One day in early spring 24 years ago I was walking from my student housing to class on BYU
campus in Provo, Utah, when a boy (a man really, he was at least 21 because he’d served an LDS mission) came out of his house and asked if he could walk with me.
I knew him. I’d dated his roommate briefly the year before. He’d always been pleasant, and we were going to the same place. How nice to have company.
“I just have to grab my backpack,” he said. “Come inside for a second.”
I didn’t think twice about going inside. It was a lovely day. He was a good guy. How nice to have company.
As soon as the front door closed he assaulted me. But I was lucky. Someone came in through the back door. It startled him. I pushed him off me. I ran.
But that isn’t the end of the story.
When I got to the corner I pulled my sweater out of my backpack to cover my torn shirt. In a daze I continued walking to class. In less than a minute he was beside me, begging me not to tell anyone what had happened. He said it was because I was so pretty. He said it was because of the way I was dressed. He said it was my fault for going inside with him.
I stared down at my black-and-brown leather shoes treading up the hill from a vast distance in my head while he talked, my tongue locked behind my clenched jaw. I don’t know where he went when he finally left. I never saw him again. Robot-like I went to class and then to work. It wasn’t until my boss repeated the same question for the tenth time and I couldn’t find the answer in my wounded brain that I burst into tears and told him what happened in short humiliated gasps.
He wanted me to make a report to campus security. He called my boyfriend who came to pick me
up. Neither of them understood why I refused to report what had happened. But I knew. It’s because it was my fault.
I wasn’t raped that day. What would have happened if someone hadn’t come in? (Even now an unkind voice in my head says: it wasn’t a big deal he wasn’t a bad person why are you even writing this shit? But when I watch the scene in my head, terror electrifies the backs of my thighs, desperate for me to run, and a thousand needling shocks prickle the undersides of my arms at the memory of how completely ineffectual my frantic thrashing attempts to escape were.
He didn’t look that strong.
Right now the second saddest part about this story is that just now I had to stop myself from including a description of what I was wearing that day (I remember in minute detail). Like it mattered at all what I wore. Like what he said was true. Like it was actually my fault.
I shoved the memory of that day deep deep down inside my body. I never thought about it, never talked about it, but subconsciously, I lived my life every day like it was my fault. It affected how I dressed, who I spoke to, what I did, where I went.
The saddest part about this story is that in not speaking I unwittingly became part of the problem.
If at any point in reading my story you thought to yourself: “Well, it WAS kind of her fault,” or, “It really wasn’t a big deal,” YOU are part of the problem, too.
Shame is an incredibly powerful emotion. At least as strong as both hate and love combined. It gets less airtime though, because it’s so HUMILIATING. And yet, guilt and Shame are responsible for so many ills that plague society.
The word ‘riven’ means violently torn apart. My debut novel, RIVEN is about a girl who is being mentally torn apart by shame she has buried.
As the publication date for RIVEN approaches, I am hard at work writing SECRET KEEPER, the second book in the MY MYTH Trilogy. I’m researching,
exploring, and learning about the damage secrets can do to our ability to trust, to love, and to form healthy relationships.
I want to rid myself of my own secrets and buried emotions. I want to rid
myself of shame. I hope in speaking this story that I haven’t shared with parents, siblings, or children before, I will empower those around me.
Fast forward 24 years.
So, how many unsolicited dick pics do you guys get these days?
Is it a lot?
I get A LOT.
When it first started happening I was threatened and ashamed. On every social media platform my knee-jerk reaction was to disable my account IMMEDIATELY.
When I shared what was happening with Important People in my life, this was the unsolicited advice I received from many (not all) of them:
Don’t be so friendly
Don’t engage in conversation
Don’t post selfies
Make your accounts private
(And from the ladies) What are you complaining about? I wish guys hit on me.
I scrutinized my actions, my words, my pictures. My Important People asked over and over, “why would someone send sexual pictures without thinking you wanted them to?” They decided I must be sending signals, I must be doing something wrong. Silently, I agreed with them. I was distraught. I felt humiliated and unsafe. I went into hiding over and over again.
But when I told my therapist she said, “BULLSHIT. Joining a discussion and posting pictures on
social media isn’t a signal that you want men you’ve never met to send you lewd photos of their junk.”
With her help and the support of a few loving friends, I made progress in cyberspace and in the real world, too.
My kids even suggested that every time I get an unsolicited dick pic I send one back, and while I’ve never done that, I don’t fall apart anymore when I get one either. I block the perpetrator and move on.
Over the course of several years I came out of my turtle shell and embraced my femininity, tried new things, met new people, and even went places in DRESSES without a MAN to PROTECT ME. I left an abusive marriage. I WROTE A BOOK. With practice, I’ve gotten better at setting my own boundaries and not deteriorating into a shuddering mess of nerves when approached by a male stranger.
Guys, I know I’m opening myself up to all kinds of criticism here. I can almost hear people thinking: Who does she think she is? She’s not even that pretty. And gross. She’s OLD. Stop flattering yourself you old hag. No one wants you.
Sadly, I’ve thought those things, too. But, this isn’t about looks or age. It’s about self-blame and shame…two things I thought I had conquered.
Until last night.
I accept follow requests on every social media platform from anyone I think is a real person whose profile pic doesn’t contain guns or violence or pornography, including teens. I’m a young adult author and I want to connect with and learn from people, including young adults.
Last night I got a private message from someone whose username I didn’t recognize. It said:
Unknown User (UU): Are you the sub from CHS who writes books?
Me: YUSSS 😀
UU: Do students ever send you inappropriate pics?
(At this point I didn’t know if this was a guy or a girl, no profile pic, not a personal name as the username).
UU: What would you do if they did?
Me: Block them.
UU: But you wouldn’t really care that much?
ME: I WOULD care. I’ve gotten inappropriate pics from guys before, but not from someone I know and never a student. I would feel bad because it’s disrespectful. Who is this?
UU: You’ve subbed for me before. Can I send you a pic? I’m 18. I really want to. I want to show you my cock.
Me: Absolutely NOT
His pic appeared on the screen before I could block him.
Faster than I would have thought possible, I reverted back to my automatic response to this trigger just like I’d never worked through these issues. I deleted my account.
In shock, I went to bed. I didn’t even remember what had happened until I started getting texts today from friends asking why I’d deleted my account.
And even though every single adult male friend I have who knows I work as a substitute teacher at a high school has made a variation of a comment on the theme “Hot For Teacher,” or “I wish I’d had a teacher like you when I was in high school,” all day long I’ve been feeling gross and horrible and ashamed, trying to figure out what I had done wrong. Because this was a student.
WHY WOULD A STUDENT DO SOMETHING LIKE THAT UNLESS HE THOUGHT I WANTED HIM TO???*
The voices of the Important People who’d blamed me in the past started shouting:
You shouldn’t interact with teens!
You shouldn’t have answered the initial message!
You shouldn’t have continued the conversation!
You shouldn’t converse with anyone you’re not related to, ever!
You should wear a burka and stay indoors!
You shouldn’t SMILE you shouldn’t TALK you shouldn’t EXIST!
But then I remembered that my therapist had me practice recognizing the difference between asking for a dick pic and receiving an unsolicited dick pic by writing down an example invitation… you know, so I wouldn’t get confused and think I had accidentally asked for one when I hadn’t:
“Hey Hottie, will you send me a pic of your dick?”
And guess what? I. DIDN’T. DO. THAT.
Not that I haven’t ever asked for one. Not that I won’t in the future. But I didn’t ask for one last night. In fact, I did the OPPOSITE. I said ABSOLUTELY NOT.
So yeah. It took me all day to process, but I’m not going to be ashamed of this. I’m not going to doubt myself or my friendliness or my wardrobe or be embarrassed about my body or my bra size or scrutinize my interactions or delete my accounts or hide from society because I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING WRONG.
I’m not looking for sympathy or validation here. I’m not seeking redemption or attention. I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, and I know that if it’s happening to me it’s happening to some of you, too. Too many of us have these stories.
Women. Girls. Demand respect. Will you always get it? NO. Will you be objectified? YES. Will you be judged? Yep. Will you be blamed? Probably. Will you be hurt and used and belittled? God, I hope not. If you are, tell someone. Please don’t blame yourself and bury it like I did.
Above all, be kind to yourself. Be kind to your sisters. Don’t perpetuate rape culture by slut shaming and victim blaming. I’ll tell you the same thing I told my 14 year-old daughter this morning:
That’s easier said than done, I know. So many people will try to impose their rules on you. We get so much misinformation. At 14, an Important Person in my life told me his wife was frigid. He told me how wrong it was that she withheld sex from him. He told me that women were made for men’s pleasure. How, as a woman, it would be my duty to take care of mens’ needs.
We all know that’s INSANE, right?
But at 14, I didn’t. I didn’t know.
This culture we live in has been long in the making. The conditioning starts at a VERY young age. If you think that this sort of thing doesn’t happen in middle and high school and EVERYWHERE ELSE, I am here to tell you: you are WRONG.
It will take time to undo the damage that has been done, but I believe we can fix it.
We can learn. We can CHANGE.
Parents. Ask your sons right now what I just asked mine: “You know you only send pics of your dick when someone asks you to, right?” or like I asked them the other day, “You know it isn’t alright to violate someone because they are unconscious and you are drunk, right?” Make sure they know that intimidation and manipulation are what cowards use to make themselves feel powerful.
Ask your daughter if she’s ever felt threatened. Ask her if she knows that she isn’t responsible when someone doesn’t respect her wishes. Help her find her voice and recognize the difference between asking for what she wants and burying what she gets. Practice with her how to be strong. Show her how to hold her head up, how to validate and own her emotions and decisions. How to take responsibility for her actions.
Men. Listen. I have a thing for you guys. I have so many wonderful, supportive, respectful gentleman in my life, and you smell GREAT. Sending unsolicited pics isn’t about misunderstanding. Assault isn’t about confusion. But if you ever do feel confused? Ask. Listen. RESPECT. And we will, too.
Don’t be this guy.
Women and men, boys and girls, parents. We have all inherited this culture.
We can stop blaming and work together to change it.
Life is too short for buried shame.
*The answer to the question, “why would anyone do that?” is, of course:
BECAUSE THEY’RE BEHAVING LIKE A DOUCHE BAG.