You’d rather write about the charming side of your town, and for the most part you do. But this week your town has shown its not-so-charming side. Two brothers aged eighteen and twenty were arrested for sexual assault. A number of other young people are afraid that they might be next because they were at the party where the alleged assault took place—with cameras in hand. A young person was victimized; his life altered. And so you want to write about your town and what it’s going through because people are shaken up about it. But where do you start? Your children are the same age as these children. They’ve known some of them since preschool.
You want to write about the mother you spoke to today whose fourteen-year-old daughter was groped at her first high school dance, a place you’d expect her to be safe. You want to write about how strange it is, adolescence. How that window of time between trading Pokemon cards and being hormonally charged is so small, so small that you barely have time to catch your breath. You want to talk about this terrible thing that happened in your town like it’s an isolated incident but this is nothing new and your town is not unique. You write about your town and you write about every town and a culture that has allowed it to go on and on and on. You write about how it was going on when you were in middle school and the boys chased you at recess and knocked you onto the grass and stuck their hands up your shirt and you write about it now because back then you didn’t tell anyone because you had it in your mind that it was just playful playground fun—even though it didn’t feel like fun to you.
You want to write about all of this and more, but putting it in words is difficult. The thoughts are coming from so many different places and what you need to do is set the thoughts aside for a while and write from that place in your gut that’s holding it all in. You want to write and you don’t want to write because it’s going to take you places you’ve been avoiding. It’s going to take you places that you’ve held in secret for about thirty years and it’s going to make you feel vulnerable because somehow you still have it in your head that it was your fault, that you put yourself in a bad situation and so ultimately you are responsible. You hate feeling vulnerable.
You’re going to say things about boys that have most likely grown in to decent human beings, stellar community members, charitable donors to their local nonprofits. But you decide to write it now because it’s the only way you can express what’s going on inside of you when you hear about these two young men who have been arrested for sexual assault.
You knew boys like those boys in your school days. They were the kids the teachers liked. They were the kids you liked. They played basketball and football. They were witty and popular and you wanted their attention so badly. And so when they gave it to you it felt like a privilege. You with the crooked teeth, that lived on the wrong side of town, that had a step-father who wouldn’t talk to you and a father who never called wanted the attention of those boys and when they gave it you certainly didn’t want to tell them no. And so they asked you to hang out with them after school one day and you said yes and it never occurred to you that you’d be the only girl. And you went with them anyhow because you didn’t know not to trust them. You went to one of the boys’ houses a few blocks from school. His dad was home and so you went instead into their camp trailer that was parked in their front yard. You don’t remember much about the camp trailer, just being shoved down on a little folding bed, and someone undoing your pants and another someone pulling them off your legs and there was laughing and you didn’t know you were crying until you felt the tears running down the side of your face and one of them put his head to your privates and said things and did things that in your naivety you never knew were things to do and the humiliation was more than you could bear and so when it was over you laughed along with them and pretended it was no big deal and then you walked home, alone and ashamed. At home you ate dinner and watched Three’s Company with your mom and your little sister and your silent step-dad. You talked on the phone with your friend for a while and you never said a word about what happened because you thought somehow you should have seen it coming. You should have known not to go with them. You should have been smarter. You should have been prettier because the boys probably didn’t do that to the prettiest girls. You should have, you should have, you should have and it never even occurred to you until several years later that the should-haves weren’t yours to own.
And so you want to write about your town and what it’s going through, because what your town is going through is a terrible thing. But it’s been going on for ages. The humiliating, the bullying, the assaulting, the tricking, the teasing, the hurting. All of is has been going on in varying degrees in every town. Your town is not unique. The actions the two boys in your town have been accused of are not so uncommon. What’s uncommon is their being called on it. Victims blame themselves. They try to protect their dignity and even their assailants with silence because the assailants are the good guys; they’re popular, the teachers like them, they make your town look good on the playing field. But silence is more terrible than truth. It perpetuates the belief that it’s okay. It’s okay to rape a girl if she’s wearing a short skirt. It’s okay to mess with the drunk kid. It’s okay to tease the kid with a learning disability. It’s okay to shame a girl for having sex. It’s okay to shame a boy for not having sex. It’s okay to beat up the gay kid. It’s okay to pull the pants off the girl who was stupid enough to follow you into the camp trailer.
It has to end somewhere. At some point you have to say enough. It’s not okay. And sure, what your town is going through is a difficult thing, but it’s necessary. It’s breaking the pattern of silence.
You write about it now, not because you want attention or sympathy. You write about it now because there is this hope that by not brushing a society’s dark secrets aside, by saying something, by doing something, you’ll make a difference. You write about it now because when you were thirteen you couldn’t articulate the truth of the matter: it’s not okay to hurt someone, grope someone, touch someone without consent even if they’re passed out drunk, even if they’ve flirted with you, even if they’ve wandered off with you. You write because you hope for a future where open communication reigns and where victims don’t feel responsible for the actions perpetrated against them. You write because there should be no excuses and no free passes when it comes to harming another human being. You write, not because you have any answers, but because you have something to say. You believe that when it comes to teaching respect and dignity we all have something to say.
39 thoughts on “Something to Say”
Teresa, You’ve broken silence in a dignified and important way. I can only hope you are breaking trail for others so that victim-blaming can someday come to an end. I send my warmest hugs to you. Kate
Thank you Kate, for your support and friendship.
Teresa, thank you for a brave and truthful posting. Everything you have said is true, but for one: “it’s okay to pull the pants off the girl who was stupid enough to follow you into the camp trailer.” Try inserting “stupid” into each of the sentences about it that describe what happened to others who were assaulted. Even though you understand now that it was not her fault, It’s as though you still blame her for trusting. She had no idea that such things were possible, so why would she not trust them? I am still healing from my experience when I was 13. It’s a life-long journey, and I hope that we can support each other with compassion. Morgan
Morgan, thank you for reading and commenting. I understand what you’re saying about adding the word “stupid” in there. I almost removed it before posting but I kept it in because I was trying to think of the perpetrators’ perspective, which is always skewed. Since I posted this I’ve had a number of people tell me that something similar happened to them. I’ve also had a few parents tell me that this prompted them to talk to their children, which is a hopeful starting place.
The word “stupid” belongs there. Because that’s what one thinks and feels. Regardless of how many times good people tell you shouldn’t think that. You do anyway. Part of the problem…
Thank you for sharing your story. You are brave, strong, intelligent and kind. Your words shine light on the darkness of violence.
You’re welcome, Julie. Thank you for your kind words and support.
Saying aloud what others harbor in silence is using words the way they were meant to be used. I admire this piece and the courage it took to write it.
It’s true, there is power in words. Thank you for reading mine.
On another note, I’m sad that the victim will have to live with this being a public story. In a small town, there is no escape: he is now synonymous with sexual assault. He can’t cry quietly in the dark, he can’t slowly come to grips with what happened, and he can’t then decide that it doesn’t define him after all. He can no longer chose the event’s narrative for himself, he will have chosen for him by others.
I will always be grateful no authority figures ever found out what happened to me at HHS. Dealing with his friends making sly jokes in the hallways or whispering horrible things to me at my locker was bad enough, I cannot imagine if other people were writing blogs about what happened. I get to look at it on my own terms, that It happened once, it sucked, and it had nothing to do with me. Fortunately, I had the space to come to this conclusion on my own.
In the end, I think using a minor’s sexual assault as a talking point is thoughtless. Well it feels good for us to open up all our old wounds, to feel that they are somehow validated by his experience and the response to it, this catharsis has a victim. A victim who may not be a victim, but who now has that label slapped on them.
I understand the urge to talk, and I understand that for many people from older generations, there was never a chance. However, I don’t find it acceptable to turn someone else ‘s suffering into that chance.
I’ve been thinking about how to respond to your comment. I am glad you brought up the point of the young man not being able to recover from what happened to him on his own terms. It’s unfair for him without a doubt. However, the people who committed the act against him in front of a crowd of onlookers are the ones responsible for this invasion of his privacy. I do not know the name of the young man who was sexually assaulted at the party in early September, nor do I need to know his name in order to speak out against such travesties. I think that if our community were to pretend like nothing happened it would be a serious disservice to the cause of trying to prevent sexual assault, bullying and other acts against humanity. Also, I wish you wouldn’t presume that I wrote this piece for my own cathartic reasons. I was fine before I wrote it and I’m fine now. I decided to tell my story not because I needed “a chance” to talk about it but because an actual story of an actual event is a more powerful tool to portray a problem than saying something vague or saying nothing at all. As a parent, as a member of this community, as a supporter of Homer High School and as a person who cares about how people treat other people I feel it is my duty to try to make a difference. Obviously we can’t prevent bad things from happening all the time, but pretending that nothing is wrong is the worst possible way a community can respond.
You and I were lucky in that we did have the chance to get through what happened to us in our own time and on our own terms. I am horrified at what the young man must be going through right now and I hope that he’s in a safe and supporting environment where he can begin to recover and move on.
I’m at a loss for words to express how important and beautifully written this is. Thank you for your bravery, honesty and for acknowledging this kind of thing is not rare here. Breaking the silence is the first necessary step.
Amy, thank you for reading this and for the work you do to prevent things like this from happening. Thank you also for the comfort you give to those who have been through it.
necessary. thank you for writing this. i know i’m not alone in my horror at the national “discourse” on sexual assault, and some male politicians’ take on “boys being boys,” etc. one man repeatedly said “we just called it ‘slipping a mickey, not rape, so, you know, it’s a complicated definition,” and these are, somehow, the voices that are heard over and over….so important to tell OUR stories. thank you.
Thanks Erica! I have been hearing stories all week. Hopefully by telling our stories we will help those who are ignorant realize that really it isn’t a “complicated definition” at all.
Thank you. I could never tell my teenage daughter my own stories of being sexually assaulted, but I had her read this. I hope like hell she won’t join this club. Again, thank you.
You’re welcome, and thank you for showing this to your daughter. Educating our sons and daughters is what we can and must do, no matter how difficult that may seem. You’re a good mom.
Omg, all I can say is omg. It is an incredible piece of writing, as are all the comments and points of view. All are valid. My girls know these kids at HHS, all of them. I do too. Is is unspeakable and yet it must be spoken. He is now a statistic. I’m a statistic as well, times two. The odds suck. I have told my girls, but I think it is not ‘real’ to those who don’t know.
Thank you for reading my blog and for commenting. While I don’t know the young people involved in this case on a personal level, I know of them. It’s terrible all the way around. Hopefully parents are taking this opportunity to have serious discussions with their children.
This is a beautiful and poignant piece. We adult women need to tell the truth to the men in our lives about the sexual harassment and abuse we experience from the age of none until about death… I find men are shocked, shocked, shocked to hear about rape, near rape, and the stories we don’t tell about random groping etc.. I feel for the boy that was abused and I disagree with the poster above who thinks this is thoughtless. On the contrary – this is the most thoughtful way to address real human interactions in your town and mine. The boy is already known in this small town; this posting does not ‘out’ him, but it will let him know that he is not alone in his experience and that that he is not to blame for the aggression and cowardly attack on his dignity and the integrity of his young body.
Thank you Ellen for your very thoughtful comment. You’ve brought up an important point about telling the truth to the men in our lives about unwanted sexual attention in all of its forms. Since I’ve posted this so many women have told me of their own terrible experiences and many of them have told their women friends but not the men in their lives. Why do we try to hide this from them? I admit I have been guilty of it as well.
Thank you for sharing. I know what you have seen for I have seen it too. And I understand the weight of speaking out, its not easy. I have lived through the punishment that comes from standing up, as has my son. I am surprised my house has not been burned. May my days continue. I think most importantly, as a community, we must speak to our sons and daughters and reiterate again and again that there is no offense worthy of reprisal by way of sexual assault. I was told that the most recent victim “deserved it”…..not in so many words, but essentially, this was the spin on the ground of the kids. I was horrified to hear this. These painful situations that become public are the product of the private lives of our residents. And anonymous above is right, we must talk to the men we know. More importantly, men must talk to men, for there are some men who value only some words from some people. Teresa, it is hard to speak the truth in the face of those who are “popular” and well known. This was a most salient aspect of your piece.
Nantia, thank your for reading this and commenting of your own experience of trying to speak up. There are so many rumors going around about this case, and while most of the comments I’ve heard have been in full support of the young man that was violated, I have also seen comments on various news sites that are seriously disturbing. Many kids are still defending the perpetrators, blaming the victim and saying that “it was no big deal.” You are absolutely right when you say that no offense is ever made right by way of sexual assault. I’ve seen comments, made by adults no less, saying that they hope the perps will get a taste of their own medicine in prison, and I find that appalling as well. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and sexual violence is always wrong. Period. Thanks again for taking the time to respond to this.
Bravo to you for writing with such passion and for writing about some of the things that need to be said. I often feel like I go through life somewhat cocooned away from the community, oblivious to the news, etc. You remind me of how important it is to know what is going on; how important, as writers, to write about the stuff that matters to the community, whether it be impersonal or utterly squirm-inducing.
Thank you, Ela. I find that if I listen, the community will tell me what I need to write about.
You’re so very welcome, my friend.
Thank you Teresa, for this poignant work. You have bravely described that of which many have kept silent for too many years. We must all rise up unafraid and together speak out with one loud voice saying “No, we will not tolerate it any longer!”
Thank you Debra for reading this and for your comment. It is my hope that with our collective voices, and our individual stories, we will begin to see a shift.
Teresa this is an incredible piece. Thank you for writing it.
You’re so very welcome. And thank you for the work you do to empower the young people in our community. The impact of your work will positively impact Homer for decades to come. That’s powerful stuff.
Thank you for the courage to tell your story.
You’re welcome, and thank you for reading it.
Hello, Teresa! We don’t know each other but I am very touched by your story in so many ways! I feel that more people in our area (I live in Seldovia) should read this story and would love to share it, would that be ok?
Thanks Robin for reading it and for the kind comment. And yes, please share it if you wish.
Teresa, thank you for writing this. I’ve had it open on my browser since you posted it feeling like I needed to reply but struggling with how. Coming from the same town it’s hard to read the reality of what happened to you and knowing that similar stories are way too common everywhere. Young men face a lot of challenges knowing how to grow up to be good male adults with so many messages portraying an expectation that real men hold power and force it upon all those around them. This was true then and is true now if only that it’s expressed in different way. It’s exacerbated by young men trying to figure it out by learning from each other while emulating the destructive patterns they see around them. I’m not making excuses for them or saying that ‘boys will be boys’ but rather that there are society wide problems that face us along with the need for personal accountability. It won’t entirely end things like this happening but it’s important that we shift the shame from the victims to the victimizers, bring daylight to the education of young men to what is a shifting definition of being a man, and provide clear messages early on as to what is right and wrong without hiding from it. What happened to Teresa and the young boy in Homer should never have happened, that’s easy for most to agree upon. The tough part is walking through the difficult steps that follow in a way that will, if nothing else, keep if from happening to one more person. Telling your story is a step in the right direction. Thank you.
Thank you so much for your thoughts on this. It means a lot to hear that you’ve had this open in your browser and have struggled with how to respond. How do we respond is the question indeed. I agree with all that you’re saying about young men facing so many mixed messages. I see hopeful signs everywhere: young men becoming less homophobic, young men standing up for the rights of women in their lives, young men realizing that they don’t have to act macho in order to feel secure. And yet we still have such a long ways to go. Thanks for being the kind of human that sets a positive example. Ultimately living by example is the best we can do. Thanks again. I really do appreciate the time you took to think about this, and your mindful response is encouraging.
To quote you, “Ultimately living by example is the best we can do.” If children saw their fathers as strong, fair, kind, and loving, as well as their mothers as strong, fair, kind, and loving, we may achieve something in society. Parents have responsibility to make their children strong, fair, kind, and loving. And, then, to pass it on.