The Survivor Thread

[Trigger warning.]

So, last night, I'm watching an episode of Intervention, and it's an episode with two women—one a meth addict, and one with a shopping addiction. And, in keeping with the trend I've previously observed, both of them had been sexually assaulted at a young age.

The meth addict, who was only 18, had already been, as the show (and her family) put it, "molested" twice—once by a cousin and one by a family friend who offered to mentor her after her father died. In the interviews with family members about her addiction, her aunt said she was worried about her niece, fearing she could end up "murdered or raped."

As if she hadn't already been twice raped.

Her aunt, like many people, probably doesn't consider any sexual assault a "real" rape until it's done by a stranger who leaves you half-dead. When it's done by a family member, it's merely "being molested." And part of the reason there are so many women who make this distinction is because "being molested" is so ubiquitous that it is considered a normal part of growing up female.

It put me in mind of this post by Shaker Wisewebwoman, which she sent me last week, in which she documents the multiple times she was sexually assaulted "before the age of consent" (and how she was silenced). She also notes:
One time, I took an informal survey amongst the women I knew. And every single last one of them had been sexually interfered with before the age of consent. Some far, far worse than others. And there are degrees, I suppose. Some were abused by their fathers, or uncles or brothers or cousins. And their mothers told them to shut up. Some got pregnant. Some became infertile. All were traumatized.
All of my female friends with whom I've spoken about this subject have been sexually assaulted multiple times in their lives—by family members or family friends, by persons of authority (ministers, teachers, doctors), by dates or boyfriends or husbands, by strangers—in incidents ranging from exposure (flashing) to penetrative rape.

I have been sexually assaulted multiple times: Once by a man I knew, my then-boyfriend, and twice by men I did not—a stranger on a train and a medical assistant who commented on and touched my breasts as I was about to get an MRI. (I was 16 and too scared and mostly too embarrassed to tell; to this day, it makes seeking medical treatment extremely difficult for me.) And that doesn't include the random grabbing of breasts and asses, the casual assaults that women consider "part of life."

As I've said before, this points to an interesting, ahem, blindspot in the oft-cited statistic about 1 in 6 women being victims of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault sometime in their lives: Many of those women will have been victimized multiple times.

And many of us who are survivors of repeat assaults will not speak of it; many of us will pick the "worst" one and talk about that in threads on assault, as if it's the only one. We do this for many reasons: We might feel embarrassed by being repeatedly victimized, as if it's indicative of a character flaw within ourselves; we might have trouble discussing multiple assaults without undermining what tenuous feeling of safety we have; we might have faced reactions of incredulity from people with whom we shared this information and thought we could trust; we might have been called liars or hysterics—accusations born of the silence about sexual assault.

Disbelief is the inevitable result of swimming in a culture which renders invisible the reality that enormous numbers of women—and men—have been sexually assaulted, many of them more than once.

And so, this will be a thread of clattering teaspoons breaking that silence. Share your stories here.

This is a safe space and this is the survivor thread.

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