Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Is speaking out really all that hard to do?

I have always been one to speak my mind.  I know that may come as a surprise to some of you, but it's true. I have cared little for how comfortable or uncomfortable my words make you; I have something to say. I have learned that those of us who speak our minds live longer. I'm guessing that is where the phrase "too mean to die" comes from. But I digress.

To date, upwards of two dozen women have come forward accusing Bill Cosby of sexual assault and/or rape. At first, accusations were like an annoying drip of a faucet. You know it's there, but you only hear it when all else is quiet. This went on for years. Then, another accuser comes out. The drips get quicker, louder. Then another accuser, and another. Soon the drips become a trickle. Then the trickle becomes a steady flow.

Well, the sink runneth over at this point.

So why did it take so long and so many women to make this happen?

I was raped at 6 years old. My parents had just moved our family to a small country town to protect me from the forced busing occurring in our city. I would have been bused across town during first grade (I didn't attend kindergarten) and my mother was afraid something bad would happen to me if I went to school with people of another color. I have one sister who was 10 years my senior and wanted nothing to do with me. I idolized her.

Sometime between moving in late May and starting school in September I was raped by a teen the same age as my sister. It started out innocently enough- he offered to play with me in the backyard as our parents visited each other. One day he suggested we play house, and took me to the barn loft because it was a secret game, and no one could see us there. On two occasions he raped me in this loft. But as you will learn through future posts, although he didn't get to touch me again, he never really left me alone.

I was six. I had no male friends and my parents were exceedingly modest. I had no experience with animals. I had no words to describe his actions, or his anatomy. I had no experience with which to frame the rape. Mr. X, I'll call him, kept telling me he was like a daddy and I was like a mommy, but I didn't think so. I didn't know much, but I knew my mommy wouldn't let my daddy hurt her. And I knew (or thought I knew) that my daddy didn't look like that. I decided he was an alien.

How do you tell someone when you have no words to describe what happened?

When I was in about second grade I learned that my BFF had a little brother. Over the next couple of years I learned about male anatomy and amended my opinion of Mr. X. By the end of third grade I decided he was indeed human, just evil.

In sixth grade my parents separated. I knew divorce was pending and that I would be moving away at the end of the school year. I had watched the news with my mom one night and heard a word with which I was unfamiliar, rape. Sex I knew, so mom explained it as being forced to have sex against your will.

Rape. I now had a word for it.

The first person I told was my BFF.  I'll never forget the day. We were lying on the hill beside my house looking at clouds just talking about everything from soup to nuts, like friends do. I told her "Mr. X raped me." She didn't say anything. I understood, even then, that she was like I had been; she didn't have a frame of reference with which to process the news. She didn't have any words to offer me. Not long after that I announced it to my table of friends in the lunch room. One person accused me of making it up, saying it didn't really happen.

The next year I was in a huge middle school in the city. I had heard that there was a special room in the library for books about sex, and I asked the librarian for access it to research rape. She opened the door for me, but never said a word or asked a question.

Over the years I disclosed to the following people:
1- my parents
2- my sister
3- several teachers
4- several counselors (during two psychiatric hospitalizations)
5- a police officer (who frequented my mother's convenience store where I worked)
6- dozens, scores even, of friends

All I wanted was someone to get angry for me. I wanted to know that there was nothing wrong with me. I mean, don't you get angry about the rape of a 6 year old? Why didn't these people get angry? Why did they simply nod and say "I'm sorry?" No one, not one of them, told me to go to the police or to file charges. There are some on that list that actually discouraged me from speaking of it further.

So how did I end up making an allegation 36 years later in 2012? A chance question on a teacher's networking/social media site resulted in the response "Rape of a child is a felony. There is no statute of limitations on felonies." A stranger, protected by anonymity and by whom I know only by a username like DogLover, encouraged me and gave me the tools I needed to face down Mr. X; the monster who, at times, still hides under my bed.

I can only imagine the bad advice Cosby's accusers have been given over the years. How many of them have been chided, accused of lying, called attention seekers, or worse; told that they sent mixed signals and asked for it. Admit it, most of you reading this have only just started to think the allegations are valid because of their quantity.  Being vilified for being a victim is rape all over again, and again.

I speak out now because I am that annoying, dripping faucet. Nothing else, no one else, can hurt me. I have been raped. That was bad enough. But the ugly truth is that I have also been ignored, patronized, demeaned, and accused. Those wounds are still healing, but I must speak out. Behind this drip there may be another, and another, just waiting for the floodgates to open and release the bonds that hold them.

On February 13, 2012, Detective Johnson took my statement and immediately called Mr. X in to interview. Later that week I received an email from Det. Johnson telling me that Mr. X had admitted to touching me, but then lawyered up. The detective wanted to give a polygraph, but Mr. X refused.

I was asked by a dear friend how I felt hearing that news. The flood of emotion that followed could only be described one way and with one word: believed. It took 36 years, but I was finally believed. Truly I believe that's all victims hope for. Not attention, not sympathy, not lofty words of comfort, not 15 minutes of fame. Victims simply want to be believed.  We want others to get angry, just as we are angry. We want people to join us in the fight.

Back to the question, is speaking out really all that hard to do? Yes.


  1. It's fascinating to hear how you came to understand what happened to you. I'd love to hear your advice to parents on how to protect their children. It sounds like open, early communication is essential.

  2. I think open, safe communication is key. When I taught, the "stranger danger" lady came to speak to our students every year. Since her program was grant supported, we always sent thank you notes to the donor supporting them. One year I sent a letter, because I really think that if someone had spoken to my elementary school, had told me that people aren't supposed to touch me, I think I would have spoken up sooner. I needed the words. I am going to think on this some more, you make a great point. Parents need tools too.

  3. I don't have kids of my own yet, but I thought about this a lot while working in elementary. We had a wonderful, well respected school, but I couldn't shake the feeling that we can never simply trust that our children are safe. I had suspicions that I brought to authorities that were never substantiated, and if hope and pray I was wrong. But an authority figure or even another student could easily take advantage of a child who doesn't have the words to communicate what is happening.

  4. I wonder if the response to a young child saying they were raped is different today than it was 36 years ago? Just thinking of myself, I know that I would take it to a higher level, but I would also wonder. It is so hard to believe that someone would actually do something like that, that I know I would be wondering if she had watched too much tv...didn't get enough attention at home... No ones wants their child to have to be put through the prosecution of such an atrocious crime, and maybe with counseling she will be fine without having to go to court and prosecute someone. It would be a terrible position to be in as a parent. Sometimes simple decisions don't seem so simple, and this for sure, is not a simple decision.

  5. Not simple at all. I completely agree. I have often wondered how my life would have been different if I had spoken up at 6, 7, 8 or 10. I was 13 when I told my mom and she minimized it. I wanted to call and report it to the police, she forbade me. I wasn't yet rebellious; I continued to harbor my anger in silence. People do seem to believe me more quickly and completely now that I am a successful, well-adjusted adult than they did when I was an angry, self-injurious teenager. Go figure.


Let's start a conversation! I want to hear your thoughts.