assault and abuse. Able-bodied girls do also. Survivors come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. But abuse does that too you. It causes or reinforces every insecurity. When you suffer enough abuse, your entire perception of yourself warps. Your self-image assumes the contours of the abuser’s disdain for you.
As I moved through adulthood, I wanted to forget what had been done to me, even those episodes which I believed myself to have invited. I became steely, and in due course, brittle. The shell which I folded around my spirit prevented me from collapse, but also repelled all but the most noble of love from touching me. Sexual abuse and assault damages the survivor in immutable ways. We know that trauma literally changes neuro-pathways. The trauma-survivor becomes someone that his or her original biology did not dictate. The post-traumatic person struggles to maintain relationships and have authentic engagements. Supreme patience can enable a meaningful connection. But without extraordinary personal effort; professional treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy; or both; those of us who have experienced severe trauma stumble through life without solid and lasting romantic partners and friendships.
Adding insult to injury, often survivors face skepticism. I’ve described the physical abuse which characterized my childhood to many intimates (friends, lovers, husbands) in an effort to normalize my experiences. I’ve often been met with disbelief. One person even said, after ending our relationship, that he “always assumed that [I had] made up all that stuff about [my] dad”. Uh, no. But thanks for setting the record straight. I wouldn’t want to spend the rest of my life mistakenly thinking that you believed me.
The same disbelief magnifies when a rape or sexual assault survivor “tells”.
I can’t say why no one wants to believe that rape and other sexual assaults occur. I can speculate; I can repeat what studies show. But I do know this: Most people do not want to hear what happened to others. They turn deaf ears on a survivor’s story. It doesn’t actually matter what motivates people to harden their hearts when a survivor attempts to tell their story. The fact that no one wants to listen tells us enough. We close within ourselves. The repulsion reverberates tenfold inside our minds. The pain grows, a cancerous parasite that overwhelms and sickens us.
Only the truly empathetic human can love a shattered soul. I understand the fortitude required to remain despite the damage that the survivor must overcome. My knowledge compels me to praise Russell Ford, the husband of Christine Blasey Ford. He knew. He stayed. He accepted. He endured.
Thus we come to what this experience means to me. Put aside the wretchedness of having a lying sexual predator who disavows his own alcohol struggles assume the robe of a Supreme Court Justice. Do not, for a moment, attend to the wholly unsuitable character of a deeply partisan judge remaining on the bench. Ignore the narcissistic temper tantrum of a job applicant who assumes that he is entitled to the position for which he has applied.
Focus instead on the courage of his accuser. Dr. Blasey Ford came forward despite her fear. She had no hope of personal gain. In fact, she knew that she and her family would be harassed, challenged, and threatened. She strove to keep her name confidential, to avoid the fray. She had no political motivation. She only spoke from a sense of civic duty to disclose potentially disqualifying information. She came forward to provide testimony that could prevent an immoral and abusive man from being appointed to a position which demands that its occupant have an unassailable character.
Her courage gives me hope. I don’t expect that any of my abusers will be in the public light. Some have died. Others faded into the namelessness of personal failure. I don’t expect to ever face the public and answer questions about what I have survived.
But Dr. Blasey Ford showed me something for which I realize I have longed. She showed me that one could survive sexual assault and still be lovable. One can walk through the putrid taint of demoralizing infamy and endure. I don’ t know if Dr. Blasey Ford’s demons still haunt her. I cannot tell whether she feels the shame which I imagine she felt for many years, or the terror, though she suggested that she does. But she stepped forward; she spoke; and so, in the end, she showed all of us that we can be survivors; that we can cast aside the mantle of victimhood; that we can walk through the storm; that our abusers do not have to win. She showed us that all of this remains true, even in the face of eleven stony men who pretend to listen, but who clearly do not, and will not, believe us.