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by Janelle Adamska
Smoking to inhale, I try to remember to breathe. Not breathing=Not feeling. I’m really good at not breathing. See, when I was a kid I could just make myself stop, but I learned early the body is resilient and will force you to breathe again and again. Time passes and you’re back to where you were before. Now, I’m staring at a blinking cursor on a numb-white, digital representation of a page, a space with no sense of feeling or touch, trying to figure out how to keep breathing without carcinogenic aids, trying to think of how to tell you about how I was touched, all the while knowing you will feel the paper of my story and be able to put it down. These words were waiting and will wait despite the persistent marking of time: 62 blinks on my computer screen, 22 years to quit my denial, and if I’m lucky, one moment when one reader will bear witness and no longer acquiesce to the pull of a culture that allows, denies and rewards the pervasive paradigm of sexual subjugation.
The truth is, I was raped when I was six. Now, I know what image must come to your mind. It wasn’t the creepy man in the white van peddling candy with a nefarious grin. It wasn’t a dark shadow in a dark alley. It was two seemingly normal, neighborhood boys just budding with their adolescence. I don’t know what they were thinking when they looked at 6-year-old me. I’ve often wondered why they couldn’t see I was horrified or why they didn’t think they were hurting me or why they wanted to hurt me. A big lesson for a little kid to take in, but I learned some people will not see you or care to see what they are doing to you if they are getting off.
You don’t need to know the dirty details of my days in a doghouse. I won’t indulge you
with the full scoop, mainly because I’m aware of how titillating descriptions of sexual acts can be, even when speaking of them in terms of abuse, and I am not comfortable or consenting to anyone getting any visualization of my degradation.
I was fine, until I wasn’t. I had gone all these years unable to admit what kind of affect my own history with sexual abuse had on me and then, quite suddenly, the things that were previously numb awoke in a screaming sharpness. My previous survival tactics of gas-lighting myself failed: It wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t as bad as what happened to my mother. It wasn’t as bad as that story on the news about that one girl in that one city so far away. There wasn’t any blood. It wasn’t that big of a deal. I don’t remember. But I do. Those intoxicating illusions of denial no longer fix what those young men broke, and there have been times when I could think of nothing besides the rubble.
The pieces would be more easily picked up if my experience were an anomaly, but bad things happen all the time and, even still, nobody talks about it. 1 in 4. 1 in 6. Silence. Amongst my friends, it’s easier to count those who haven’t than to try to quantify how prolific the problem of sexual abuse is in our culture respectively, internationally and throughout time. I’d rather count those who haven’t. It’s a smaller number, a nicer number, and a lucky number. I have experienced inappropriate boundary crossing from trusted individuals of the male gender numerous times since I was six. I know any gender can commit abusive behavior. I have known both female and male-bodied people who have experienced rape or molestation. I know a few who have experienced the horror of “stranger danger.” I know people who have felt the dread and despair after having someone they love and trust be blind to their individuality and choose instead to see them as an instrument for selfish ends. I know what it’s like to be shut down by a mother, shut down by a clergyman, shut down by friends and lovers. Don’t talk about it. No big deal. Keep going. This is what happens. Don’t put yourself on a cross; it’s too high. Stay down. Stay quiet. They wanted my silence. I gave them that for far too long.
“Amongst my friends, it’s easier to count those who haven’t [been sexually abused] than to try to quantify how prolific the problem of sexual abuse is in our culture respectively, internationally and throughout time. I’d rather count those who haven’t.”
Once I fully realized the broken pieces within myself, I began to see the cracks everywhere. When I’ve been dismissed for speaking out against the things that offend my identity and trigger my memories, my ability to validate my experience has been limited. When this is done by partners and whole social circles, it makes allowances for the spectrum of abuse to continue. The stories of other survivors have only made me louder. It’s through this vocalization of things laid mute, that I have been able to survive the outfall of my useless defenses. I feel I must speak because I walk out my door in the morning and am constantly reminded of my “sexual usefulness” by men on the street, jokes told by friends at bars and in the workplace and in reflections of my femininity in every ad to sell everything. In a few turns of the page, I will be triggered again with images, bodies, women—me—hips splayed, two dimensional, to be acted on, all with the suggestion of a gaze which is not my own. If I listened to all the cues around me, I might begin to believe that is all I am. I can’t believe that because it would mean I have to accept I will be used again. I must have faith there is a way to change the cultural climate that allows small everyday abuses committed by nice, normal people through language and image to escalate to rape. It’s not about simply saying “no” in the moment. It’s about each one of us saying “no” to these things everyday, no matter how small the instance.
Since this is a people problem we need to examine why this happens. Why have most of the people that I have met been abused? Why is the male body used as a weapon statistically more than the female body? Why do we think about sex and the bodies of others the way we do? Is it biologically hardwired or are we sentient beings who are able to think, reason, read the rights of another person’s person as more important than our wish to act upon them? Is it a joke? Are we reading the signs? Is that the problem? Are we taking to heart the seemingly permanent availability of women’s bodies in our visual culture? We are all visual creatures. We all take in our surrounding environment and make decisions about how to act on it. There is no one answer. But certainly numbers tell us it is a human cultural dynamic that is a painful problem stretching far and wide through time that has been excused, downplayed and flat out denied. WE MUST examine our consciousness and be willing to eradicate our own abusive behaviors in order to ensure we ourselves are not enabling or committing. We need to confront our friends when we notice abusive language and behaviors. That’s what friends do: hold you accountable for your failings and successes in the journey to be healthier and happier on this earth. We can go to the moon, but you know what they say about running away from your problems. This problem belongs to everyone.
One in three women on planet earth is a victim of sexual abuse. That is one billion people, or one-sixth of the world’s population. Help raise awareness and destroy this statistic. Learn more at OneBillionRising.org