Even at the tender age of eleven, I could not climb the stairs from the basement to tell my parents what had happened. What is more upsetting is that I am uncertain to why. I may have been afraid of not being believed although, it is more likely that I feared being blamed. Instead of saying anything, I slipped soundlessly into a chair at the kitchen table to sit next to the middle brother, Wes. The only one in that house whom I trusted.
“Johnny tried to kiss you, didn’t he?”
Johnny was Wes’ older brother and this omission was in the form of a question. This startled me, but I could only nod. Wes was doing his homework and I sat stunned, scared and unmoving. Until, of course, his dad came in. This wiry man was my mother’s best friend’s husband and he shooed me away to the basement again.
“Wes doesn’t need any distraction during his studies.” His father had said.
The meager smile the boy gave me was meant as an apology. Wes knew what the basement would hold for me and didn’t tell.
Slowly, I descended the stairs in my fuzzy pink pajamas with purple feet and mitten-shaped pockets. There, Johnny was with his littlest brother, setting up a board game. On the floor at the opposite end of the coffee table seemed the safest place for me. So, I masked my reluctance and joined. How could I have known that from beneath the table his leg crossed the distance? Every time he tried cramming his foot into my crotch, I smacked it away. On the third try, he sent his little brother upstairs.
The words “don’t go” were stuck in my throat as I scrambled to my feet.
Before I knew what was happening, he had me pinned down on the couch and I can still remember is crushing weight. In my panicked frenzy, I somehow managed to get away. Straight up two flights of stairs, I ran clutching the waist of my pajama bottoms. I hid under the covers of where I would be sleeping that night; except, I didn’t sleep. I sobbed quietly, gripped by the fear that Johnny would try again. Luckily, he did not.
Memory is a funny thing. Somehow, for awhile I was able to get passed
that night at my parent’s friend’s house. There were a few years of blissful forgetfulness and denial. Until one day that memory came crashing back fully loaded with the fear of an eleven-year-old child.
In grade ten drama class, we were to perform self-written monologues. One of these performances was of an intimate account of a sexual assault from the point of view of the victim as if he were talking to his counselor. Everything he said bore into a wound I hadn’t known was there. The memory of my attack resurfaced and it distorted all that I knew and tainted every relationship I had. Resentment chewed away at me and left a predominate chip.
Mercifully, I never saw Johnny again. But, even now, thirty years later, on those rare occasions, his name is mentioned in casual conversation I stiffen and my stomach twists. That night will play over in my head and the agonizing self-deprecation begins.
I should have recognized the danger in the way he looked at me.
I should have declined the can of pop he offered me.
I should have kept my distance and not stood next to him when we were picking out a movie.
I should not have changed into my pajamas.
I should have…
I should have…
I should have…
I should have told someone.
No one blames the victim more than the victim blames themselves.
This needs to change! Why did I feel the need the justify how old I was or what I was wearing? Would I have been lesser of a victim if I had been eighteen, full figured and scantily dressed? The answer is NO! The end of victim blaming starts with victims and potential victims. Why didn’t I tell?
A victim is …a victim is… A VICTIM.
Johnny was fourteen when he attacked me. I worry that I may have encouraged his warped approach to woman and sex by not telling. I may have been able to stop him. The truth is, I really don’t know. I bolted and did everything in my power to ignore and avoid him. There is no way of knowing how many girls and woman he has victimized over the years. This thought haunts me.
Now I have a daughter of my own and I struggle with how to protect her without having to tell her of the many threats that may surround her. I want her to be aware without being jaded. I want her to be safe without losing her innocence or free spirit. More importantly, I want her to always talk to me.
I resent having to raise my daughter to be cautious of predators. Programming women to scrutinize their own actions as a way of preventing someone from wronging them is fundamentally backward and socially corrupt. The blame falls solely on the offender.