The following is the story of a female victim of sexual assault who wishes to remain anonymous, as told to Inquisitr writer Caitlin Johnstone. In the interest of letting a woman speak for herself, and tell her story without manipulation, the transcript is published in full.
I remember the first time it happened. We were all at a swim meet out of town, and the team would stay in hotels with the coaches and one or two chaperones. There were five or so of us lying on a bed watching a movie; everything was great. I was with my people, doing what I loved. I had made finals earlier that day. I was trying to keep my nerves under check as we watched the film, but I remember feeling at home… happy… me.
When the movie ended, everyone left the room but him. Once the door shut, he flung his body on top of mine. “What are you doing?!” I yelled. Panicked, I tried to wiggle out from under him. No luck — he was way too heavy and strong. He laughed at my distress and pinned me down harder. The panic welled up in me and surged forward. I kicked him in the nuts and got free, then ran out the room and down the hall. He was chasing me; I guess it was still a game to him. Whatever.
I ran out the emergency exit, thinking I’d be able to climb the stairs and get back in at the front entrance where I could find an adult. But to my dismay, the stairs were not attached. I was trapped. He came out after me, delighted that I couldn’t get away. He pinned me against the rail and started to dry-hump me. I kept yelling at him to stop, fighting him, trying to wiggle free. I just wasn’t strong enough. I tried the door handle, and it was locked. I was stuck out there with him. What was he going to do? Finally, a woman opened the door. Seeing us in that position she giggled, said “Oh, excuse me,” and closed the door. I screamed, he covered my mouth. I screamed and screamed. After what seemed like an eternity she came back and, looking concerned, opened the door again. I ran free. I ran and ran and locked myself in my room.
Thankful that it was over, I laughed it off. I told myself he was just playing. I am fine. It’s over now, and I’m okay.
That night I had qualified for second. I really wanted the gold. I was in lane five. Somehow I bombed that race and came in fifth or sixth; I don’t recall. I do remember slipping water, unable to get my focus and just spinning my wheels. I beat myself up about that pretty good. I couldn’t figure out what happened. I was so “on” earlier that day. Huh. I wonder.
A few weeks passed, and a bunch of us caught a ride to the pool with an older teammate who could drive. As we got out of the car, he grabbed my arm. I shook it free. I felt a bit of panic start to bubble up, but I choked it down. Maybe I could laugh it off, act nonchalant, maybe he would leave it alone. Before I knew what was happening, he whipped me around and pinned me to a parked car. I tried to scream but he covered my mouth. He started to rub his body up against mine, kissing my neck and breathing in my ear. “Please just stop,” I begged. He didn’t stop. “Oh come on, don’t be like that, stop making this a big deal,” he said. But wasn’t this a big deal? Huh, maybe he was right, this was just play. It’s fine.
At practice that night I just couldn’t find my groove. My coach pulled me out of the water at one point and asked, “What’s going on with you today?” I said I didn’t know. I really didn’t. It honestly didn’t occur to me to connect the incident before practice to the crappy swim I was having. Because really, this wasn’t a big deal, right?
A few weeks passed, and one of my teammates told me that he had done this to her on the way to the pool. My mouth dropped open. “He’s being doing that to me, too! Should we tell someone?” “No, let’s not. It’s not a big deal.” Yeah true. “He’s just playing. Everything is fine.” “Yeah, everything is fine.”
A few more weeks passed, and I was early to the pool. I was stretching out of the way, a little behind the bleachers. A bunch of guys arrived and started to stretch with me. “You need to shave your armpits,” one of them said to me. “Whatever,” I thought. Soon he was there, too, and before long he was on top of me. I kicked and squirmed harder than usual. Where were those other guys? Why are they not helping me? Suddenly I caught them walking back from the water fountain, so I called out to them. “Help! Get him off! He’s hurting me!” They moved a bit faster to where we were, and I was relieved. Then I realized they were cheering him on. “Yeah! Go for it, man! Get her bathing suit off!” This time, he pulled my strap over to reveal a breast. He’d never gotten that far before. I started to cry. Finally, one of the guys said, “Okay, leave her alone, dude.” Maybe a moment of humanity? Then to me: “Oh, come on. Why are you making such a big deal about it? Sheesh. What’s wrong with you? Quit crying. It’s not a big deal.” It wasn’t? Huh, yeah, I guess they were right, I was being a pussy. Time to man up, practice is starting.
That practice was horrible. Again I didn’t know why. My coach kept saying, “What’s up with you these days? Where is your fire? Let’s get moving! Come on!”
Yeah, he was right. I was doing so crappy these days, I just couldn’t seem to get it together. What was wrong with me?
A few days later I saw him coming for me, and I turned and ran. I went to the coach and sat down. We looked at each other from across the pool. He gave me this look as if to say, “You are dead if you do.” But I knew I had to. After all, it wasn’t just me anymore.
I took a deep breath and told the coach everything he was doing, and that it wasn’t just me he was doing it to.
“Hold on a minute, what are you doing? Wait. What are you trying to do here? Don’t start making any waves, okay? We have to keep this team together.”
Okay, now what? I decided to tell a friend. He told me to stop making it a big deal. Well, I guess they are right. Everyone seems to think this isn’t a big deal. I guess I’m just being a wuss. Time to man up, practice is starting.
A few weeks later my shoulder started to hurt. Practices got worse and worse. Soon the pain was too great to compete. But I couldn’t miss nationals. I had to do well there so I could make the Olympic trials. I pushed through the pain, but the pain got louder. I pushed on anyway. I came in 12th at nationals and was totally devastated. I cried in the cool-down pool and stayed there for hours, just doing laps and crying. What the hell was wrong with me?
Practices continued to get worse. I started dreading going to the pool. I’d miss a practice here and there. And one day, I just quit. It was okay, though, I had other things I could focus on. It really wasn’t a big deal.
Today I realize that I grieve for all the goals that didn’t get to come to fruition. I always blamed myself for wimping out, and quitting too soon. Too bad I didn’t understand then what I do now, about trauma and the impact it has on people.
I want to share this somewhere, anonymously. I won’t reveal anyone’s names, but if my abuser reads this story, there can be no doubt who it is about. And I want it that way. It’s time for my side of the story to be told. I’ve been holding it all in my body for far too long. My shoulder still hurts even now. I think she (my body) was trying to save me from him. From how far he might go the next time. I need to thank her for that.
But what I also need to do is to look back and say, “What the actual f***? What the hell was going on with my team? How does this kind of stuff get so dismissed?”
This is a big deal. A great big huge f***ing insane deal.
I needed, and still need, to say to my abuser, “You were wrong. And you took something from me. Your actions had an impact. Maybe one day you will read this. Maybe not. I am okay with it if you don’t because I’m happy just to have told my story. I am happy to share it with other women who can be strong behind me and support me in bringing awareness to the gross injustice of sexual harassment in sports.”
If you read this far I am guessing you are a woman who has been harassed, assaulted, or shamed for speaking out. I want to tell you that there is nothing wrong with you.
What is wrong is this: men invading women and then shaming her for her response. That s*** is not okay.
I want to change the game by sharing my story and refusing to be shamed for it. I want to turn the whole thing around and say that men need to man up and find their conscience, their empathy, their humanity and their vulnerability. As long as we look the other way, as long as we say “everything’s okay,” nothing will change. And this needs to change.
I am wondering how often this happens, not just in sports but in school, the workplace, the home. The statistic for rape is one in four women. But what about the statistic for sexual harassment? Because it’s “not a big deal,” how often does it even get reported? I’m guessing rarely, if ever. So would that make it more common than rape? I think so. I bet it’s something like two in four. Or three in four, or four in four.
I am not saying we should make sexual harassment a big deal, though. What I am proposing here is that we make women a big deal.
I want to know how many other women who were destined to win a medal at the Olympics didn’t because someone took the wind out of her sails, robbed her of her spirit, and removed her drive for greatness. I want to know how many women out there didn’t compose that song, or write that screenplay, or publish that book. I want to know how many women didn’t finish that degree, or get to hang that painting in an art gallery. I want to know what this world could be like if women got to be really f***ing big deals.
It’s time for us, ladies. It’s time we took our power back. We have a planet to heal and children to feed. We have souls to inspire and hearts to widen, and we have a whole collective consciousness to raise. It’s time to take back what is rightfully ours. It’s time to be big, beautiful, sexy, and creative.
There is a saying that when sleeping women wake, mountains move. I can see now how I was hypnotized by the idea that it’s “not a big deal.” But I am awake now. And I want you all awake with me. I hope these words rouse you from the spell of “it’s not a big deal” because you, my dear sister, are a big deal, and I want to see you shine.
[Image via Shutterstock]