It first happened before I could walk, and continued for years after. A member of my family would touch me, take off my "big girl panties," and tell me it was our secret. The tickling would last a little too long, and wander a little too far as I got older, and he always insisted I was never too big to bounce on his lap.
It happened again when a different family member began using tickling as an excuse to explore my preteen body, and then warped into a voyeuristic trap that I couldn't escape as he would watch through peepholes as I undressed that I wouldn't discover for years.
It continued when a guy whose name I never knew put his hands down my pants at a party. And a year later, my boyfriend took my absence of a "no" to mean "yes."
It evolved as I agreed to marry a man (an ex-fiancé) to whom I was too afraid to deny sex. I woke in the middle of the night to find him furiously penetrating me.
I could never admit that all of these events over the course of my life were what they really were. It took 27 years of my life to be able to admit to myself that I was raped and sexually assaulted again and again by men I was supposed to trust.
These men, little by little, with each passing year of my life took my innocence, stole my security, and robbed me of my safety.
However, what these people will never be able to take from me is my strength; my ability to come face-to-face with what took place, and my will to live and fight another day. They will never be able to take my resilience, and the fact that even though the thought of them creeps into my mind from time to time, they will never take over my life or void me of the happiness I deserve. They will never be able to take away the battle I fight everyday of my life to end the culture of rape and the stigma surrounding survivors. They will never take my willpower, my pride, or my truth.