A Million Stories

Six days ago, Kelly Oxford, a nationally known author and public figure tweeted the story of the first time she was sexually assaulted and invited others to do the same. Kelly was 12 years old when a man on a city bus grabbed her between the legs and smiled at her. Since last week, she has received over a million tweets of similar stories from women. At times, more than 50 per minute.

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“Groped, penetrated, rubbed against, masturbated on, stalked, raped and forcibly kissed…” wrote NPR on Tuesday. This is the reality nearly every woman experiences – not just once, but time and time over in her lifetime. Thank God, it has become a national conversation. Because honestly, even women don’t talk about it between themselves. We had given up hope that it would ever change and had accepted that being assaulted repeatedly was our lot in life. Society didn’t even consider it sexual assault ( which, by the way is defined by the justice department as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.”) At least now, with all the talk, there is hope for change.

Change depends, however, on where men take it from here.

One story told of a girl who took the metro to school starting at 12. She quickly learned not to get on any train that was either completely empty or completely full. If it was empty, and a man got on at the next stop, he would invariably expose himself to her. If it were completely full, she would arrive at school with semen on her backside from being masturbated on.

A million similar stories were told. Sometimes more than 50 per minute.

I remember the first time for me. I was also twelve. The middle school I attended had a long and boring lunch line, but it was made more enjoyable by joking around with the two bus drivers who delivered the meals from the high school, where they were made, to our school. I looked forward to talking to them each day as they stood in the kitchen and we all inched by in a line. Then, one day I left school early on a pass for a dentist appointment. The school seemed empty. Teachers and students were in class and administrators were in their offices. As I walked down the hall, I ran into one of the lunch drivers, and he walked me out. As we came to the airlock doors, he held one open for me. But as I passed through, so did he. He pressed against me and kissed me on the mouth. I wasn’t even sure it really happened. I just kept walking. The next day, I told the school counselor and he said he would speak to the principal about it. Later, he reported, “I told him I thought there had been an incident of the driver kissing a girl at our school. I didn’t give him your name. He said, ‘well I can only think of one person that could be – Jennifer Carmer – she flirts with them all the time.’” Yah, 12 year old me was flirting with 60 year old men.

Age 18 – I was a freshman in college, working as a front desk clerk at a large hotel. One day, the owner of the hotel came downstairs to the front desk, leaned over the desk and started staring at me. After 15-20 seconds of his silent gaze, I became very uncomfortable and said, “Ted, is there something I can do for you?” “Honey, there’s a LOT you could do for me, you’d better rephrase that question”. Thank God the phone rang. When I finished with the call, he had disappeared.

Age 22, I went out to supper with a group of co-workers at my first “real” job. We loosened up and started laughing with each other. The co-worker sitting next to me laughed at a joke I told and as he did he put his hand on my thigh. He left it there as he told me a joke of his own. I told my boyfriend about it when I got home, and he asked me why I didn’t tell the guy to take his hand off me, and I said, I didn’t actually realize I could. I thought I would get in trouble or at least cause a scene if I did.

Age 54 – just a few months ago, I had a conversation with a friend who has been in human resources for over 20 years. I asked her what her take on tattoos in the workplace was and her response shocked me. She said, we generally don’t recommend them because a tattoo on a woman can be sexually stimulating to some men. I said, “well that’s his problem if he gets stimulated by a tattoo,” to which she replied, “yes, but as we all know, it can easily become her problem too.”

A million women tweeted similar stories this week. Sometimes more than 50 per minute.

My son came to me this summer and said he was confused and conflicted. A man he worked with had been accused of raping a young woman at a college party. She had too much to drink and went upstairs to lie down. He was accused of following her and raping her while she was unconscious. My son didn’t know what to believe because he thought he knew this man and didn’t understand how it could be true that anyone – let alone his acquaintance – could do such a thing. I told him that unfortunately, some men look upon an incapacitated or vulnerable female the way the rest of us look at a $20 bill found in an empty parking lot.

A million stories. Sometimes more than 50 per minute.

Rape culture will not end from us talking to our daughters. Rape culture will end when we start talking to our sons. The ball is in your court men. It’s time for good men to speak out. It’s time for parents to talk to their sons about sexual assault.

In Remembrance of Tim

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My uncle has died. Tim Lawrence, date of birth June 5, 1968; date of death January 8, 2016. Length of life: much, much too short.

This post will be honest, potentially shocking, and I hope, not harmful to any survivors who will read it. It may be triggering, as all posts on this blog have the potential to be.

Writing about someone’s death is always difficult. I have not known what to say about Tim. And there are things I know I am not supposed to say. Things confided to me by him that shattered my heart when I learned them. He knew about my blog, and he said that he wanted to read it, but it was just too hard.

“One of the horrifying things I discovered as I grew more and more comfortable sharing my history was that an unfortunately large number of people also had similar experiences. It is a brotherhood and sisterhood that no one wants to belong to but which has an uncountable number of members.” Callen Harty, Empty Playground: A Survivor’s Story.

Then this morning, in my Instagram feed, this amazing painting showed up. I immediately liked the painting, but then I read the caption. The caption said, “Ladies and gentlemen: My new friend Tim. This one is mine and named Tim in honor of a friend gone from this earth too soon.” (Quote and painting used with permission.)

Tim Painting

I knew it was time to write about Tim. The painting was done by my friend, Stacey Oldfield. I have known Stacey for as long as I can remember. When we were little, there was almost an alarming resemblance between us. Tim lived in my grandparents’ house two doors down from my house and Stacey lived across the street from my grandparents. So, she too, probably has known my uncle for as long as she can remember.

When I was first born, apparently, we did not live down the street from my grandparents. Tim used to love to tell the story of being able to ride his bike to my parents’ house to see me after I was born He was so proud of that. He was proud that he got to see me, his first niece, and he was proud of the independence he had riding his bike all that way. It was probably no more than 10 blocks, but it was a big deal for him in many ways.

Tim grew up in a house filled with pain. It was a house of smoke and mirrors. What people on the outside saw was either a trick or something disproportionate to the reality hidden behind the front door.

And that is exactly what the ringleaders, my father and grandparents, wanted people to see. Everyone in those two houses were conditioned to be quiet, to hide pain, and to make everything look like it was okay. I do not know for certain that my grandparents were child molesters. I do know that they encouraged silence and always stood with my father.

All of the kids raised between those two houses are talented. We are smart, we are funny, we are creative, and we can keep secrets. We were a child molester’s dream.

Until we were unable to keep the secrets anymore. Then we became the child molester’s nightmare.

Tim suffered from depression, anxiety, drug addiction, alcohol addiction, and unresolved trauma. And yet, he always tried so hard to be positive. He tried to let the people he loved know that he loved them. He wasn’t perfect, but he was kind and thoughtful, even if he sometimes lacked follow through.

He struggled so hard to overcome the messages of worthlessness he received from far too many people. I don’t know the kind of things my father might have said to him in person, but I know what my father said behind Tim’s back. Since my father didn’t shy away from telling people what he thought of them, I can only begin to imagine the types of hurtful, horrible things my father said to Tim’s face.

Tim tried to outlive the pain and shame that were laid at his feet. Those things never belonged to him, but were put on him by someone else. He couldn’t shake the terror, the fear, the desperation of trying to keep someone else’s secret.

And he wasn’t alone in that, but the isolation was too much. It is hard to name our darkest shame because we fear no one will believe us. We struggle to name the unthinkable, and all the while, we’re struggling against the voices in our head that tell us we’re just a piece of shit no one cares about and won’t listen to anyway. It is an astronomically hard battle.

And some of us never win it.

Tim fought as hard as he could to overcome all that held him back, but it was too much for him. I hope in death he is released from the hell he lived through on earth. I hope he is calm and at peace. Even more than that, though, I hope he is free.

Does Sharing Your Story Really Matter Revisited

After three months of living with her story out in the public, Pam sent us this and asked us to post it. In case you’ve ever wondered if sharing your story mattered, we’d like to assure that it does.

It matters because you matter.

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Does Sharing Your Story Really Matter?

I am so glad that Jackie wrote “Does Sharing Your Story Really Matter?”

It’s been three months since I shared my story. When I wrote it, I was only writing it to journal thoughts that I didn’t want to bottle up. I shared it with a friend – we share writings back and forth. I remember him saying “this needs a broader readership.” I thought, “are you kidding me?” My second thought, shortly after though was about how many people have suffered this abuse and who still live in their silence and completely undeserved shame. It almost ended up on a well-read blog that deals with lots of important topics. I’m glad now, that it didn’t end up there. The reason it didn’t end up there is because I also sent it to Jackie for “Learninghope.” It belongs on learninghope.org. How Jackie and I know each other and became friends is a pretty amazing story in itself. That’s perhaps a story for another time.

In the first 10 days, Jackie updated me with the number of times my story had been read and shared. I was floored. As a former Wisconsin resident, my visual comparison was having Lambeau Field full of people listening to me. To Me. Since the story has come out, many people have shared their own stories with me – strangers and people I know. No more silence for us.

The story was also picked up by several organizations that are well known for helping survivors and educating people about abuse. My national church denomination (ELCA) picked up the story, edited it for length and republished it for their print and online publications. http://elca.org/Living-Lutheran/Stories/2015/08/150819-On-forgiveness-and-sex-abuse Our national denominational education for pastors about issues of abuse and boundaries will be including my story as part of their training events.

In giving permission for publication in “THE LUTHERAN,” I was given the choice by the editor whether to publish anonymously or to use my name. That was sort of a heart-stopping decision, and yet, I knew what I needed to do. The story needed to be grounded in a real person with a real name. In the weeks between making the decision to allow my full name, and the publication date of “THE LUTHERAN” I knew I needed to prepare some family members for this to be in print and nationally distributed. There were people that I didn’t want to feel guilty about not protecting me. This was a very tense time for me to say the least. I worried about crank calls and worried what would happen if my abuser found out. I had no idea what to expect. But I am in a well-supported time and place in my life, so I started contacting a few family members.

What I discovered is that among my childhood circle of family and extended family, I was by no means the only victim. I was surrounded by other children who were also being abused – by a variety of abusers. But we never talked to each other because of our shame, or because of threats. None of us knew what the others were going through. At least one of the people I didn’t want to feel guilty for not protecting me, was abusing another little girl. To think about that makes me feel ill. I think about all those little kids feeling like they were the only one in the world going through something so literally unspeakable.

Does Sharing Your Story Really Matter? I’ve learned some very basic things about this question in these three months.

· The most basic thing is that the answer is a resounding “yes!” Tell your story and keep telling your story until you believe that you are worthy of genuine love. You were not at fault.

· The people I was trying to protect by not telling my story all those years – did not need to be protected. I did. The other children did.

· A very important thing I learned was, even though the number of people who have read my story is staggering to me, the most significant sharing has happened among my family and close friends who found their real voice because I used mine. In connecting with other survivors who are also in strong, healthy adult relationships, we celebrate our strength together and vow to break the cycle of silence, shame and abuse. We won’t participate in poisonous relationship anymore. You don’t need thousands of people to know your story. Your story matters because you matter.

· Remember the statistics. Learning hope has specific stats posted. I tend to generalize and think if there are 8-10 people in a room, there are probably several survivors. It’s an epidemic that no one has wanted to talk about. What the telling of my story accomplished was to get a whole lot of people to read and talk about “the elephant in the living room”.

· I told so I could heal. My story ended up helping others. So can yours.

Unexpected Sighting

Let me preface this by saying I’m sorry. I’m not writing this to scare you, but it is my guess it will. I shouldn’t have to write this post, and you shouldn’t have to worry about it.

But I have to write it and you now have to worry, if you weren’t already worried.

My friend recently went to a movie. It was one of those movies geared toward kids, with some humor thrown in for the adults who need to go with them. Just because the movie was geared toward kids doesn’t mean adults can’t go and enjoy it, but sometimes, there is something more sinister going on.

My friend is a survivor of sexual abuse. As she was getting her tickets, she thought she saw a man who looked like her abuser. She shook it off because she thought it was unlikely that her abuser would be at this particular movie; a kids’ movie. She and her boyfriend found their seats and a few minutes later, someone sat down behind them. She got that feeling-that creepy, something isn’t right feeling. She glanced over her shoulder, and there was her abuser. He was with his wife and step-daughter. At least he wasn’t there just by himself, but he was still there.

My friend got up and walked out of the theater. Her boyfriend, not knowing what was going on, followed. She told him who was sitting behind her and then they talked about whether or not they should stay.

She ultimately decided to stay. They watched the movie, and then on the way out, she went to the bathroom. Her abuser’s wife and step-daughter were in the bathroom. If they recognized her, they didn’t say anything.

I absolutely could not have stayed in the theater. This isn’t about judging my friend for her choice. I would like to think I would have had enough courage to announce to the crowded theater of kids and parents that there was a convicted sex offender in their midst. I’m not sure I could have done that.

I don’t want you to never take your child to a movie again. Or a park, or, church, or school, camp, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, daycare… I hope you get my point that predators are EVERYWHERE. We cannot assume that they are cowering in the shadows. They are bold and brash and looking for an opportunity to abuse kids.

The very best we can do for our kids is talk to them about staying safe. Teach them about safe touch. Teach them to say no. Tell them they can tell you anything and you will believe them and do everything you can to keep them safe. Teach them that secrets aren’t something to keep and that even if someone touches them inappropriately and threatens to hurt you, that it’s just a threat to keep them quiet. Tell them how much you love them and how important they are. Go with them to movies, and the bathroom.

You cannot keep your kids home so they never experience danger. That kind of defeats the point of having them and wanting them to be independent people.

Above all, teach them to be smart and pay attention. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Tell them it is okay to say that something doesn’t feel right and to get out of that situation.

Sex offenders are everywhere. Kids are everywhere. Even if they are never abused, and I hope beyond hope that they aren’t, they will encounter them. Give them the tools to keep themselves safe. This is the only way we can stop the epidemic of sexual abuse.

This story was used with permission of my friend. No one has been named to protect her privacy. If it weren’t for that, please know I would have named the abuser.

Does Sharing Your Story Really Matter?

As survivors, and people who try to exist in a culture that tells us to speak up and be quiet all at the same time, I often wonder if posting on facebook and writing blog posts really matters. Am I just writing into the din, with no real change in the ripple in the universe? Maybe I am. Jennifer and I decided when we started this joint project that we would not let the numbers of who looked at our posts, how many re-shares we got, how many likes or unlikes we got and all the other statistical information control our thoughts about what we do. We post because we feel it is necessary. We hope that what we write and share brings light and hope to someone in the world who is struggling.

We have been in that place of so alone. We have felt unheard. We have wondered if anyone else out there in the vast wide world was feeling the pain we were.

Let me remind you. You are not alone and it is not your fault.

As I have tried to state as strongly as I know how, it isn’t about the numbers. It’s about sharing our stories, our pain, and our triumphs because we want everyone to know they are not alone. We want to be a beacon of light in the darkness, and know that we will probably never know who reads our posts and if it offers hope.

Does Sharing Your Story Really Matter?

We recently posted Pam’s Story to our story wall. Whenever we post a story, I try to communicate with the person who shared it with us. It is scary to put your deepest hurts out in the world. I try to check in and see how the person is doing, but I also try to keep them apprised of the statistics we get back from wordpress about what countries have looked at the site in the last twenty-four hours. Through facebook, we are also able to boost a post and see how many people have viewed the post.

I am writing this all at Pam’s request. She took a tremendous risk to share her story, as does every survivor who shares their story here or any where.

People saw her story. There is no doubt in my mind that it brought and will continue to bring healing to people who read it.

So, since the numbers are not the driving force of this work, but they are interesting, and overwhelming, here’s a synopsis of the numbers on Pam’s story. We did pay to boost the post on facebook. That garnered 10 shares, one of which was in South Africa. At the present moment, 59,648 people saw her post through facebook. It was shared by at least two other sexual abuse survivor resource groups. This site has been seen in the last twenty-four hours by people in The United States, China, France, The European Union, Israel, Viet Nam, Thailand, India, and The Netherlands. Yes, I know. Some of those are spam hits, but some aren’t. There are real people behind those searches who found our little website.

I hope they were comforted by what they found here. I hope they found courage in the stories of people who have given us the honor of sharing their very personal pain and strength. Most of all, I hope they were reminded that they are not alone.

Just in case you’ve ever wondered if your story matters, let me assure you it does. Any time you share your story, you are helping other people. But perhaps the most important person you are helping is you. Sharing your story is important because it’s your story. You survived. And we hope, beyond anything, that you are healing, and that you know you are not alone.

Your story matters because you matter.

The Question of Forgiveness – Pam’s Story, a Pastor’s Perspective You May Not Expect

Here is the newest addition to our Story Wall. Please take a look. We would like to thank Pam so much for letting us share it here. Thank you for your courage and your strength.

http://www.learninghope.org/story-wall/story-wall/pams-story-on-forgiveness-and-childhood-sex-abuse-not-what-youd-expect-a-pastor-to-say/

Child Abuse Awareness and Sexual Assault Prevention Month 2015

 

April is Child Abuse Awareness and Sexual Assault Prevention Month. Here are some pictures to encourage you through the month. Please feel free to share them!

 

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My Story, My Wallowing, My Recovery and Surviving: Edward’s Story

Hello friends! Here is a new story of surviving. Please read it if you are able, but as always, if it is too painful, do not force yourself to read it. (Please click on the picture below to go directly to Edward’s story.)

Thanks to our friend, Edward Schline, for allowing us to share it. We thank you for your courage, your strength, and for surviving.

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