Speak Out: AJ’s Story

“It all started when I was in high school. I went to a very large high school and with me never being a very out-going person, I felt pressured to belong to a clique or to stand out in some way.I did well in school but was never very popular. Lots of girls end up having their first boyfriend and/or first kiss in high school and never of those things were happening for me, but I wanted it to. I was always jealous of the girls I saw walking through the halls with their boyfriends, making out with their boyfriends before and after every class, or seeing their boyfriends give them presents on their birthday or Valentine’s Day or even just seeing girls getting attention from the jocks and all the other popular guys. I wanted a guy to pay attention to me and make me feel special for once, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what I was doing wrong. Was I unattractive? Was I not smart enough? Was I in the wrong classes? Did people think I was stuck-up because I didn’t talk a lot?

 In addition to all of this, I’d also like to point out that I psychically “filled out” very early. Like most of the women in my family my body had already taken on womanly figure by the time I was 13 or 14 (around the time I started high school). But even though I had noticed and my parents and relatives had begun to notice, it didn’t occur to me that my male classmates would notice this as well, or that they would show that they noticed in a negative/inappropriate way.

 I remember the first time it happened, it started with one of the jocks that I actually had a crush on. We were on the newspaper together and I just thought he was so cool and handsome and I wanted him to notice me so badly (I’ll call him “Jake” for now). Then one day I remember I was in the newspaper room by myself, standing with my back towards the door. (I think I was reading/editing my article or something, I can’t remember). Then suddenly I felt someone grab me from behind and them touching me between my legs; when I turned around I saw that it was Jake, and I was so shocked I couldn’t even say anything. He just looked at me and smiled and walked away and by then our teacher and other classmates had started to come in. I never said a word to anyone.

 Although now I realize that that was wrong, in my own naïve way at that time, I had convinced myself that negative/inappropriate attention from guys was better than no attention that all. I had convinced myself that maybe if I just pretended to like it, that maybe Jake would think I was cool and ask me to hang out with him and even be his girlfriend (needless to say, neither ever happened). And I was going to find out later that Jake wouldn’t be my only problem.

 It got to the point where my other male classmates would start touching me, grabbing me and groping me too, usually in gym class when the teacher would be otherwise engaged and didn’t see what was going on. At that point I had started saying, “Stop! Let go! Leave me alone!” but they would just laugh and think I was kidding. I remember once one of the bigger football players pinned me to the wall so I couldn’t move and just put his hands all over me. And it wasn’t always physical; I’d be walking past a group of guys and they would make obscene comments about my body and call out things that they wanted to do to me. I remember one disturbing conversation I overheard in class where the group of guys sitting behind me talked about how they’d rape me if given the chance. I felt so sick.

 And I started hating my body, thinking that it was somehow my fault. “If I didn’t have such big breasts or such a big butt, guys wouldn’t say/do nasty things to me and they’d leave me alone.” So I started wearing unnecessarily baggy clothes all the time and wearing pretty much anything that would hide my curves, which didn’t always help.

 The random assaults happened on and off for about 2 and a half years and I never told a single sole about it. I started getting really depressed and would look for any excuse not to go to school (faking being ill, pretending to have overslept or pretending that I missed the bus). Pretty soon I had ran out of excuses to tell my parents and when I had to force myself to go to school, I’d take sleeping pills before I left the house, so that I’d just go to school in this haze, not really seeing or feeling anything; I’d just be in the numb, dream-like state all day.

 When my grades started to suffer my parents started getting on my case and it seemed like I couldn’t do anything right and I wanted to tell them why my behavior had changed but I’ve never been good at expressing myself verbally, so I started taking out my anger and frustrations on myself; I started cutting. I wanted people to know the pain that I was in without actually having to say anything, so I’d slice up my thighs and just bleed (the scars they left are still very visible).

 Things actually started getting better after I graduated high school and started college. I remember sitting in my room freshman year watching TV; it was the first time I ever watched Law and Order:SVU. Once I got to understand the crimes that they fought and the cases that they took to court and what their overall cause was (and the strength and courage of the female lead detective) I then at that moment decided what I wanted to do with my life: I decided to change my major from International Studies to Criminal Justice. At first I said to myself that I wanted to be a police officer (turned out that that position wasn’t really right for me) but then I decided that I would work my hardest to become a lawyer so that I could perhaps one day be the person who puts evil people away so that they can’t ever hurt anyone again.

 In 2010 during my sophomore year of college (about 4 years after my assaults first began) I sent my mother a random e-mail one night, explaining to her what had happened to me in high school. She immediately picked me up the next day and she took me to one of my favorite restaurants and we talked about my ordeal. In a manner that I’m still not entirely clear on. . . .my sister found out as well, but I only told her about it myself about a month ago. So the other person in my immediate family who didn’t know what happened, was my father.

 I’d been “living with” what had happened to me pretty well for the past few years, although I’ve still never had a boyfriend and I still jump whenever I feel someone touch my upper thighs (even if it’s just my sister or a female friend). I still find it hard to trust men because in the back of my mind I’m always preparing for me to be assaulted again. But for the most part I thought I had put it all behind me until I saw the episode of SVU “Beast’s Obsession” and (like a lot of other people) I was triggered by certain scenes. It felt like all in an instant all the bad things that had happened to me came flooding back without warning. I remember very clearly the next morning after I woke up, I couldn’t even get out of bed. Suddenly I started crying and then the crying turned into full out uncontrollable sobbing. When I had finally stopped I told myself, “I can’t do this anymore. Hiding what happened to me won’t make it go away.”

 Less than 48 hours ago, I sat my father down and told him what happened to me all those years ago. Although I generally felt like he was sorry about what happened to me, I got a bit confused/upset when he told me that he was, “Happy that I was admitting my partial responsibility for what happened to me.” Like a lot of men, I just don’t think he can wrap around his mind the idea that rape/assault is NEVER the victims fault; I think he’s somehow under the impression that I “lead on” the guys who assaulted me in some way.

 Anyway, I want to make it clear that NO ONE has the right to violate your body in any way; not your relatives, not your partner, not your friends and definitely not a complete stranger. “Provoking” the person means nothing; someone trying to claimed that you wore the wrong clothes or said the wrong thing is BS, you were not “asking” to be hurt or violated. And finally, keeping quiet does not make your ordeal go away. Keeping quiet gives your attacker power over you. I waited too late to say anything about what happened to me and so those boys who assaulted me went on unpunished. But I know now that even though it’s too late for them to be punished, it’s never too late for me to heal and come to terms with what happened to me, or what could’ve happened. I want to help other women who have gone through what I’ve gone through (and even worse) because this type of behavior must stop. But it all starts with you, whether it happens to you or you hear/see it happening to someone else. We have to be able to find our voice and say “No More”.”

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