Courtesy of Candace Ganger

5 Moms On Surviving Sexual Assault & Why They're Speaking Out Now

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(Trigger warning: this post contains descriptions of an alleged incident of sexual assault that some readers may find troubling.)

If I close my eyes, I still feel the sour stench of warm breath from the "friend" who towered over me, whispering, "You know, I could f*ck you if I wanted to." It's an imprisoned echo, bouncing around in some chamber of my mind, triggered by another story of another man on a power trip, like the recent news of sexual assault allegations against Hollywood mogul and film producer, Harvey Weinstein, wherein over 30 women have now come forward alleging over 30 years of sexual assault, rape, and harassment. Some victims choose to speak out, and their bravery should be applauded. But others, like myself, remain silent for fear of financial or social repercussions, inescapable career-level power imbalances, guilt, shame, or the fact that more often than not victims are questioned, judged, and ostracized while the alleged abusers walk away, unscathed. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), for every 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators walk away.

In the wake of the #metoo movement — started by activist, Tarana Burke 10 years ago, and amplified recently by actress Alyssa Milano — that drew attention to just how many women have been on the receiving end of someone's disillusioned power, I am thinking of those who cannot bring themselves, for a number of valid reasons, to speak out and share their stories of unimaginable trauma. Women who, like me, have stayed silent. Women who are now, empowered by the stories of others, are willing to speak out for the very first time. Women like me.

I don't remember what stopped my "friend" in the basement of his parents' house that day. I know he could have done more damage, but make no mistake: the damage was done. His arrogance mocked me minutes later, as he told me to pull my pants up and "go home," and all the while I wondered how someone I considered a "friend" could be capable of something so heinous. More than that, I hated myself for not stopping him and forever blaming myself for being in a situation where that could happen.

I left shaken and drove to another friend's house immediately, confused as to what had occurred and desperate to settle back into something normal. I was torn between telling someone where the blood on my pants came from and pretending it never happened, and there was no rule book for how to deal. It didn't matter how I was dressed — jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, and a zipped puffy coat — because I know now it had nothing to do with me. It was, is, and always will be, about power. And in those terrifying moments, he had it.

I've never spoken at length about what happened that winter day, because it's taken nearly 20 years to acknowledge I wasn't asking for it, I didn't deserve it, and in no way was this a consensual act between two people. What happened was his doing, and his alone. And yet, because of the way rape culture perpetuates the cycle of abuse, he never experienced the consequences of his actions.

Even though pieces of me still haven't yet healed, I hope to model the power of actions, and words, for my children. My assailant may have had the power then, but in telling my truth now I'm taking some of that power back. I'm not alone, and if you've been through it, neither are you. And while #metoo raises awareness, we need to take pressure off victims telling their stories and, instead, start laying blame on the ones who created the pain. So with that in mind, here's what other moms have to say about their own sexual assault, and why they're speaking out now:

Patty

"I turn 52 years old next month. When I was 5, going on 6 years old, the next door neighbor molested me. Not once, but many times over the course of a summer. I grew up in a garden apartment complex in Flushing, NY, a neighborhood in the borough of Queens. Back then, there were no playdates. You just opened the door and went out to play. There was minimal adult supervision. Next door, in another apartment, the neighbors had two boys, the oldest of whom was the same age as me. I enjoyed playing with them because they did imaginative things. Sometimes, just riding your bike up and down the block got boring. So we'd play downstairs, under the apartments, in the three garages that served the building. These garages had passages upstairs to specific apartments — one was to the neighbor's apartment.

So one day, we're downstairs playing with a new doll I had and I said we needed a bed for her. The boy told me to ask his father to make one. So I did. He was a house painter and often spent hours in the garage, cleaning his supplies out of his van. He said, 'I can make you a doll bed but first, you have to play with me.' He picked me up, laid me in the van, took off my pants and fondled me. He called it the tickle game and made me promise not to tell anybody because then everybody would want to play. I was 5. I didn't know this was bad so of course, I listened. This happened for months.

Whenever I played with his son, I had to play tickle game with the father. I'm not entirely sure why I finally told my mother, but I did. She freaked out but said not to tell anybody. I remember being pulled out of my bed one night after I told her, marched, half-asleep, to the living room, where the neighbors were waiting for me. I was made to say in front of him exactly what he said and where he touched me, if it hurt or not. There was another person in the room that night. A detective. The neighbors moved out in the middle of the night and I didn't see their sons for many years. Nothing ever happened. My parents decided not to ruin their lives by having him arrested and to spare me from having to testify in front of lawyers and judges, who'd shrug and say I have an overactive imagination and made the entire story up just to get attention. I was safe so my parents were fine with this.

When I was 22, I'd been married a few years and worked for a large corporate bakery, the kind that's sold in supermarkets. I was a secretary for three managers, one of whom believed he was a legendary lover of women. And I suppose he was, since I took his phone messages (which were typically a woman's first name). He always smiled in a lewd way whenever he'd read those messages. For a solid year, I put up with him making passes at me, doing the massage the shoulder thing and telling disgusting jokes.

There was one day, he snuck up behind me and literally tied me to my chair with a roll of masking tape, laughing the entire time. He said he wouldn't let me out until I kissed him. I did not. Another manager stopped him.

Another day, I couldn't figure out why he kept laughing at me. I was wearing a sweater that had a breast pocket. He was throwing paper clips into the pocket from across the hall.

There was an evening I was working late for someone else, so he decided to stay late, too. He kept propositioning me and actually said, 'Come on, Patty! One night with me will ruin you for your husband.' I gagged and told him he was older than my grandfather and that was just gross.

I went to Human Resources several times and was told to lighten up. He treats all the girls that way. And then I was told to stop dressing the way I dress. This was the '80s. I wore skirts with blouses that had bows at the neck. I was told to stop dressing like a nun if I wanted him to stop wondering what was under my clothes. For a year, I put up with this because I needed the job.

I'll be damned if I'm raising another crop of assholes who think they're entitled to what they want, when they want it. I tell my stories because I want [my boys] angry and defiant when their friends start swaggering and blustering about their sexual conquests. When it's your mom, your sister, etc., it's easier to empathize. But it really needs to go beyond 'mine'. That sense of outraged fury needs to be the response every time someone is victimized for no other reason than they've been victimized, rather than because your 'property' was violated. Teaching our kids what entitlement looks like is tough when you're in a position that's entitled. But it's critical because of one universal truth that GALLS me endlessly to have to admit: men are stronger."

Susan

"I am a Military Sexual Trauma Survivor. My rapes started in 2000, by two men I had been told were my 'brothers' from day one of boot camp. I had known one of them for a couple months. We worked and hung out daily. I trusted him with my life. Then we hit our first port. I was required by the Navy to have a male Liberty Buddy because of the part of the world we were in. Women were hated, and looked at as a belonging in that country.

Of course, I trusted my friend. So he was my Liberty Buddy. When we met up with a friend of his, also on the same Aircraft Carrier, I got a bad feeling, but if my 'brother' trusted him, so could I right? Wrong! I was drugged and raped by both. I don't remember even getting back onto the ship. Not sure how I made it past security without being flagged as too drunk, but I wasn't drunk, just drugged. I tried to report it to my Chain of Command, but was instead given extra duty, told to shut my mouth and do my job. So I did. I was then shunned. Best way to explain it? Think The Scarlet Letter. I was on a ship of 3,000 with no one talking to me, or wanting to work with me. I was alone!

Once we got back to the States, I met the man I would later marry and have children with. Two weeks after having our oldest, he brutally raped me. During delivery of our son, I was cut in 10 places and had 50 stitches. I was bleeding and in so much pain, walking was very painful, and I had a 2-week-old baby to take care of. Once I was done with maternity leave, the abuse continued. When I went to my new Chain of Command (a female Petty Officer) I was told the abuse was my fault, was sent to Assertiveness Training for a week and ordered to use what I learned on my husband.

That didn't go so well, and when I reported to her the following Monday, she asked how it went. I asked if she wanted to see the bruises. She yelled at me saying I didn't use the skills correctly and to get out of her face. I gave up! I had two suicide attempts in four years, and I learned to shut up. I never spoke out until I saw The Invisible War at the Dayton Art Institute in 2012. I went with the man I will be marrying next year. It wasn't until we came home from seeing that life-changing documentary that I finally told [redacted] everything through my sobs.

Once I spoke out at The Invisible War screenings, my siblings shunned me even more saying 'no one gives a shit about what happened to you.' The end of 2012 was the last contact I have had with any of my blood relatives. I deserved more, so I found my tribe and made them my sisters. In 2014 the VA finally acknowledged I have severe post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and gave me 100 percent rating. In 2015, almost a year to the day of getting the 100 percent rating, the VA went on a witch hunt and tried to take away ratings for anyone advocating to pass the Military Justice Improvement Act. My screening with a Dr. proved I was still in a bad place, the rater at the VA tried to say I was 'cured.'

We went to our County office and they filed an appeal, and after much discussion, and finding that the VA was targeting any survivors that were speaking out, I walked away from advocating.

I will not suffer alone or in silence anymore! I am going through grief counseling, part of that is naming the baby from my first rape that I miscarried. It hasn't been easy, and I am just starting this journey."

Valerie

"I am a mom of a 20-month-old boy and it's very important to me that he not turn out like the boys that raped me in high school. I'm still trying to figure out how to tell him one day, but in the meantime I hope to teach him about boundaries and respect for both himself and for others. And I really hope to keep him from feeling the type of entitlement that allows some men to simply take what they want.

I'm also speaking up now because it feels like maybe the world is finally ready to listen. And because, now that I'm a mom, I feel much more responsible for doing my part to make the world a better place, as well as making him the best human he can be. I keep saying that every time someone tweets #metoo I look at my son and think: 'Not on my watch.'"

Jessica

"The early years, from developing onward, were plagued with looks, comments, whistles, etc. The worst that time got was being chased down at the age of 11 by a pickup truck full of men and having to dive into some bushes and hide to get them to stop. I began to realize that all men had the capacity to be dangerous when a hero of mine made a suggestive comment toward me. A hero, a man I and many other people loved and admired, was lecherous toward children (I was 12 at the time) if not in action, then certainly in attitude. My father was there when this 'joke' was made, and laughed. Men were not safe.

At age 13 I was a freshman and my boyfriend was a senior. He turned 18 and graduated but we stayed together. I was taught any and all premarital sex was against god's law (as well as my parents'), therefore I was saving myself. He knew this but continued to pressure me until I agreed to have sex with him. The deadline kept moving up, too. First I said marriage. Then I said engagement. Then I said 18. Then I said 16. The final 'compromise' was my agreeing to have sex with him for his birthday that year. He didn't wait.

On a Valentine's date that was meant to end with my having tea with his mother, we instead found her house empty. He convinced me to stay so we could make out. I was wearing a dress and stockings. In one move he slipped his hand beneath my skirt, pulled my stockings and underwear down, and penetrated me. I screamed and whimpered no, trying to push him off. He was much bigger and stronger than me. As I begged him to stop, in between heavy breaths in my ear he kept whispering, 'I love you. I love you. I love you.'

He raped me at least two times a week from age 14 to 16 when I finally escaped by leaving the home state I loved so much. He never used a condom. I had one abortion and two miscarriages. He stalked me for a time. About eight years later, he found me on MySpace and wrote saying he missed me and still considered me his 'one true love.'

19 years later, I have never had a successful relationship. I will never be the woman I was on my way to being. I will never do well in school because I wasn't distracted by emotional pain and fear. I will never be an 18 year old on her way to college. I will probably never experience real love or get married. I will probably never be in a financial state to raise my two children comfortably. These things may not seem related to what happened to me, but they are. Every move I make is informed by experience and fear. I've been raped another time since then. I've been sexually harassed too many times to list without being tedious. I'm grateful for my life and my amazing kids, but I will do all in my power to make sure my sons walk like men in the world with great respect for women and consent in all situations.

Why am I speaking out now? Because you're listening. You've been the first one who's simply asked for the story. Most people stop me when I try to share. They offer insight, an apology, get uncomfortable, cut me off, shame me, or worse, try to compare their experience to mine."

Carrie

"I was 20 years old. I had met up with a few of my friends at a bar that we knew would serve us because we were underage and we all got drunk together. I was with friends that I'd known for almost 10 years so I thought for sure I could trust every one of them. One of the guys was a guy that I had hooked up with in the pas,t so we had a history. I can't remember exactly how we ended up back at his house but I know that he drove me there. And when we got out of the car I was starting to sober up but I was definitely not sober yet.

We went inside he took me up to his room I didn't know what his intentions were. I was at a point in my life where I was trying to not sleep around and I was trying to be good. So when he started to take my clothes off I said no I don't want to do that tonight. And he said, 'Oh come on you know you want to, we have done it before, and you like me and I like you.' And he continued to unbutton my pants. I said no again, I tried to pull his hands off of me, but I was 5 foot 130 pounds and he was much bigger than me.

Finally once he got my pants off he climbed on top of me. I said I really don't want to do this, but he did it anyway, so I closed my eyes and I checked out until he was finished and then I rolled over and went to sleep. He drove me back to my car at the bar the next morning. 14 years later he's actually still a Facebook friend. I don't even think that he knows what he did or how he affected my life that night and how that night actually continues to affect my life. I want to speak out now for my daughter, for change, and because I'm tired of being silent."

If you're a victim of sexual assault and need help, contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800.656.HOPE to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area. You are not alone.