by Leanore Gough
Trigger warning: discussion of sexual assault, victim-blaming
When I was 16 I worked part-time at a drug store. There I met the man who became my most aggressive assailant: a man in his mid-to-late thirties with very white teeth and just a little grey hair. He came in and made small talk a few times always seeming very friendly. After a few weeks of compliments and big smiles he asked if I wanted to see him on my day off. I agreed. We went out a total of three times. Each time he became more aggressive. On the final time I saw him, we went for drinks.
“I know a place,” he said.
It was a pub down the street from his house. We sat in the back where there weren’t a lot of people. He bought me several drinks, he felt for me under the table with his hands, and eventually he came and sat right beside me. He slid his hand down my back and into the back of my pants. I wanted to go home, I did not feel well, I was uncomfortable.
He tried to be calm, said he’d take me back to his place and I could lay down. When I didn’t want to, he became upset, told me he was disappointed and that he thought I would be a lot more fun. I felt awful and eventually I went with him. By luck I didn’t go up to his apartment. We ran into one of his neighbours outside, and when they stopped to talk I backed away and ran for the train station. I puked in the garbage at the station. He never came back to my work.
As a teenager I was sexually assaulted by a total of six different men. At a concert, at a bar, twice on public transit, at a friend’s house after a movie.
Most of my assailants were between the ages of 30-40 years old. All clean-smelling, safe-looking and smiling.
Even though I remember the incidents and the men so vividly, I have never really described any of them to the people I confide in. No one ever asked. I have been asked: “Are you sure you didn’t want it?” I have been asked: “Are you sure it happened like that?” I have been asked: “Where were your parents?” I have been told I gave consent when I got in his car.
Anyone I ever told knew my home life wasn’t great and then made a judgement based on my class and statistics of kids who come from broken homes, and personal assumptions of what girls like me are like. They didn’t realize or care that all of that was irrelevant. My parents could have been happily married, sober and involved; I still would have gone to concerts, movies, and rode on public transit. I still would have had a part-time job.
No one ever asked: “Why would a grown man think it’s ok to stick his hand down the back of a teenager’s pants?” No one ever asked: “Why did an adult man think it was ok to feed a teenager drinks and assault her?”
The answer, I think, to those questions is very simple. While society knows and largely accepts that the behaviours displayed by my assailant as not ok, no one is really enforcing that idea. According to RAINN, 54% of sexual assaults are never reported. Many that do come forward are faced with the same questions I was faced with.
Instead of being upset or sympathetic towards my situation, the people closest to me were suspicious and even hostile. If keeping girls and women safe is a priority, family and friends need to stop blaming the victims and start looking at the assailants. The pressure needs to be on them. As a society we need to realize that it is not possible to protect women and children from sexual assault unless men are held accountable for assaulting them.
(photo by Pablo Pecora, CC-licensed via Flickr)