By Chris Heide
On Sunday, Alyssa Milano tweeted about sexual harassment and abuse, using the hashtag #MeToo, to encourage women to feel empowered to share their own experiences. Since then, the two-word protest campaign has gone viral, as countless women and men have come forward to share their own stories.
Telling anyone they shouldn't speak up about sexual harassment and abuse is just wrong. The #MeToo campaign is shedding light on the horrific abuses that women face everyday. I'm now seeing more and more people share their experiences as sexual harassment and abuse victims. Saying that anyone, man or woman, shouldn't speak up- that is not okay. That makes you part of the problem. No matter how the campaign started, no one should be silenced. Your truth is valid. To all the women in my life who are survivors of harassment and assault- I love you and support you. To to the men who have experienced sexual assault as well- I support you and understand you too.
The following is a collection of personal experiences with sexual harassment, abuse, assault and rape. While these stories are harrowing, there is hope. Perhaps, one day, behaviors can change and society will no longer tolerate such abject behavior and deplorable toxic masculinity.
I was five years old the first time my innocence was taken from me. A man who worked at a daycare I went to molested me on several different occasions. I distinctly remember this being the first time I believed that I wasn't good enough. At that moment, my child like wonder disappeared. I was full of fear and shame
From the ages of 7-9 I was molested repeatedly by my father's friend. My dad was too loaded to notice his friend taking me in the back room and committing evil and disturbing acts. This is the moment I learned that sex was love. My idea of right and wrong became a twisted and sick delusion. I was enslaved and chained within my own self.
During this same time my father would have sex in front of me with his girlfriend. I remember hiding under the sheets in the dark and praying that it would end. This was the first time I thought about suicide. The victimization took hold. I believed to my core that I would never be worthy.
When I was 13 I took my first drink. Little did I know that the disease of addiction would take me in its wave and nearly drown me.
From 13-17, I was sexually assaulted while being under the influence 3 separate times. I blamed myself for being too fucked up or “asking for it” because my outfit was too revealing.
At 17 I was recruited into prostitution by my 25 year old boyfriend. I was bought and sold. I signed up for it over and over again just to get my next high. I thought I was protected and taken care of. It was a false sense of security and peace. The drugs took me out of reality and brought me to a place that was still and quiet. All the while, I was being raped, exploited, and traumatized over and over again. The reality was he used me and took away my innocence just as much as the man did when I was five years old. Every time I would become conscious, a wave of guilt, shame, and despair would engulf me only to push me farther into the depths of addiction.
I repeated this cycle from 17-20 with intermittent periods of getting out of the life of sexual exploitation. I always ended up going back. I can't count how many times I was abused, used, and exploited during this time. Every day was a fight for survival. I was completely hallow and broken inside. I was in and out of hospitals and institutions. I experienced homelessness and overdoses. The silence of my pain became a death sentence.
At 20 years old, I had a moment of clarity. The drugs and alcohol stopped working. The pain of my reality overtook me. I made a decision to get out. At this point I had never talked about the abuse that happened to me with anyone. Shame and fear was running my life. I was taught to stay silent.
When I had 60 days sober, I was sexually assaulted by a man in the program of AA. I remember sitting on the bathroom floor in my Oxford house debating whether or not to end my life or get loaded. I didn't choose either. I didn't realize it then but I chose love instead of fear for the first time in my life.
I sit here today writing this with 4 years clean and sober. My heart is heavy as I rehash these traumatic experiences but I have peace in my spirit knowing that all of this may help another woman who is struggling to be free. I have learned let go of being a victim today and embrace my suffering because it is useful to those around me. I have been in extensive therapy the last four years and have found forgiveness for myself and others throughout my process of healing. I forgave my father for the abuse in my childhood which is one of the hardest things I have had to do in my sobriety. I found so much love in that moment. It doesn't make right what happened by any means but harboring resentment only hurts me and stops me from finding the freedom I deserve. I have worked thorough and honest steps in recovery and have let go of so much that I cannot change. I have learned to accept and embrace my human experience. I have walked into the sunlight of the spirit. I have connected to a god of my understanding who loves me regardless. Throughout my process I have rewritten the narrative in my head and discovered pure infinite love for myself. Today, I have a partner who loves and respects me. I have found intimacy and safety in another person which I never thought would be my truth. I have found a career in working with homeless youth that a majority are sexually exploited and trafficked. I get to share with them my experience and give them hope for a better life. I am writing this to stop the stigma of rape culture and sexual abuse within society. I am breaking the silence of shame and secrecy. We are survivors. We are warriors. We do recover and we do heal. We are good enough and infinitely loved. We are empowered and we are free. If you are struggling, hurting, or full of shame- you are not alone. Your voice matters, you matter.
When I was a child, my parents used to party all the time. I was maybe 5, at one of these parties over at a friend's house. As it was getting late, they put me to bed in a guest bedroom. I'm not sure how much time had passed, but I was still awake when somebody entered the room. It was dark. Whoever it was came over, and proceeded to touch me. Everywhere. I remember being confused. Now, I was a very precocious child and knew this was something adults did. My young mind tried to rationalize what was happening as them being confused and thinking I was someone else. Obviously this logic is flawed. But when you're small and scared and confused this makes about as much sense as anything else going on.
Whatever instincts I had told me to pretend to be sleeping. One one hand, this was probably safest. Who knows what they might have made me do if they knew I was awake? Or what threats they might have made? On the other hand, maybe I could have opened my eyes as they were leaving. To this day I don't know who that person was. Because of that, there were no possible repercussions. I have no way of knowing if this person has done it before or since. It's important to speak up, for those that do not have a voice.
#Metoo. 5 years ago it happened. Multiple times. Too high to remember, too high to care. I hid that trauma for years. 3 years to be exact. Until one day it flooded me to the core. I immediately felt the pain, the embarrassment, the disgust. I threw up on the side of the road. At almost 4 years clean I felt all the feelings I was too numb to feel before. I was a victim of sexual assault. On a daily basis I am a victim of sexual harassment. Society blames the victim - “She shouldn’t have worn that outfit, she was asking for it.” “She hung around those type of people, she was asking for it.” No. Nobody asks to get raped. It is not my fault. It is nobodies fault but the abuser. It took me a lot of work in therapy to get to where I am today, to feel safe. I’m hear to tell you that you can recover. The details of what happened to me don’t need to be said to make this a real thing. I was raped, point blank. I am a survivor but I am also a victim. I have a voice, you have a voice, we have a voice and together we can, what we can’t do alone.
I'm a 48 yr old women in recovery. I've spent my entire life dealing with the inappropriate behavior of others and of myself. My experience is that I have had to learn to accept the behaviors and attitudes of others, due to my own journey of trying to figure out who I am and what my place in the world is. Self esteem, confidence, worth. The rights and wrongs. Did I create it? Am I a victim? If I wasn't someplace, doing what I was doing, would I have been in the position to have had those things happen to me? Or do assault and harassment happen because people are simply sick. People are sick; I too, in my own disease, was also sick.
When I got clean, I found forgiveness. I no longer had to behave in a way that solidified the belief that I was a piece of shit and worthless, all because of the things that had happened in my past. I made recovery my life. The places I go, the people I associate with and even my place of employment all had to do with recovery. At work, I thought I was "safe". One day I was assaulted by someone I work with. Shocked and unsure. In total disbelief and in some respects familiar. It took a lot for me to tell someone what had happened to me, because of the thought that I had maybe, once again, put myself there. I hadn't! With a lot of encouragement from my support network, I decided to come forward. To hear from my employer that the man was not going to lose his job or even be placed on administrative leave, but that my job description was going to change for a while was demoralizing. I was told by present and even past employees to watch myself. My position might be in jeopardy, that I was now being watched. I was uncomfortable and concerned; within a few short weeks I was let go from my position. Is that really how we deal with sexual assault in the workplace in 2017? It's truly a disappointment.
As a victim of sexual assault and harassment, I will say I built up resentment. Mostly because the ones who have done it to me don’t see it as such. I called them out on it, and they say things like, “You can’t rape the willing.” I feel like I’m not important. I’m an object.
I’m more than an object. I’m a human being with a mind and heart! When I'm objectified, I feel like no one actually cares about me. The sad thing is, because I’m a man, there’s less of an awareness. I’m usually alone when I am harassed or assaulted. If I’m not alone, people always assume I like it and that I’ve consented. I like it when it’s consensual. Not unsolicited without context.
Sexual harassment and assault are tricky to identify in the gay community because of shame associated with being gay AND a rape survivor. It’s hard to share personal experiences with rape in a misogynistic, hetero-normative world that has characterized rape as a man-on-woman offense. To make it harder, gay men mistreat each other to the point that we self-isolate--not only do we shy away from potential straight allies but we push the lowest among us down to feel a relieving, albeit disingenuous, sense of belonging in a world that doesn't want us. These are lessons I did not understand until after I was raped by a photographer whom I aspired to impress, someone whose art I was excited to be apart of. Sometimes I struggle with the gravity of my rape and what it might mean, but it was not a long-term traumatic experience for me--I do not allow space in my heart for post-traumatic stress or self-hatred. That being said, rape usually is traumatic for those who have had to live through it, and what hurts the most is to know that there are so few people open enough to lend a supportive ear in times of need, especially within the gay community. The #MeToo campaign is important not only because it demonstrates the prevalence of sexual assault in our society, but because it shows survivors like me that we are not alone--no matter how lonely we may feel with the burden we carry. To all readers carrying the burden of their rape on heavy shoulders--who feel alone in the struggle of living in a world in which rape is suddenly and blatantly real--know that it happened to #MeToo and that it is more than possible to achieve happiness no matter what you've faced.
We live in a society that sexual abuse and rape are so common everyone knows someone. But what happens when that someone becomes you?
At 15 years old this became my reality (again).
I was at a small party with my boyfriend and I got so drunk I couldn't move. My boyfriend and a few friends helped get me into a bed to sleep it off. After everyone left the room my boyfriend started asking me if we could have sex, or if I could do sexual acts to him. I told him no, I'm too drunk. He asked me over and over again. And I said no over and over again. Finally I passed out. I woke up to him on top of me. I was completely naked as he was violating my body. I was stunned and didn't know what to do. I asked him to get off of me and he refused. So I screamed, loud, and didn't stop. My friends came running in and pulled him off of me.
That is just one account of what has been 3 times of rape and sexual abuse.
The entertainment industry is notorious for sexual abuse, and more specifically, pedophiles run rampant among many of the children. In fact, so much so, that my parents were actually warned by the company I was employed through that this is in fact something to be wary of when entrusting people they didn’t know with me as a small child. The person who first sexually abused me co-managed me alongside my parents beginning when I was only seven years old. He was employed by the company I was contracted with and was always around…he’d chaperone me while we were traveling from city to city, play games with me during our commute days (endless hours in planes or buses), he’d help me with my school work and sneak me candy when I wasn’t allowed to have it. You'd never think he was actually a predator.
We often slept in the same bed while traveling for a couple of years and nothing inappropriate happened…until I turned 9. By this time my parents were so comfortable with this man, that they literally let us share a bed. It took just one night for our entire friendship to change. He went on to sexually abuse me over and over again until I was 11 years old and the only reason it stopped was because I parted ways with the company we both worked for. He would guilt me along the way, and would blame me for the ways my body would physically react to the stimulation, even at one point told me if anybody were to find out that it would actually be my fault because of the physical reaction my body would have. I was terrified of him and believed everything that he said to me. This was the first person to sexually abuse me, but regretfully not the last. However, this one was the beginning and I’ve always held onto as a turning point in my young life.
You would think that the one place you should feel safe is home. From the age of 7-12 years old that not the case for me. My life was threatened everyday if I did not cooperate. The one person you should be able to trust is your father. Mine however, behind closed doors was a monster. I was raped, or beaten every other day. I did not say anything from fear of losing my life, or my mother's life. Finally April of 2003 I was given the opportunity to speak up. My mother asked me if anyone has ever touched me inappropriately. Since my dad was not home. I told her what had been happening. She immediately called the police & he was locked up forever. Don't be scared to speak up. If someone rapes you tell someone immediately
The summer before high school I lost my virginity to a boy that I thought I was in love with. One night, I decided I would get drunk with him and some other friends for the first time. I trusted him and had no idea of the horrors that would ensue from my first experience. A majority of the night is a blacked out blur, but I can remember vividly how badly it hurt. I can remember begging him to stop and get off of me. I can remember hearing his friends laughing and encouraging him to continue.
The next morning, I woke up alone and covered in bruises. I was unsure of where I was and why I felt so shaken up. At the time, I believed that it was exactly what I had asked for. I had agreed to have sex at first, I thought I loved him and I was just being overly dramatic.
It took over three years of weekly therapy sessions before I finally shared my experience with someone. In the meantime, I had fallen deep into drug abuse and other self-destructive habits. I have thankfully been able to heal from the experience in some ways, but I still live in fear of being alone around men and opening myself up to anyone.
It was fall of 2010 I had just graduated from high school, and was beginning my first semester in college. I had already been there for a couple of months when I had came out and was telling my friends of my decision to be who I was. When another student whom I was acquainted with was listening in and he had came over to me and said that he didn't believe I was gay. I had told him it wasn't for him to believe or not but I just am.
My classes went by and it came to the end of my day. This guy who said he didn't believe it, had found me and started following me around campus asking me to prove it. I kept telling him I didn't need to prove anything. It came to the point that I caved and "proved it" by jerking him off in the language lab bathroom. He finished and then later on asked if he could be my bf which I had denied.
This ordeal had made me very self conscious of whom I told I was gay and made me not quite ready to be myself for fear of it happening again. Although through therapy I quickly overcame this fear, it still took me awhile and I still see myself holding things in around new people.