Why did you stay?

I am going to preface this blog by saying that there may be triggers for those who are survivors of rape, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, or physical abuse.

I almost didn’t write this blog. In fact, I’ve talked myself out of it since I started writing blog posts in the first place. I was afraid of what most abuse survivors are afraid of. Judgement. Blame. Being accused of lying. Shame. Having to re-live my trauma. Questions about why I never spoke up. Honestly, as I’m writing it I wonder if I will even have the courage to post it…

However, I also realized that by not speaking my truth, I was still protecting my abuser, and allowing him to control me. In addition, I am doing a disservice to every girl or woman out there who needs to hear my story so they know they are not alone… and to every boy or man who wants to understand, to know how to help, and maybe make a difference.

I was 16 the first time I was raped. This was also the first time I had sex, and the first time I blamed myself for what he did to me. It was all of those firsts- and unfortunately none of them were also lasts.

You see, the standard Sex-Ed where I went to school was abstinence based. There were no healthy conversations about consent. What consent looked like, and what it meant. There were no how to have safe sex conversations, no respectful dating conversations. Just simply “Don’t do it.” Or “Wait until marriage.”

I had been dating my then boyfriend for almost a year, he had been pushing me to have sex for months, and, like many girls that age, I didn’t see that as a warning sign. Eventually I decided I was ready to take that step, but when the time actually came I changed my mind and said so. I started crying, and was told “It’s okay, you are just scared. You said you wanted this.” And after that, my choice was taken away along with my innocence.

I believed he loved me, and I loved him. So I stayed, and eventually married him. I married him after he got so angry over a video game he grabbed my arm so hard he left bruises. After he pressured me into having sex on multiple other occasions. After I knew he had cheated on me with another girl.

I married him because I truly believed it was the “right thing to do” because I got pregnant at 16. Because, despite my mom making the effort to tell me I didn’t have to marry him, I didn’t see any other option. After all I was “damaged goods”, “not pure” and “who would want a girl who wasn’t a virgin?” Because that’s what the Sex-Ed and church had taught me.

Here’s the kicker. It took me 13 years to realize that what happened to me that night was rape. I didn’t see the truth of what happened, because I believed I had asked for it. That I shouldn’t have said yes if I didn’t want it. That it was how sex was supposed to be, and everyone’s first time was unpleasant.

It also took me years to realize that rape and sexual abuse were a regular part of my life during my marriage. Every time I was pressured, guilt tripped, or he didn’t stop when I asked… that was rape.

Even with all of that, I haven’t even touched on the extensive emotional/psychological and financial abuse… in large part because it just plain would take too much time.

So… why did I stay? That’s a question I’ve been asked many times. Some, some were out of curiosity, some out of compassion, some out of judgement. The answer is ever evolving, as I grow and heal I slowly realize new aspects to the same question.

I stayed because I didn’t realize I was being abused. I could justify his behavior, and as a compassionate and understanding person, I had a tendency to explain away his abuse. I stayed because he had whittled down my self esteem to the point I no longer believed I was worth anything. I didn’t even love myself, so how could anyone else love me? After all, I was a failure, stupid, not the best mom, wife, or housekeeper, my cooking was mediocre, and I couldn’t do it on my own even if I was brave enough to leave. I stayed because I didn’t have the money to leave. I stayed because it had been pounded into my head that divorce was wrong, unless you were being physically abused or you were cheated on… but even the second one you should try to work through. I stayed because I was afraid. Afraid of being alone. Afraid of failing. Afraid that everyone would be disappointed in me. Afraid that I couldn’t make it on my own. Afraid that he was right, and that I really was as worthless as he made me feel. Afraid that he would hurt himself or me if I did leave.

I’m not telling my story for sympathy. I’m telling my story because we, as a society, need to start talking about the hard stuff.

Now, more than ever these are the conversations we need to be having. Rape. Pedophelia. Abuse. Human trafficking. Sex slavery. Making a difference starts with each and every one of us. Know the signs. Talk to your friends, your children, your relatives, your family members. Don’t ignore them. Don’t make excuses for bad behavior. Call people out when they are out of line.

We hear stories about women being murdered by their partner, or sitting in prison for killing their abuser in self defense. We hear stories of survivors who have walked away and created a better life for themselves, but still questioned about why it took so long. There are stories of people who got caught up in human trafficking, and prostitution. Story after story of kidnapped children. Thousands of children are being raped and molested by the people who should be protecting them.

Yet what are we really doing about it? Not a whole lot.

Instead, we victim blame. We blame abuse victims for not leaving sooner instead of blaming the person who was abusing them. Trust me, as I mentioned I’ve personally experienced the questions and judgement as have many other women I know. Rape victims are blamed because they were “asking for it” or “dressed inappropriately,” We blame victims of human trafficking and sex slavery for putting themselves in a bad position, whether it was drugs, alcohol, or whatever that led them into a bad situation. We blame parents for “not being careful enough” when their children go missing. I’ve even heard children blamed for their molestation and rape by people who should know better, or parents blamed for not knowing the signs to realize something was wrong.

When are we going to start holding people accountable?

When are we as a society going to stop asking why the victim didn’t do this or that, stop telling them it was their fault, and start talking about solutions?

When are we going to make victims and survivors feel like they can be honest about what they have been through so they will speak up?

When are we going to make the choice to see the signs and start protecting those we care about?

When are we going to start holding our news media, police, and judges accountable for letting these people off the hook?

When are we going to stop letting all of this be shoved under a rug, and silencing those who speak up and speak out?

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