I was 12 years old when I first reported the sexual and physical abuse I had been enduring for nearly a decade. No one believed me. When I was raped two years later, my virginity stolen by a 21-year-old man, I had already learned I wasn’t going to be believed.
I felt horrible and ashamed of what had happened to me. I believed I was broken, that my body belonged to my abusers. And I was scared. I was scared of men who were older than me, men who were louder and bigger than me. Whenever I was alone with them, I was hypervigilant, on guard and hesitant to engage. If a man touched me, I’d jump. I was constantly afraid, because I was constantly unsafe.
I was abandoned by the people who were supposed to protect me. Teachers, cops and social services chose to turn their backs on me when I needed their help most. They accused me of lying for attention. Regarding the physical abuse, teachers told me I was overreacting, that sometimes children need to be taught a lesson. The first therapist I saw told me it was my fault my relative touched me because I dressed provocatively. I was 12. There were some people who believed me, but told me there was nothing they could do.
Life seemed hopeless and I thought there was no way out of my situation. Every night, I was neglected while the booze and cigarettes my abuser preferred took priority. I would sit in the house, terrified of how the night would go. Would the cops be called this time? Would I be sleeping alone or with an unwelcome addition? Would what was happening be ignored again the next morning?
I thought, since no one believed me, there was nothing to believe. I convinced myself that what they said was true, that I was overreacting, lying. I chose to ignore my trauma and in doing so, I chose to end my own life. I swallowed a bottle of Tylenol PM, five at a time, ten times. I put on makeup so I would look pretty when I was found dead. I woke up two days later with a tube down my throat, the remnants of the vomit on my hospital gown, and mascara caked around my eyes.
I was 13, isolated and scared. I had internalized the abuse as something wrong with me, something I couldn’t talk about. An ambulance took me to Shodair, a treatment center in Helena. In the two months I spent there, I tried to convince them not to send me back home. For the better part of my teenage years, I lived in psychiatric facilities in Montana and Wyoming. They were violent places with little funding and even less safety. I was too ashamed to talk about the abuse or the rape, too embarrassed to admit that I was afraid of every grown man who came near me. I was broken, and I thought I could never be fixed.
When I went through trauma therapy this summer, I finally started to understand I wasn’t at fault for the abuse I’d suffered. As I started to realize I had nothing to be ashamed of, I thought about what I would tell my adolescent self. What would help a scared, lonely girl who took the blame and threw it on herself? How would I comfort her?
I’d tell her things that were scary to hear, but needed to be said. I’d tell her that what was happening to her was real, and that she was never at fault. I would remind her she wasn’t alone, other people had similar experiences. Her story was valid. I would tell her that no matter how promising death may seem, there’s hope in living. But even now, after nearly a decade removed from my trauma, I can’t tell my younger self that she’d be believed if she came forward about her abuse.
Like so many of you, I watched Dr. Christine Blasey Ford speak before the U.S. Senate on Sept. 27, and I recognized what had happened to me as a kid in the face of a grown woman. She was under attack, accused of lying, manipulating and seeking attention, everything most trauma victims experience when trying to recount what happened to them. I knew Ford was brave for what she was doing, but I couldn’t bring myself to have hope she would be believed. I knew better.
During testimony from Brett Kavanaugh, then just a nominee but now a sitting justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, I had to stop watching every few minutes. I couldn’t bear to listen to the senators who coddled him or the senators he yelled at — “I don’t know, have you?” he spat in response to a question about being blackout drunk from Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who has written about growing up with an alcoholic dad. I couldn’t stand to see him believed.
The hearing brought back the same fear I’d felt about my abuser and my rapist. The senators who so willingly believed Kavanaugh reminded me so much of the social workers who never believed me. Watching his testimony, I was afraid of losing all hope and I was afraid of the men who took it: the men with power, the men who will do whatever it takes to get what they want, who scream and shout down women. Those are the men who terrify me, and that is the type of man Brett Kavanaugh is. You can argue that he’s innocent until proven guilty, but nearly every abuse survivor can recognize his behavior for what it is.
When Kavanaugh was confirmed by the closest of margins, I was at work. I sat on the bathroom floor and sobbed. I felt powerless, as I’m sure many women feel right now. I felt invalidated, like I had as a kid when told I was lying. I felt like nothing I could say about my trauma would matter. I was hopeless, thinking if things hadn’t improved in a decade, they never would. It’s horrible to realize that women of any age can be assaulted and still won’t be taken seriously. It enrages me.
My experience with trauma is different from what happened to Dr. Blasey Ford. I know that. I didn’t have to sit before the world and talk about my abuse, only to be ridiculed — mocked by the president of the United States — for being sexually assaulted. I didn’t receive death threats. Teenage Brett Kavanaugh didn’t try to rape me and then laugh about it in my face.
So why am I reacting to his confirmation as if he did? Why are so many women so fucking mad? Because Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court is indicative of a larger problem within our country, one that’s only getting more pervasive. It’s the problem that spawned the #MeToo movement. It’s the protection of men from the sexual assault accusations women put forth. It’s the first lady saying women need to have evidence to be taken seriously, disregarding the fact it can take survivors of assault years to come forward for fear they won’t be believed. It’s an increasing fear among women that men cannot be trusted.
Can we prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in 1982? No. Just like I don’t know if I could prove I was abused and raped as a child in front of a bunch of senators. But the anxieties I suffer from, that Dr. Ford and all other traumatized women suffer from, don’t come from nowhere. The fear of large crowds, of being touched and being trapped, these are fears we have for a reason. They stem from the trauma we suffered, the trauma we were forced to deal with alone for years because society and rape culture told us that we were at fault and wouldn’t be believed. And Kavanaugh’s confirmation is a reminder that rape culture will persist. A woman and her trauma is now perceived as the enemy of a man’s career.
I have no compassion for people who aren’t outraged. This is not a time for devil’s advocacy. Dr. Ford should have been believed. I should have been believed. When women and girls finally come forward to report, those reports should be investigated — thoroughly. Women who speak about their trauma need to be taken seriously. What this confirmation accomplished was to reinforce how our government intimidates women into not reporting and invalidates women who have been assaulted.
I want to give you an uplifting ending, but I can’t, because it’s not over. Will it ever be over? I’m scared as hell, just like every victim of sexual abuse in the country. A man with a predatory past just received a lifetime appointment to the highest position in our country’s judicial system, and I’m among those who intimately understand what that means. I now feel like I need evidence to prove my trauma. But there is none. It was all a decade or more ago, the statute of limitations is up, and all physical evidence has been erased. All I have is what I say happened, and that no longer feels like enough.