Not to speak ill of anyone, but to speak the truth. Not to speak out of turn, but to speak out of need.
I have a story to tell, for someone. She’s not a relative and there’s no need to wonder about my friends on Facebook or connections on Twitter; she’s not there. Nor is anyone else who was involved. I’m telling you this story, for her, under condition of anonymity. The anonymity is not for the sake of the boy in this story, though he, too, will remain anonymous.
So, this girl–what if she grew up in a time when terms like “date rape” didn’t exist, a time when “sexual assault” seemed only to apply to violence and screams, emergency rooms and police interviews? What if this girl were young, had recently turned 15, and was fairly new to dating, but not entirely inexperienced? She was a virgin who had only ever kissed her previous boyfriend, in case that matters. I don’t think it should.
What if this girl had a new boyfriend, a little older than her, someone she liked but didn’t know very well? What if they’d gone out a few times and he’d kissed her and that was all? What if they went to his house on another date and, even though she felt a little uncomfortable about going into his basement to watch a movie, his parents were home, so she didn’t worry too much? What if, as soon as the movie began, the boy started kissing the girl? Not a little kiss, but a deep kiss. What if he kept kissing her and then pushed himself on top of her? What if his hand started going under her shirt and she was a little excited, but more embarrassed and didn’t quite feel ready? What if she felt, instead, like things were getting out of her control? What if, next, his hand started pushing into her jeans and she knew she wasn’t ready? What if she said “no” a few times, but not very loudly, because she was still embarrassed and wasn’t sure how he would react? What if she tried to push his hand away, but he didn’t stop, and even though she squirmed to get out from under him, turning her face from his, still saying the “no”s and “stop”s, he didn’t listen? What if he were hurting her and she were afraid, and his parents were upstairs but they wouldn’t and couldn’t know what was happening, and she didn’t know how to make him stop? What if she couldn’t consider screaming, because she was still embarrassed, and didn’t want to say the “no”s too loudly, because they might make him mad and what then? What if she were afraid to fight too much, because what then? What if she knew he must hear her, feel her pushing him away, but he wouldn’t stop, not at all? How could she make him stop if he wouldn’t? What if he finally did stop, only after he’d hurt her and pushed his fingers into her enough to satisfy himself, and what if he smiled at her and let her know he’d enjoyed it and felt close to her, but all she felt was sore and upset? What if it were late and he needed to drive her home and maybe that’s the only reason he stopped? What if his stopping never had anything to do with her at all?
What if, even after the boy had parked along the road in front of the girl’s house, even after she’d made it home where she thought she was safe, he’d shoved her up against his car and kissed her more–deep, hard kisses that she didn’t want–though a neighbor’s car was driving past and its headlights were on them and she was embarrassed and scared and felt helpless again? What if he called her the next day and the next and the next, but she made excuses so she didn’t have to see him? What if, when her mother asked why she wasn’t dating him anymore, she told, but only a little? She said she didn’t like him, said he did things she didn’t want to do. She didn’t tell that he wouldn’t stop, not even when she tried to push his hand away, not even when she said, “no” and “no” and “no.” What if her mother agreed he shouldn’t do such things and agreed she didn’t have to see him again if she didn’t want to? What if the mother and the girl never thought to say words like “forced” or anything else, because no one had given names to things like this or said, loudly and clearly, that they were wrong?
What if, even after the girl was away from the boy, he kept calling and pressuring her to go out again? What if he did this for a long time and there was no caller ID and the girl was home alone each day after school and never knew who was calling until it was too late not to answer? What if the girl were afraid to tell him how she really felt and, instead, thought to herself, be careful, back away slowly, don’t fight, don’t run? What if, finally, the calls stopped and the girl, who was still afraid, who had been afraid all this time, could only wonder if she were safe or, maybe, the boy had just gone into hiding?
What if three years passed and the girl saw the boy again–not in a basement but at a public place, a mall–and, even though she was with her new, non-forcing boyfriend, the old boyfriend asked about her family and talked about seeing her new car, the one he shouldn’t even know about? What if his new girlfriend were also there and said she, too, knew the girl’s name, knew where she lived, because they drove by her house all the time–even though her house wasn’t on a street you could drive by, and it had been years since the boy’s calls had stopped and he was supposed to have gone away? What if the boy admitted he’d only stopped calling because some anonymous male (one whose identity the girl would probably never know, but to whom she’d always be grateful) had called the boy and threatened to hurt him if he didn’t leave the girl alone?
What if all this–this whole discussion–happened in front of the new boyfriend, but he could only stand there, confused, because he didn’t know what any of it meant? The new boyfriend didn’t understand and, maybe, neither did the old one. Even the girl herself didn’t understand, not really. She knew the old boyfriend hadn’t stopped, not even when she’d told him to, and she knew he hadn’t gone away, not even when she’d thought he had. The girl also knew the old boyfriend scared her, but she still didn’t know how to label what he’d done, she still wasn’t sure anyone else would agree it was wrong. He had been her boyfriend at the time and, that word, “boyfriend,” seemed to mean all he’d done was get carried away while they were on a date.
What if, even now–many years later–the girl still tries not to think of the boy’s name or say it aloud, because she’s afraid it will conjure him up from the past? What if she can’t remember much about when she was fifteen, but she can remember her fear, how it felt being trapped beneath the boy, and she can remember how it felt afterward, when he wouldn’t go away. What if, any time another boy asked her on a date, she would think about how this new boy, too, was stronger than her, think about how it might be if he didn’t listen, didn’t stop. What if all girls have to think this way?
So, this girl–how should she feel? What should she call this thing that happened when she was young? What would you call it? What if this girl were me? Would this change your feelings? What if she were your friend, your sister, your daughter? Would you give this thing that happened a different name?
What if this were just one story from this girl’s life among men, and what if it were similar to so many other stories out there, some of which have not been told, some of which are worse–maybe much, much worse? What if all these people–(girls and boys) the ones who said no, but it didn’t stop–what if they all, finally, decided to speak out about what they’d been through, even if they didn’t have names for it? What, then?
What if every one of us speaks out and spreads the word–tells all the boys and girls that things like this are not okay, that they are not givens or just to be expected–not from boyfriends (or girlfriends), not from anyone. What if we join voices? What if we help all these “no”s be heard and acknowledged, now and for good? What, then?