Caution: Although my experiences are not as severe as many others’, I would hate to trigger someone who is still trying to recover and move beyond their own traumatizing experiences of sexual assault. If this is you, take a pass on this post. I am not graphic in any of my descriptions.
I’ve been trying to decide whether to write this post for three days. I like to focus on happy, uplifting things because one of my life maxims is, “What you pay attention to grows.”
My church’s 13th Article of Faith says:
We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
And it was remembering this that tipped the balance for me. Today I’m choosing to pay attention to the fact that we, as a society, have the power to change. We have the power to become better and not look the other way when we see someone being mistreated. We have the power to treat each other with respect. Wouldn’t that be praiseworthy and worth reporting?
I’ve mentioned before that I am a Young Women’s leader in my local LDS church. This is the equivalent of a teen girls’ youth pastor. I teach these young women about how to incorporate certain values into their daily living. Faith. Divine Nature. Individual Worth. Knowledge. Choice and Accountability. Good Works. Integrity. Virtue.
I was hesitant to post anything to do with #MeToo, until I realized that part of the reason I’ve been able to get past my own experiences with sexual harassment and abuse is because I’ve internalized and applied those values in a way that enabled me to do so. When I realized that, I had a sudden and overwhelming sense of obligation to share some of my stories in hopes that others will know there is hope for moving beyond the shame and trauma. My experiences are nowhere near as bad as many of my friends have been through, but it’s important to realize that by speaking up, we aren’t stepping into the role of perpetual victim. By speaking up, we are exercising our power, our virtue (moral character, strength, and courage). By speaking up, I am saying #IWill shine a light into the darkness. By speaking up, I am saying to others that some secrets should not be kept. By speaking up, I am also saying to those who can’t speak right now, “#IWill be your advocate.”
(Deep breath here.)
My first experience with sexual abuse came when I was about seven years old, and for years and years and years, I thought it was my fault and felt ashamed of it. As experiences go, it was “minor.” My friend’s teen brother cajoled my male friend and I to get in a closet together with our pants down. Because I thought this was my choice and my fault, I never told anyone what happened.
Later, in high school, I daily walked what I thought of as “The Gauntlet.” A bunch of the boys on the various athletic teams would sit on either side of the hallway, with their legs sticking out to narrow the walkway, just outside the lunch room and rate the girls who walked past on a scale of one to ten. Sometimes they added adjectives to their ratings. The skinnier you were the higher you rated. The less acne you had, the higher you rated. It was daily torture.
Also while I was in high school, I was working at a fast food restaurant where one of the managers would draw sexual things with grease pencil on the side of one of the warming ovens and joke about it with the other guys who worked there. He also would try to pinch the girls working there on the butt with the chicken tongs (sanitation was not much concern). The head manager just seemed to look the other way when this was happening. I hated it, but didn’t really think there was much I could do about it, so I put up with it. One day I mentioned it in passing to my mom and dad. They expressed concern but their reaction seemed pretty mild. I didn’t think anything of it until the next week when my mom told me, “Your dad called the franchise headquarters and spoke to an executive. He told them that if the sexual harassment at your work didn’t stop NOW, that he would file a lawsuit against the company. They told him they would look into it and get back to him. Today they called back and told him that your managers have been put on notice that if there is ever another complaint, that they will lose their jobs.”
I never had another problem while I worked there. This was 1984 and that was an awesome moment for me. Sexual harassment was just barely starting to be acknowledged as an objectionable thing. I can hardly express how good it felt to know that my dad (or anyone) would go to bat for me like that. Way back then, when # was called a pound sign, he was an #IWill man who stood up and made a difference, not only for me, but for all of us who worked at that restaurant.
I had a couple of unsavory experiences as an adult as well that I won’t go into, simply for the sake of moving on here. Both of those experiences happened before I started my martial arts training. Since then, when things have seemed to be headed in that sort of direction I get a lot more aggressive myself and stop them before it gets quite so horrible. I realize not every one is in a position to take control that way, and I’m grateful that I have been. Do I still have experiences where I feel uneasy or afraid? Yes, sometimes. I read an empowering book once, called The Gift of Fear, by Gavin deBecker, and he said in it something to the effect that a man’s greatest fear is being publicly embarrassed, but a woman’s greatest fear is being assaulted and killed. God bless him for writing a book that gives some of the control back to women.
Because of my faith, I know that God loves all of us. Each of us matter to Him, and He wants us to care for one another. He will not hold us accountable for actions that have been forced upon us by others against our will. He expects us to act with integrity whether we are male or female, and treat one another with respect. With God, we can endure. With Christ we can find hope to move on from terrible events. When we exercise courage in the face of pressure, or are forced to endure an assault against our will, but do our best to recover from it and move courageously forward, that is virtue. And NO ONE can take that away from you.
And because right now I’ve got my sass on: