Thursday, September 12, 2013

Silence and Shame - How Do We Increase the Dialogue?

When I was in ninth grade I got a phone call from an adult male who asked to speak to me and then kept asking who my favorite teacher was. I had two male teachers at the time and didn't know if I recognized the voice on the other end or not. I should have hung up when he persisted. Then he started talking about how he saw my "gorgeous little ass everyday" and began telling me the X-rated things he wanted to do to me. I was in shock. And mortified. And scared. I was home alone and called up my best friend who lived behind me. Her mom came to get me and when my parents came home my uber-protective mom called the cops. They came to file a police report but I never told anyone everything that he said. It was just too disgusting and made me feel dirty, so I never repeated it and seriously blocked it out. His words made me feel such shame that I couldn't even say them out loud.

It was completely humiliating.

My senior year of high school I had an art teacher that would often say borderline inappropriate things to me. It wasn't anything major; he would just comment on how I looked and it made me uncomfortable. Maybe it was in my head though. Then one day he took me aside and told me how he had seen me around all year and had always wanted to have me in his class. Total inappropriateness confirmed, I stopped doing work in his class and got a C. I shut down and didn't tell anyone about it because again, I felt shamed and embarrassed.

While these incidents weren't life defining, both had an impact, which seems almost silly because compared to a lot of people, these incidents were no big deal.
But, it started to shift the way I looked at men.
It made me a bit distrustful. Especially of men in positions of authority.
Because there were other incidents I knew of during this time period with men that were supposed to be trusted, but they are not my stories to tell.

I'm not saying I'm screwed up because of any of this. And I'm not playing the blame game with men in general. All I'm saying with my very mild encounters is I'm pretty sure it's the universal story of growing up female.

I can't imagine what it must be like for someone who has endured abuse.
And it scares the heck out of me because I totally understand how people never say a word.

There was a time in college when I received a couple creepy, threatening emails. Actually, they weren't even threatening me but a guy that I had been hanging around with but was no longer (a long, weird story). When I filed a report with Campus Safety, and it turned out that the emails had come from his computer, I kid you not, the officer said to me, "You don't really think ___ did it, do you? I mean, he's such a nice guy." I should have said whole-heartedly that I was certain he did, but instead I pretty much just let it go.

I have such regret about that.

I can't imagine what it must be like for someone who has endured abuse.
A child. 
A teenager.
And it scares the heck out of me because I totally understand how people never say a word.

I've had this conversation with several friends about what this means for our own kids. How in the world do we prepare them? How do we explain things in a way to a child that, God forbid, if anything did ever happen to them, they would not be shamed out of telling us? How do we prepare our kids while at the same time not scare the crap out of them? How do we find balance between being crazy over-protective and completely naive to the world around us?

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