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  • Writer's pictureTanja Battle

Every woman I know has a story.

Dear Survivor:

I know about the day you plopped your playful, 9-year-old body into the overstuffed living room chair, dangling both of your feet over one of the chair's arms. Your best friend was on the sofa and you both talked and giggled and giggled and talked like 9-year-old little girls are prone to do. You were having a blast and even though your own house was right down the street, visible through the front door which was wide open, you felt like a big girl, independent and free. I know your parents were typically strict so you were shocked that you got to hang out at someone else's house as that was not normally the case. What you didn't know was that, in a matter of minutes, your BFF's older brother, a senior in high school, was about come and join you. What you didn't know is that he would talk with you and laugh with you and then, when his little sister wasn't paying attention, he would put his 18-year-old hand between your legs and touch you in a way that you knew was clearly wrong. You were defenseless and I am so sorry that you had to go through that. I know you wondered about what you were supposed to do. I know you worried that your mom or dad may have been looking down the street and through the open door in the exact moment that his hand was THERE. I know you felt ashamed and guilty for being a bad girl. I know you were afraid. I know you didn't fully understand why your heart raced while you hoped fiercely that nobody else would ever know. You went home, forever changed and you never told a soul. You carried this with you for all of your life because somehow, you knew, even at age 9, telling would not serve you well. How you knew that, I don't know. But, sadly, you were right. I wish I could've warned you that this would not be the only time a man would use his power over you. I wish I could've warned you about the men you should avoid. I wish I could've told you that, sadly, the majority of the women you would come to know would be sexually harassed and/or assaulted. And I wish I could've told you to always be supportive when someone is speaking out about such. I wish a lot of things, all impossible as time travel isn't an option. I remember that day you were crossing the street to get from your meeting to your car. Your shoes were hurting your feet and your black business suit made you hot and uncomfortable under the beating sun. Your boss was calling you on your cell phone. "Where are you?" he asked. "I'm on the corner of Main and Dillard," you responded. "You ought to get a good rate there," he said. "WHAT DID YOU SAY TO ME?!" You snapped back. On the other end was laughter. You were irate and when you next saw him you, in no uncertain terms, advised him that he was never to speak to you like that again. He had likened you to a prostitute and thought it comical. "What are you talking about?" he asked sarcastically with a grin that infuriated you further. You explained it, though you both knew he didn't need explanation. "I don't remember saying that." You called him a liar with your eyes and he smugly grinned back. Within the same week, he uttered, "Whatever you do, don't bend over; my wife is going to be out of town for 17 days!" Again, you told him that was unacceptable, to no avail. Here's what you both knew in that moment. 1. You weren't going to report him; and 2. it would surely happen again. And then there was the day when you were talking to a man, 20 years your senior. He was an acquaintance in a position of authority. He seemed harmless enough but as he walked you to your car, you noted a shift in his energy and immediately felt uncomfortable. He stood in front of you intimidating you with his size and gaze. You knew him so it didn't occur to you to run because, despite the unease, you really had no inkling that he was about to ram his tongue down your throat. As you broke away from him, you saw his face which reflected surprise. "did I read this situation wrong?" he asked. "YES!" You started to weep and he softened before he grabbed your hand apologetically. You asked him what it was about you that made him think that you would be okay with his advances. He answered but what he said didn't register. I imagine that you thought about what you would do if something like this ever happened to you. You would run or hit or scream or kick. But you didn't. You froze. And then you wept. And then you felt guilty for allowing it. And then you felt weak for crying. And then you questioned why you had put yourself in this situation. And then you were embarrassed and afraid at the thought of others knowing, fearing nobody would believe you and everyone would blame you. He called you the day after and said, "I'm not sorry I did it." In utter disbelief, you told him that this was never to be spoken about again. Even with that, you remained silent. Others will fault you and criticize you for this. But I don't blame you. How could I when so many have been crucified for speaking out? The reality is that almost every woman you know has a story. The reality is that there are secrets that will we will all take to our graves. The sad truth is that there will be women who are judgmental and accusatory rather than supportive and empathetic when it comes to this. The sad truth is that there will be men who will tell you not to be angry about this current madness. The reality is that this will change some of your relationships because you won't be able to understand how people can't grasp what these experiences have taken from you or how you could not report any or all of it. I am sorry that this is your story but you are strong and you have survived this. And for those who simply don't get why you wouldn't tell, may they never experience what you have to finally understand.

Don't judge. You don't know.

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