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Breaking the stigma helps break the cycle
Sexual assault — those shameful, dirty words that everyone is afraid to speak.
The same words that need to be shouted out loud so eventually the stigma around them breaks. The same stigma that kept me, a 47-year-old woman, silent about the sexual assaults, attempted assaults and harassment I had experienced over the years.
Sure, a handful of people might know some of these situations. Few, if any, will know them all. I didn’t talk about them. Rarely then (never to family) and ever rarer as I got older.
Why? The same reasons mostly all people who suffer a sexual assault or sexual harassment don’t — shame, guilt, fear it would take over your life. And, also, the decision that it wouldn’t define me. I wasn’t a victim or a survivor of anything. I was just me. And the less people that knew was better.
How could I face my parents if they knew I was raped at a high school party? I had too much to drink and while I was in the bathroom a male I knew assaulted me. Holding my head on the toilet seat as I tried to keep my pants on while trying not to puke, he sexually assaulted me. It wasn’t vaginal. It was horrible.
I told no one. Wasn’t it partly my fault I was drunk at a party? Won’t everyone talk about me at school?
During high school and university, there were multiple, let’s call them “aggressive suitors.” The ones who assume you are there for their pleasure and they try to take it.
One in high school, pushed me on a bed as I was leaving an adjoining bathroom. We were at a small gathering of mutual friends, not close. Pushing me on the bed, this male said, “I know you want it,” and proceeded to forcefully remove my clothes.
At least half a foot taller and much heavier, my will power of not “wanting it,” was stronger than his muscles and a number of knees to the groin helped me get off.
That technique also helped me a year later during first year university in Ottawa, when at a fraternity toga party an unknown male pushed me into a room. He pinned me to the wall as he locked the door and tried to get my bathing suit off (unlike him I wasn’t naked underneath). Another few strong knees got him down, freed me and I left the party.
Sexual harassment on the job is also something I encountered while in my twenties. One boss I had would suggest I rub my breasts before starting one on one meetings with him. Another chef at a restaurant I worked while in my last year of school took things farther.
He’d stalk me, waiting until he could catch me alone in a stock room or dish pit. Then he’d pin me to the wall and try to kiss me, or get me to kiss him. Once the general manager caught him. A few minutes later, she reprimanded me for distracting him and not being on the floor. I used to avoid the kitchen when he was on unless I could go in with other staff.
There are more instances of sexual assault I’m not able to talk about yet, and another stalker which is a story for another time (if ever).
Instances of “aggressive suitors” and unwanted touching became so common that by my mid-twenties they stopped feeling like violations and more just the way people acted.
There were also at least three cases of men masturbating near me, strangers. One was in his twenties and literally biked by me, jumped in a bus shelter in Ottawa which had glass starting at about waist level, took off all his clothes and began the deed. It was broad daylight and a form of sexual harassment.
No part of me is naïve enough to think there aren't people reading this thinking, “oh, she must be lying. This can’t happen so much to one person.” But the reality is, my story and my experiences are more common than people think.
These doubters are big players in the decision to keep quiet about everything. But it’s time these doubters are told to listen because the more we speak, the more the stigma is broken and the more sexual assault becomes something talked about instead of tainted by guilt and shame.
And the more that stigma is broken, the more consent is learned by younger generations, the more hope I have that my daughter won’t have to endure the situations of victimization and disrespect I did.
So, to break the stigma and to help break the cycle of rape culture, at 47 I am finally telling my truth. And I refuse to be ashamed or blamed for it.
If you find this story triggering, please reach out:
- NSHA Mental Health crisis line: 1-888-429-8167 (toll free)
- Cape Breton Transition House: 902-539-2945
- Prince Edward Island rape and sexual assault centre counselling request line: 1-888-368-8055
- Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre crisis hotline: 1-800-726-2743
Read more of our special report on sexual assault in Cape Breton, N.S.