When I was eight, I remember boys commenting and gesturing that they wanted to squeeze my butt.
When I was 11, a classmate reached from behind me and poked the sides of my chest.
When I was 14, a boy in my PE class asked if I would masturbate to a picture of him. He told me he “jerked off" to my picture. At the beach, a boy told me that I should wear a bikini, not a one-piece, so he could “imagine me better.”
When I was 15, a boy in my biology class hit my butt with a ruler several times. A different boy asked me if I shaved my vagina. Another told me that he thought I "probably liked it rough."
When I was 16, I overheard boys in PE talking about how they wanted to have sex with me. I remember tennis practices where the soccer team, from the nearby field, would yell inappropriate things at us.
When I was 17, I was included on a popular boy’s “top girls I want to bang” list. I remember arguing with friends about whether it was worse to be on or off the list. A boy wrote in my yearbook that he wanted me and another girl to mud-wrestle in bikinis over who got to be with him.
From 15 to 17, my high school boyfriend was sexually and emotionally abusive. The first time I remember was when I fell asleep watching a movie with him and woke up to his hand feeling my vagina over my sweats. When we would start kissing, I was usually okay, but then things would escalate. I would ask him to stop and tell him I was uncomfortable, but he'd make me keep going until he finished. He once undid his pants and tried to force my mouth onto his penis, but he stopped when I started to cry. We were both teacher's assistants at school together, and he often put my hands on his penis, over his jeans, during class.
When he was out of town he would say how much he missed and loved me, and he’d guilt me into sending him naked pictures. When we were alone together, he would take off my clothes. He wouldn’t even always try to touch me, I think it just turned him on and made him feel powerful. When he did try to touch me, I was usually able to stop him, mostly because I would start to have what I now recognize as panic attacks. He always said that we would “never actually have sex,” as if somehow that was supposed to make me feel like everything else was okay.
I was scared of him, ashamed of myself, and terrified that someone would find out. We had all the same friends and our families were close. I loved him, or at least thought I did. We did have good times, and I wanted (want?) to cling to those happier memories. Even now I hesitate to say that he knew what he was doing. He seems like he’s a good person now, so how could he have done those things back then? Sometimes I look back and wonder if I just created this all in my head, and then I feel crazy.
In addition to questioning whether he was an abuser, I question whether I am a victim. Am I? Was what happened really bad enough? There were times I wanted to kiss him and wanted things to get intense. I never yelled at him or fought him off me. I never told anyone, even when things were happening around other people. I blame myself and I blame other people for not realizing and helping.
One thing I do know is that being a girl, formal victim or not, is exhausting. I’ve become angry with a lot of things. I’m angry that “little” moments of harassment feel intertwined with my “bigger” experience of being in an abusive relationship. I’m angry that those experiences led to my anxiety and depression. I’m angry that I was never taught about healthy relationships. I’m angry that chastity lessons at church only contributed to my self-blame. I’m angry that it affects my current relationships, my body image, and my personality. I’m angry that while I’ve left that abusive relationship, it’s impossible to wholly avoid harassment. I’m angry that I don’t know how to protect my future daughters from harassment and abuse.
I often feel defeated and tired, but I take comfort in knowing I’m not alone. I’m hopeful for a time when I don’t feel as weighed down.