by: Angela Marandola
Before I got my braces off and before I could legally drive I had an experience (with an adult) that I would much later identify as sexual assault and exploitation. At the time, I moved on from this encounter like it was a weird thing that happened but nothing more. Stupid teenager. My mother would kill me, my dad would kill him. Wrong time, wrong place?
When I got to college I, and many many many others, were recipients of the subtle force and coercion. Arm around my shoulder, sitting way too close, the roommate you said was going to be there wasn’t, “No? But it’s okay, though. Your boyfriend is in Rhode Island.” Squeezes my shoulder harder. Awkward, sure, but also that’s college?
It wasn’t until after I graduated that I experienced that thing where you hook up with a friend you trust and the next morning they, save for the occasional drunk text, don’t talk to you for years. Jarring and unexpected, sure, but that’s just a womxn’s rite of passage into adult dating?
That thing where your partner sexually objectifies parts of your body so deeply, that when they realize those parts have biological processes, they determine you’re no longer sexually attractive. I mean, maybe they still do to some degree, but not nearly as attractive as when they thought you were an enchanted blow up doll.
Sexual harassment is a lifelong and expected occurence. The pandemic has made people more creative, more brazen in their approaches–but at this point in my life I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise. From longtime friends to local “law enforcement”, harassment comes in myriad ways and I all but shrug my shoulders. A weird thing that happened but nothing more. Wrong time, wrong place?
This. Is. So. BAD! I hurt for us. SA/SH is so deeply woven into the fabric of womxnhood that sometimes it takes years for us to acknowledge that abuse and trauma occurred and then when we’ve done this work, we’ve experienced it so many times that when it happens again we’re like okay, yeah. That’s life. We’re numb. When we think of sexual assault we think of rape, when we think of harrassment we think of 1980’s workplace videos or walking by a construction site. There is so much violence in between these experiences and we consistently downplay the trauma that all of this microdosing causes. Violence is on a spectrum, but everyone’s spectrum is different.
Our global culture is rape culture. We’ve normalized, excused, and perpetuated violence against children and womxn to the point where these experiences are accepted and ubiquitous when, in reality, they should be rejected and unusual. I love my job but it should not exist. I had this moment last week where I attempted to process my emotional injuries in order to destabilize past and future occurrences. I identified my numbness, my shoulder shrugging, my weird excuses for friends and people I’ve dated. I cut my mental safety nets into shreds. The insidious effects of these occurrences have revealed themselves in all sorts of ways and it always feels like a good time to remind myself (us) that I’m (we’re) not at fault, with supports I (we) can heal, and I (we) don’t need to embrace or normalize these experiences so that another’s comfort isn’t disrupted. We know this is easier said than done. Today is Tuesday but every day is work.
During Sexual Assault Awareness Month we are raising funds to support our school based programming. KBEP’s curriculum preventions all types of relationship violence, including sexual violence, by teaching healthy relationship skills. To donate, visit us at www.kbep.org/donate.