Dear Lost Teenager,
I am so, so sorry for what he did to you. You’re going to hear from many other women, of all ages and backgrounds with stories similar to yours, telling you that you’re not alone and it’s not your fault and I hope you really let those messages sink in. I know it’s hard and you may spend a lot of time thinking, “If only I hadn’t accepted the beer. If only I had been more assertive. If only…if only…if only…” And all of those internal protests will place the blame squarely on yourself. You may wonder why you can’t silence that voice in your head, and you may wonder if the reason is because it must be right.
But I want to give you two reasons why that voice is wrong.
First, patriarchy. Everything in our culture places the blame on you but it’s not true. Patriarchy paints girls and women as hysterical and liars and manipulators in order to protect patriarchy. I wish I had paid more attention to this word much earlier in my life. I don’t believe that would have protected me from rape and sexual assault, but it could have protected me from my own mind in the aftermath. Read up, little sister. (But only when the time feels right. For now, just rest.)
Second – and this, as a mother to a 12 year old girl – is the most painful thing to reveal. None of what happened to you is your fault, and the blame rests squarely on your rapist, but women must also take partial responsibility for not talking to you in a deep and brave way about our own sexual trauma. Not that it would have protected you from the experience but because perhaps you wouldn’t feel so alone now. I was shocked to learn about my own mother’s sexual trauma when I confided in her about mine years after it had happened to me. I couldn’t believe that women in my own family had stories almost exactly like my own. I was relieved when I discovered I wasn’t the only one, but also angry. Why didn’t they tell me, the women who loved me, the women who were my elementary and high school teachers, the women who were my coaches, that it happened to them?
Now, as a mother, I know why. Because it’s unbearable to think that it might happen to the girls we love. That it’s so nauseating to us that we just can’t bring ourselves to face it. That we hope talking about statistics and girl power and self-defence and awareness may be enough to prevent it from happening to you, even though it didn’t work for us. We silence the truth because it’s too disgusting so we give you information and say things like, “It can happen to anyone - even some of us in this room” and then avert our eyes from meeting yours because we can’t stand it, we can’t even look at your innocence without our pain surfacing in our eyes and throat.
And we don’t want to scare you. We don’t want you to live in fear. We don’t want you to feel like prey. We don’t want you to feel tainted and bad and wrong and stupid.
I’m so sorry for the pain you’re suffering. I wish so much that we could eradicate this violence from our culture. Thank you for reaching out for help. I will speak for you. I will think of you when I look at my daughter and know that obscure generalities about rape culture aren’t enough to protect her, only a nurturance culture that values women and girls can protect her and help you heal. That means I have to have the courage to put a face to the number, to talk to my daughter about how my rape and assaults have impacted me, my relationships, my attitudes, my parenting. She needs to know what kinds of conditions are allowing rape culture to flourish and I need to be willing to counter those conditions by calling them out wherever I see them. I need to be willing to lend my face to the statistics in order to bring them home to her. My silence won’t protect her. Thank you for reminding me of that.
You are strong. You are smart. You may argue with me all you want about that, but there’s nothing you could say or do to change my mind about you, Lost Teenager. The fact that you reached out is awe-inspiring to me and proves it. You are strong. You are smart. Please be gentle with yourself.
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