ENOUGH is a Rumpus series devoted to creating a dedicated space for essays, poetry, fiction, comics, and artwork by women and non-binary people that engage with rape culture, sexual assault, and domestic violence.
The series will run every Tuesday afternoon. Each week we will highlight different voices and stories.
One of the Lucky Ones
My sexual assault won’t go down on my gravestone as the thing that killed me, although it could have. It didn’t happen when I was old enough to comprehend the entirety of its twistedness, undoubtedly my saving grace, and for this I still thank my few lucky stars. God knows how easily it could have destroyed me. The time it took to regain what little ground remained, the nightmares that persisted, the unwavering confusion about why and what and how—I now know that none of these lasted as long as they could have. As wrong and harrowing and disgusting and tragic and outrageous it was, I know that it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I can’t say that it took nearly as bad of a toll on my life as it has on countless others, the same ones who remind me that I am lucky.
So much life can be lived in eight minutes. It took about eight minutes for my dad to teach me how to ride a bike. Plopped on my little pink set of wheels, decorated with Barbie stickers, which so perfectly accentuated the purple streamers that hung from the handlebars. I followed instructions to pedal while my dad held onto the back of my seat, still carefully eyeing the training wheels strewn in the grass after having just been pried off. Eight minutes of trial and error turned into eight minutes of gleeful triumph followed by an eight minute drive to Walmart afterwards to go buy a brand new big-girl bike.
Three years later, cocooned in my parent’s bed with a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank, I watched as my dad sat down next to my mom wearing a face of something so opposite from his face that day he taught me how to ride. Eight minutes of apologies, eight minutes of swearing vengeance, eight minutes promising to keep me safe—all mixed in with tears I’d never before seen fall from his eyes. All because of the eight minutes it took for his own dad to rape me, the memory I have of Crying Dad has almost fully overshadowed Bike Dad.
Every eight minutes a child is sexually assaulted. It’s just as easy for a lifetime to happen in eight minutes as it is for eight minutes to become an entire lifetime.
Only thirty percent of sexual assaults are ever reported and only a fraction of assailants go to jail. Due to what was ruled to be insufficient evidence, a nine-year-old girl’s testimony against her seventy-three-year-old rapist did not result in him having to spend the remainder of his years behind bars. He was allowed to walk away as if nothing had ever happened, free. That was me, but it wasn’t just me—out of about 1,000 other cases, 990 other abusers get to do the same thing. Instead of finding relief in knowing the person who violated us is locked up, we instead get the pleasure of bumping into them in the produce aisle of the local grocery store. We must take detours, swerve down different aisles, deal with the pain that resurfaces, and somehow find the strength and energy to remind ourselves that our stories are valid despite what was ruled in the court of law.
These are the internal wars that are fought in the absence of justice. These wars are never won or lost, never finished or forgotten. They continue to rage on quietly or loudly, barely or persistently, numbly or with ignition, but raging on, nonetheless, usually claiming the majority of casualties in the produce aisle.
Seven out of ten assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. Thirty-four percent of juvenile victims are assaulted by a family member. A few years ago, I read A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer, the story of a boy who almost lost his life due to a combination of his mother’s torture and his father’s refusal to intervene. I try to forget that book, but it reminds me: it could have been worse. Two Octobers ago, my best friend, Sam, called me, completely hysterical. She was date raped. But through her tears, she kept repeating was her uncle’s name. A few months later, I found out it was the resurfacing of the memory of when he’d molested her twelve years prior, triggered by the date rape.
My friend Abbie and I were out at a bar recently and witnessed a bachelorette party. The women were dressed in pink sashes and veils. No less than fifteen of them stood on the tables, their personal stage, giving the crowd their best rendition of a Justin Timberlake song. As Abbie and I watched and laughed, we overheard a man standing next to us say, “Girls dance like that on top of tables and then wonder why they’re raped.”
I have never I seen Abbie snap the way she did. Never had I heard her talk, much less scream in some stranger’s face, about the things her stepdad used to do to her, nor had I ever seen a man apologize so profusely just moments after saying something so profoundly ignorant. We went home and went to bed quickly after, leaving me with a feeling no hangover could ever match. I lay awake as I tried to piece together the story of my friend’s molestation, wondering if I would’ve ever heard it had it not been for that one man’s comment. I’ve learned that when it comes to sexual assault rarely is there table dancing involved.
Another eight minutes, each claiming another victim, giving them a childhood story that’ll always stay longer than any other childhood story. And for each of those eight minutes, there are the 990 out of 1,000 abusers who are let go, given another chance to do whatever it is that should’ve been immediately ended the second they put their hands on a child. There are the 994 other perpetrators who’ll go on to do more damage. And then there are the kids, the ones whose childhoods are cut short, the ones who get to learn about statistics a lot earlier on than their other classmates do. There’s Sam, the almost-valedictorian who instead had to be homeschooled after having to deal with both her past and her rapist (who still got to attend school). There’s Abbie, who is always so fearless and put-together, but only after scraping herself out of bed each morning after re-living her years of abuse in her nightmares.
And there’s me. But like I said, I’m one of the lucky ones.
Rumpus original logo art by Luna Adler.
ENOUGH is a Rumpus original series devoted to creating a dedicated space for work by women and non-binary people that engages with rape culture, sexual assault, and domestic violence. We believe that while this subject matter is especially timely now, it is also timeless. We want to make sure that this conversation doesn’t stop—not until our laws and societal norms reflect real change. You can submit to ENOUGH here.
Many names appearing in these stories have been changed.
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