This is not a political post–but it’s also not a post about writing. It’s a post about assault and rape culture. Last week, Kelly Oxford started the #NotOkay hashtag in response to a certain politician’s audio tape describing his own behaviour. She asked for women to come forward with the stories of the first time they were sexually assaulted, and the response has been overwhelming (as of the last time I checked, over 30 million responses had been tweeted). I tweeted my story, but it’s hard to sum up everything in 140 characters, so I thought I’d go into more detail here to try and continue the conversation. Because it’s #NotOkay.
Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault
You’ll have to forgive me if some of the details here are fuzzy. I’m not sure if it’s the concussion, or the fact this happened almost thirty years ago, but while the assaults themselves live on in my memory, many of the peripheral details are less than clear in my mind.
I was in fifth grade, only ten years old (just three years older than my daughter is now). A group of boys at school started a game. I can’t remember if there were points involved, or if it was just for the thrill of the hunt, a new kind of ‘tag’–but the game was called squeaking, and the objective was to pinch girls’ butts.
It was supposed to show that they liked you. Indeed, the boys tended to have ‘favourites’–one girl they harassed more than the others–although they would still grab anyone who they happened to catch. I was the favourite of two boys. One, a relatively sweet kid who I vaguely remember eventually gave up the game, and the other a messed up little sociopath in training…more about him later.
It probably sounds harmless, right? Boys being boys…but we had three recess breaks a day (two fifteen minute breaks, and one half-hour break), and it got old real fast. Honestly, I have no idea how long this game even went on, but let’s say it was only one week (I’m sure it was well more than that), that’s still five hours of sexual assault per girl at the hands of these boys–just to put it in perspective for you.
At first I fought. I was taller than a lot of them, and a tomboy, but not particularly strong. I would scream, punch, kick, whatever it took to keep their hands off me. So they created a new rule: if you screamed, the penalty was a hug, if you hit them, they got to kiss you. The boys would band together to enforce the punishment, sometimes all of them taking the penalty.
At least one of the girls asked me to stop fighting, because I was making it worse for them.
Eventually it got to the point the other girls and I would spend all of our recesses with our backs pressed up against the portables, the only way we could figure out to protect our bodies.
Well, my little sociopath (I told you we’d get back to him) couldn’t handle that. So he devised a new feature in the game: “smurfing,” or as a certain presidential candidate calls it “grab them by the p***y.” Because it’s very hard to cover your front and back at the same time, you see. One side is almost always vulnerable.
It hurt, in case you’re wondering. A lot. Even my thickest jeans did nothing to protect my body from their invading fingers. If I’d known about maxi pads back then, I probably would have worn those to school as armour, but it was a couple years too early for that.
I started trying to avoid school. Would feel panic building in my chest every time the recess bell rang.
A couple of the portables backed onto the border fence. We weren’t allowed to go behind them, but I did. This was a huge deal for me–I was a compulsive rule-follower, terrified of getting in trouble, but my panic over these boys, over this abuse, outweighed everything. But every day the recess monitor would come behind the portables and roust me, sending me back out to my tormentors.
Until the day I broke down.
I can’t remember what caused it. Did she ask me why I insisted on going out of bounds every day? Did I catch sight of the sociopath just waiting for me to be ‘available’? Who knows. But I did break down. I told her everything. About the ‘game’. About the torment.
The ‘game’ stopped that day.
I have a vague memory of the boys (all the boys in the grade, I think, since I’m not sure I told on specific people) being taken aside and told the game was over.
No one was punished.
This wasn’t the only time a guy thought he had a right to my body. It’s not even the worst time. Merely the first in a long line of incidents that have been inspiring my YA writing lately. I hope that by speaking out we can start to call out bad behaviour. Teach our sons better. So that my daughter doesn’t have to experience the same things I did. Because it’s #NotOkay.