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A Byte of My Past: How Sexual Assault At 13-Years Old Led Me Down the Path of Introspection

How Sexual Assault At 13-Years-Old Led Me Down the Path of Brotherhood, Law, Journalism, and Philanthropy “Heal the past, so we can move forward in a confident future.” As I sit here today in Austin, Texas writing this, these were the words that Cassie uttered to her friend on the other line. I wonder if […]

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How Sexual Assault At 13-Years-Old Led Me Down the Path of Brotherhood, Law, Journalism, and Philanthropy

Heal the past, so we can move forward in a confident future.

As I sit here today in Austin, Texas writing this, these were the words that Cassie uttered to her friend on the other line. I wonder if I was meant to be here—in this moment, confessing. I sit here looking back on my journey the past five (5) years and wonder how one’s destiny could not only change course but transcend into a reality I never thought penetrable. I spent many years dreading this day, hoping the moment would never come that I sit down at my keyboard and watch my fingers twist open a bottle to my past that was tightly sealed and buried deep beneath an ocean of anger, frustration, desire, love, and regret.

But right now, this isn’t a world that I ever expected to live in. A world where we watch social injustice walk the streets of our neighborhoods; a world where in the middle of the biggest global pandemic since World War II, there is more hatred and evil around us; a world where men have often been equated to be aggressors (rather than victims) in cases of abuse or assault, leading to victims having to hide the most traumatic of experiences in fear of being called a “liar” or “sociopath.”

The Birth of Someone New

I am a millennial internet and technology attorney, law professor, journalist, writer, entrepreneur, Hollywood brand & reputation manager, and philanthropist.

If you aren’t already scratching your head wondering how many titles a person can have, then keep reading. You know, I never really know what the “proper” byline is when I’m presented with the question. But what I do know is that I wear many hats, and if I was asked to remove any one of the hats, my entire being would cease to exist.

It is because of each of these titles that helped shape me into who I am today and why for so many years, I’ve (inadvertently) warped certain relationships as a matter of comfort and security.  To those who know me, know that I embrace and stand by three qualities in my life—loyalty, honesty, and love. For as long as I can remember, people closest to me (friends of course), have jokingly described me as “wearing my heart on my sleeve” and “having more emotions than a woman typically would.” And they’re right.

But not for the reasons they think.

My name is Andrew Rossow, and this is my confession. When I was thirteen years old, I was sexually assaulted by a camp counselor with the help of certain of my cabinmates.

You may ask me why now I sit here choosing to randomly drop this emotional bombshell on the world? Not knowing who will read this.

For sympathy? No.

For pity? Certainly not.

But for Time. The god we all live by. And a cruel god indeed, that cares not for who we are.

As a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan, I must try and add some happiness into this. You see, I am Frodo, wishing that what happened to me seventeen (17) years ago didn’t happen. To which, something inside me (you can call it Gandalf, I suppose) told me that during this time of unrest in our world, that the only thing I needed to decide is what to do with the time that is given to me.

And that decision was to listen to someone who only recently came into my life—someone who taught me to embrace my pain and heartbreak, rather than actively fight against it, pretending to be something I wasn’t— “okay.” And I don’t want to live by a victim mindset any longer.

‘Round and ‘Round in the Circle Game

I went in that summer with five-friends. I left with zero and something much worse. A memory that would become an endless repeat what happened every day for three months.

You see, at thirteen years old, it was a time to be alive for boys my age. Puberty was that summer’s biggest competition—even at a Jewish sports camp. Unfortunately for me, I had already lost the moment I stepped off that plane in St. Louis, to soon get on a bus that wasn’t the camp I thought I was attending…but a camp of hell.

I was the little guy among my peers. Soft-spoken, afraid of my own shadow, and at the time, inferior to the world around me. My parents didn’t understand why I dreaded going back to camp the following summers. Why I constantly wrote to them how much I hated it there, and how I wanted to come home. Now, who’s to blame them? How could they have known? They couldn’t.

I was sworn to secrecy. By my camp counselor. By an adult whose responsibility it was to provide guidance, safety, and security to the cabin of children he was assigned to that summer. But no, he abused that. Defiled that responsibility. And instead, chose to go down a path of no return, bringing in a bunch of minors to gang up and punish a thirteen-year-old boy for something he could not control.

You see, I was outnumbered. And even if I wanted to open-up to someone, how could I? It was their word against mine. It was his word against mine.

A part of me died that summer—but my physical being survived, thanks to another counselor (who shall remain nameless for his privacy) who took me under his wing. A young man, who at that age, was no different than my counselor—a young adult.

That summer, he became my older brother, my protection, my only place of security. He let me cry out to him. He held me, telling me it would be okay. That it wasn’t my fault; that kids are cruel. He watched movies with me; allowed me to sneak away from sports activities most days and sleep alone in his cabin on his bed (while he was out refereeing and coaching), so I could sleep peacefully and safely.

Me next to the counselor who protected me | July 4, 2003

But what he knew to only be bullying by the kids in my cabin and other age groups, was so much more than that.

Because he never truly knew what happened that summer, for the same reason the camp’s director didn’t know. For the same reason my family didn’t know. And why most of those kids involved (now my peers, and some even my closest friends) don’t know. I hope this confession reveals to you, big brother (you know who you are), how you saved my life that summer…and for a lifetime. And I now have the strength to say, thank you and I love you, forever.

So, what exactly happened? If you’re looking for the name of the camp or those involved, you won’t find it here, as it is not my intention to start up an accusation game or legal battle.

At the time, those in the Jewish community, whom I had grown up around shunned me. Families of kids I had known since pre-school turned their backs, thinking I was just “immature” or “needed help” simply because of the stories their children told them after that summer. And you better believe it wasn’t the story you would hope it to be.

And for what? Because I hadn’t hit puberty yet. Because I was not as “developed below” as everyone else was—I was…smaller. But how could they know this? Did I just voluntarily show them? No, of course not. You see, boys my age, played pranks on each other at camp when they showered.

One game in particular, “curtaining’, was nothing new at camps like this.

But for me, it was new. And it changed me, forever.

I didn’t have as deep a voice as the boys in my cabin. I had that high-pitched sound, which to many, seemed too feminine. Too weak. Too girly.

I wasn’t as athletically coordinated as the boys at camp. In fact, I sucked at sports so badly, I was often blamed for why our team lost at basketball, softball, or whatever the sport was at the time.

I didn’t have an ounce of hair on my body—as smooth as a baby’s ass.

I didn’t have tiny hairs coming off my face that I could talk about what it’s like to shave.

Remember the “curtaining” game? The first time I was curtained, my prankers were shocked as to what they saw. A boy whose penis at the time wasn’t developed enough that he didn’t have pubic hairs coming in—it freaked them out. They didn’t understand it. So, the obvious choice was to point, laugh, and tell as many people as they could about how “small” and “pubeless” I was.

Yet, I was expected to “take a joke” and know that there wasn’t harm in this—that it was something I should have just laughed off. At 13-years old.

And that’s just it. It wasn’t that I couldn’t take a joke…I was the joke. And I was passed around throughout that camp, from the boy’s side of the camp, all the way to the girl’s side of camp. And the initiator?

My counselor. The adult in the cabin who should’ve known better; who should’ve immediately put an end to the humiliation and the game of curtaining another person while they showered.

Instead, he joined in the fun, pointing his finger at me in our cabin, laughing. I remember the first time he put his pinky in his mouth and sucked on it, making a noise that could only be described as a small child sucking their thumb, referencing how “tiny” I was—like a little baby.

And the song. I can’t forget the catchy song, that somehow survived at least ten years later. It was a tune so catchy, it spread throughout the campgrounds, that not only the boys in my cabin would sing along with my counselor, but that the girls ended up hearing (and singing themselves).

Drew Rossow, the pubeless wonder, flying high above the sea; Drew Rossow, the pubeless wonder, flying high above the sea.”

Over. And over again. And to think I was worrying about which girl I would ask to the Sadie Hawkins dance later that summer. Talk about a joke…

Now if you ask me the meaning behind it? I have no fucking idea as to what the second half of the verse meant. Still don’t.

For me, our catchy summer camp hits that we’d sing out loud during meals in the dining hall or at bonfires (Joni Mitchell’s The Circle Game, Original Caste’s One Tin Soldier, and of course, Lorre Wyatt’s Song of Peace (The Dreamer)), expanded to include my own personal theme song, that followed me for years to come—even as I did finally hit puberty.

It was a haunting reminder of how much I hated…myself. All for something I couldn’t control. And the worst part was that, I had nobody to turn to. Nobody who could protect me. Nobody could put a stop to it. My friends were no longer my friends, but pressured peers who thought it was cool to join into something they didn’t understand themselves, simply to fit in and not be made fun of themselves for attempting to defend me.

But do I blame them? Not entirely. We were 13, what did we know? Fitting in and peer pressure were at the top of our priority list. But the adult in the cabin who should have known better—who was paid to know better. It is your fault. And I do blame you—100%.

It just so happened that I was missing some growth hormone, which had slowed down the rate at which I was supposed to hit puberty, predicating the need to take growth shots for a certain period. Eventually it exacerbated the puberty process and I did “catch-up.” Hell, look at me now—deep voice and all.

As for the humiliation and abuse, because that’s exactly what it was, well that was something I had to endure every day and night in my cabin, for three months. I cried. I begged. I screamed. I did everything I emotionally and physically knew how to do, hoping it would stop. I was the little guy in the room, so physical strength was not to my advantage. I hated myself. I hated my counselor. I hated my former friends. I hated every single Jewish boy and girl at that camp.

And I didn’t understand why I couldn’t come home to my parents.

One night, something did change. I found the courage to stand-up for myself—pulling out a plastic knife I had kept from that day’s lunch at the dining hall. I remember waking up in the middle of the night, and going over to one of the neighboring bunk-beds, and shook a former friend of mine awake and held that plastic knife up to his face—threatening him that if he didn’t stop this; if he didn’t come back to me as my friend and defend me, I would kill him.

Now, think of this. A 13-year-old holding a plastic knife up to someone, who was shaken awake in the middle of the night. Is that a terror or just comical? Pointless either way. It backfired. His response was to scream as loud as he could until the counselor either woke up, or came running into the cabin (I can’t remember), and took the knife away and was almost in shock that I could ever imagine doing something so “dangerous” and “stupid.’

It was at that moment, that I chose to address everyone in my cabin, my counselor included, on what would be happening next. I told them I had enough of the jokes and the song, and that in the morning, I would be going to the camp’s director and telling him everything that had been happening the past few days.

Little did I know that my courage would lead me to being tied to one of the chairs in the cabin for the next day, until I forcibly agreed to keep quiet and follow my counselor’s exact “orders”:

  • I was not to go to the camp’s director, or anyone for that matter and report on what was happening—because nobody would believe one kid against the counselor and the rest of the cabin;
  • Even if I tried, I wouldn’t be able to, because I would now have to stay in the cabin during meals in the dining hall, tied to the chair, and have food brought to me—you know, just to minimize the risk of me slipping out or finding someone to squeal to;
  • Even if I could be trusted, I would be escorted to and from sports activities and extracurriculars, meals in the dining hall, rest hour, the bathroom, and the shower; and
  • One day, I would be “sucking dick for crack” simply to get the attention I desired.

Imagine an adult saying that to a 13-year-old child.

And you better believe the first three scenarios here unfolded exactly as such. So, for most of the summer, until I accepted these terms, which was a few days after everything “sunk in”, I spent my time being escorted to and from extracurricular activities, meals, and yes, my bathroom trips and shower time by my counselor as well as one of the boy’s from the cabin.

I almost felt special having personal escort or security personnel follow me everywhere. For me, it was 24/7 surveillance. Right under everyone’s nose.

Oh, I even had my letters that I would write to my family and “friends” (outside of camp) read and checked, to make sure nothing got out. Which it never did. Thank god I know the law now, right?

I was not only alone. I was fucking abandoned. I was isolated in the cruelest of ways, thanks to the stupidity and ignorance of an adult who should’ve known better. Who took advantage of the minors he was charged to look after, and taught them the true meaning of peer pressure and what it means to “fit in.”? Was I angry and disappointed in my former friends—of course. I didn’t know what I did to deserve it. It was a personal hell I couldn’t escape until the day came for us to pack our bags and awkwardly ride the bus back together to the airport, to meet our parents.

But what stuck with me most that summer (aside from that annoying ass song), I think, was how I still couldn’t even get the slightest bit of privacy behind a curtain during my showers, as my counselor or one of my cabinmates would “stand guard” outside the curtain, waiting for me to finish cleaning my under-developed self, knowing there was no possible way I could “dart out” and risk sharing what was happening to someone else nearby.

And yes, I was still curtained every now-and-then. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t entirely innocent here either, as I at times would attempt to “fight back,” and curtain one of my cabinmates, given the opportunity. But usually that backfired and made matters worse for me.

Now, as I said at the beginning, this confession is not an attempt to gain your sympathy or pity, but rather, my decision in allowing you into my headspace so that you could understand why over the years, certain displays of my affection or feelings, may have warped certain relationships with certain individuals (often times women), because I was only looking for the warmth, comfort, attention, and security that I never had those years at camp, dances, or attempts at “dating” girls my age.

I wanted to let you reader, into the deepest hallways of my heart, hoping you understand that the person you see before you today, is built upon every decision I’ve made (knowingly or not), immediately preceding.

Maybe I didn’t realize what was happening to me at the time—why I was so angry all the time, why I was so emotional, or craving this mushy affection from people who perhaps had no reason to give it.

But destiny did. Fate did.

The effect that summer had on me for years to come, left me an empty vessel. A shell of a boy and young man who for many years, was afraid to not only talk to any girl, but even look at them in the eye. I could easily communicate with them through AIM (AOL Instant Messenger), but god forbid when I saw my crush the next day at school—I pretended that I had never met them.

I was afraid to try out for any sports teams—having quit track and cross-country after six weeks and spending time on my high school’s wrestling team (lowest weight class of course) for a lengthy two-weeks.

I was someone who was afraid of my own shadow, who felt inadequate to the world around him, because not only was my confidence stripped away entirely; my dignity had been taken away by those who were entrusted to protect me. To protect others my age.

So, I begin to look elsewhere for the warmth and security as the years went by.

My passion and love for art over the years was an escape where I could create anything—draw anything. My parents bought me every “How to Draw” book imaginable. I bonded with my grandmother when I stayed over at her house on those random Saturday nights, looking through her collection of art history books.

And for many years, I had no idea what was so beautiful about my interest in art. But now I know. I had a semblance of control over what made it onto that page. In that world, I was powerful and in charge. Nobody else.

Then, in eighth grade, I fell in love with writing—thanks to a project assigned by my former English teacher, who many, many years later (during my 1L year of law school, 2013) was sentenced to three years in prison for an inappropriate relationship with a 16-year-old student. I won’t go into that.

As I entered high-school, I joined BBYO (Bnai’ Brith Youth Organization), or the Jewish version of Greek life (pre-college), hoping to meet some friends. Unfortunately, I came face-to-face with many of the individuals whom I hadn’t seen since that summer.

I couldn’t escape it. I still craved the attention of my peers around me—and the more people pushed away, the more I tried to force friendships that just weren’t there.

I didn’t date much in high school (obviously), much to the amazement and wonder of my family and the small group of friends I had. You see, I was afraid. I was afraid of myself. My body. Exposing myself to another person ever again in the way that I had been forced to, against my will all those years back.

Which upon graduating, led me to my next decision, which was a no-brainer.

Ignore the Past, College is Where It’s At, Right?

My decision to attend Hofstra University in New York, a college that was far away from all the kids I went to camp with, the majority of whom still lived in the same town as me in Dallas, Texas. I watched as many of those same individuals followed each other to the same colleges, joined the same fraternities and sororities, and the whole nine.

They wanted everything to do with each other, and I couldn’t wait to be farther from it all.

But entering college was still somewhat difficult for me. Not because I had trouble making friends—no. But because I very quickly recognized that I had zero self-confidence, especially when it came to the “joking” and “dating” scene. I mean come on, this was the time in my life where I was supposed to get absolutely wasted and have sex for the first time (clearly that never happened in high school, for obvious reasons), right?

Three Letters and a Handshake

That’s where I chose to become the person I wanted to be. I wanted the strength to stand up; to no longer put up with shit—but to also know how to take a joke.

So, unlike the stereotypical “I am joining a fraternity to meet people and make friends”, I joined the one fraternity I promised myself I would never join (I had heard tidbits from other college students and chapters about the difficulty of its pledge program and was terrified). I joined not for friendship—but for inner strength.

And you better believe it was the most challenging, gut-wrenching, and emotional torture I had ever faced—but not for the reasons you are probably assuming right now.

To put a lid on any thoughts that I was beaten, touched, spit on, forced to consume alcohol or drugs, or any other crazy physical/sexual hazing story we’ve heard from Greek Life over the years—none of this happened. The reason I was terrified about pledging the fraternity I did, was because of the type of program it ran. It was an educational, physical and emotional boot-camp—in every sense of the word. It taught me the meaning of brotherhood. Of unity. We build each other up, together—or we all fall, together. 

Thankfully, I had the support of not just my family, but my roommate, who was also my pledge brother, and certain brothers, who ensured that I didn’t quit and walk away—no matter how many times I cried (yes, admittingly and without shame, I cried, over and over again—it was as if I was reliving the emotional torture, without the abuse, as I had all those years back at camp). And I wanted to overcome it. I wanted to prove to myself that I wouldn’t live my life in fear anymore.

But then the day came, where I could call myself a brother and was recognized as a brother. And shortly thereafter, I began to find my way. My confidence. Knowing I was strong enough to never again put up with someone’s shit—that feeling was one in a million.

Order in My Court!

Swearing-in ceremony at The Supreme Court of Ohio | February 2016

Graduating college back in 2012, I was preparing for my next adventure. One that I knew I wanted, but I couldn’t answer as to why. Law school.

And the first lesson I took away from it, came from my 1L year property professor—learning to be comfortable, being uncomfortable. And boy was she right.

I attended The University of Dayton School of Law in Ohio—the place that taught me how to think, how to question, and how to seriously be uncomfortable. And it did its job. You would think that after three long, painful years of reading case textbooks and briefing, that any love for reading and writing would have been out the window.

Hardly. I loved it even more.

But even during that time, I was still trying to figure out who I was and the type of person I wanted to be. I didn’t care much for dating anyone—yeah, I went on the dating apps, had my fun—but I always felt a void, like something (or someone) was missing.

Then in the last few months of my final year of law school, I reconnected with a college flame, who I decided to take a chance on (and with). So, we started dating, long distance for the next six months. And it was great…at first. I found someone who had always piqued my interest, but for some reason, our paths never crossed. Until March 2015.

As I learned how to be in what I thought was a “healthy relationship”, I instead learned what it was like to be in an emotionally abusive one. I was willing to compromise who I was as a person, simply to keep her happy and make sure that she still loved me. You have no idea how powerful the words “I love you” were when she would say it out loud or even text me. I felt complete. I felt whole.

A charade. A façade. One of many methods of emotional manipulation. I would say and do anything, if it meant keeping her happy. But for her, it was so much more than that—it was having someone at beck and call, who gave her all the attention she ever wanted and would put up with her in every way, while still being able to (unbeknownst to me at the time) talk to, flirt with, and even hook-up with other guys.

The cost of my love in a period of six-months? $20,000 of debt. You know, the hotels, flights, trips, and other benefits of me showing love. And to me, that was normal. That was love. I finally had someone who cared for me and about me and as long as she was happy, things were good.

But no more. It wasn’t until recently that I was strong enough to cut those ties—permanently. Even despite being dumped in a text message a month before the Bar Exam (the first time I took it and obviously failed)—only to find out, she had found someone in the same town and thought him a better use of her time. Her excuse of “you changed” and felt “trapped” during my worst three months of bar exam preparation, didn’t compute.

Watching my colleagues and friends pass the July 2015 Ohio Bar Exam as I sat on my bed, crying and wondering how this could have happened to me, was the stabbing in my heart I needed to get my shit together. I was broken in every way possible. I was hurt beyond comprehension. But I couldn’t let my career slip through my fingers again.

Never again would I allow another person (who supposedly loved me) to control my feelings or my career—money that my family invested into my future.

So, I took the exam again that following February (2016)—and passed. But guess who came back? And guess who went back?

Why? Simple. I was a victim, still controlled by the love I wanted from her and thought she still had. Because it would be different. She was sorry. She wanted to make it up to me. She realized what we had.

But it was another Circle Game. Another attempt at control. And while I was following my heart, because I did love her—I loved the person I wanted her to be. Yet, that wasn’t enough for her, nor would it ever be. She exploited my biggest fears (through insensitivity) which stemmed from my assault at camp all those years back and would use the excuse of “I do what I want and when I want” and “I don’t like to be controlled.” Ironically, the only person she liked to control was me. And I allowed it—for the next four years.

Upon my passing of the Ohio Bar Exam, I found an unusual career path present itself to me, where four years later, I wasn’t just practicing criminal defense law and teaching as an adjunct 2L cybersecurity professor at my alma mater, but I had also taken a dangerous step into the world of media and journalism. And no, not entertainment law or media law.

Just plain journalism and the media. Or perhaps as it’s known today—the era of “fake news.”

How Pokémon Set Me Down a Path of No Return

Andrew Rossow speaks with Dayton’s FOX45 on the legalities Pokemon Go presented | February 2016

Gotta’ catch them all! Who would’ve thought that these animated digital monsters that I once collected trading cards of and spent weekdays after school watching on television, would help shape my professional career as a journalist and media spokesperson?

In February 2016, I passed the Ohio Bar Exam, and thankfully, I was all set with a job, working as a new Associate at a small general practice, which I had the privilege to have worked at for the past two-years of my law school tenure.

Later that summer, Niantic, The Pokémon Company, and Nintendo released Pokémon Go, an augmented reality mobile game that used the mobile device GPS to locate, capture, battle, and train virtual creatures, called Pokémon, which appear as if they are in the player’s real-world location. So, if you happened to see young children, tweens, teens, and young adults/adults running around aimlessly with their phone as if they were trying to decode it, you know what they were doing—catching Pokémon.

Anyway, the first weekend of its release, I for some reason had nothing better to do on a Friday night and wrote a 20-page thesis on the legal implications AR mobile games like Pokémon Go, would bring to consumers and a small enterprise. I submitted it to the Ohio Bar Association, and it was within a matter of weeks, published in the statewide Ohio Lawyer magazine, distributed to every lawyer throughout the State of Ohio.

Luckily for me, the judge whom I had a criminal case in front of, had read my article (which had been cut down to about 10-pages for publishing purposes), and wanted to pass it along to his son, who at the time, worked directly under Arianna Huffington at the Huffington Post (now known as HuffPost). Weeks following, I received an email inviting me to join HuffPost as a Contributor, writing on law and technology from the perspective of a millennial.

Little did I know that my six-months with HuffPost writing (for free, mind you), would not only lead me down a path allowing me to write for Forbes and later helping to co-found Grit Daily, a Gen-Z and millennial news outlet that focuses its content on women empowerment and brands—but that inspired me to create a globally trademarked online movement that I envisioned would one day help others who fell victim to online bullying and instances that were designed to keep their voices stifled, silent, and buried until there was nothing left but to disappear.

#CYBERBYTE®. A movement hosted on the video hosting platform, KNEKT TV, which began with Hollywood and Silicon Valley accepting the challenge to speak out to fans against online bullying and hatred, by sharing either a personal experience they encountered and/or words of wisdom to their fans. And it spread. Like “wildfire” as Entrepreneur Magazine described it.

Now, before this confession, the only hints at why I started the #CYBERBYTE® Movement can be found in three wonderful interviews by The Jewish Journal (2018), Entrepreneur Magazine (February 2020), Entrepreneur Weekly’s Alan Taylor from the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show in 2019 and 2020, and the Texas Jewish Post (2020).

Today, I’ve opened it to anyone who needs a platform for their voice. I despise bullies or anyone who feels that they are bigger, better, and smarter than someone else and chooses to actively exploit or target another person to make them feel as if they were the smallest ant in the world they could easily squash with their foot.

Unfortunately, this is a battle that will continue for as long as technology and platforms allow for such behavior.

It also led me to joining the Advisory Panel of The Cybersmile Foundation, an award-winning international non-profit organization that provides support for victims of cyber-bullying and online hate campaigns.

Four Years Later and We Are in the Biggest Global Pandemic Since WWII

So, now that you know my story, my confession, I hope you understand who I am as a person.

Regrettably, I must admit that it wasn’t until this past May that I finally had the strength and fire in me to permanently remove this individual from my life, despite my years of begging for her attention, for us to be together again in a healthy relationship. You see, I grew tired of walking on egg shells, never knowing the following morning whether or not she was upset with me (as a “friend”)…I did everything I knew how to do, hoping she would be the person I wanted her to be. But she never would be.

What she said four years ago to me, about how I changed…she was right. I did. It just took four years of emotional turmoil and abuse for me to truly understand that the way she treated me—the way she played with my feelings, knowing all I had went through, I wanted to be with someone who loved me for me and didn’t want me to change.

Over the years, my attempts to connect, befriend, or date women whose company I enjoyed on a personal level, often resulted in a warped relationship, as a result of my desire to platonically give love and receive it. What happened seventeen years ago does not just disappear. It has stayed with me and transcended into every interaction and experience I’ve had up and until this moment.

For those individuals I was attracted to and pursued platonically or romantically, it was because I felt that sense of safety, security, and warmth I was denied at camp—never because I was ever in a position of power over these individuals.

Could these interactions have been warped or viewed in another context? Perhaps, but I don’t know.

Am I perfect? Of course not.

But what I am and who I am is an honest and compassionate man that just wants to do right for himself, but also treat others the way I always wanted to be treated. With love, respect, and dignity.

For every relationship (platonic, professional, or romantic) I have in my life I have chosen to keep for a specific purpose. And to those who may question the way I have perceived a situation or relationship in a way that is not what you had expected, I hope you understand that never would I put you or anyone in a situation to feel powerless, silenced, or vulnerable.

To those individuals who were aware or partly aware of what happened seventeen years ago, some of whom are (ironically) my closest friends, I want you to know that I forgive you—that I am not angry at you. For those who played a part in what happened, who have come forward years ago, admitting the wrong, inappropriateness, and devastation they caused at an age where it was just about fitting in and not understanding the long-term effects of a 13-year-old’s actions, I want to thank you. I forgive you.

And to the counselor who was not my protector, but the aggressormy abuser, I forgive you. But I will never forget you. And that’s a scar that I can now confidently say I wear proud.

And to you, reader, if you made it this far into this confession, I’m asking you to understand that abuse comes in many forms, and in today’s world where it seems that men can only ever be viewed as the aggressor’s (rather than the victim), this is not a truth, but a story that some choose to (inappropriately) capitalize off of, making it seem impossible for something like this to happen.

A Thank You Heard ‘Round the World

Lastly, I want to thank the following people who have stood by me, allowing me to share the most traumatic experience in my life with you today:

To my girlfriend and my world, Cassie, thank you. Thank you for giving me the strength to tell my story. But most importantly, thank you for showing me that it’s okay for the world to know that you’re angry, frustrated, scared, and vulnerable.

To my brother, who seventeen years ago, gave me the only protection I needed during that summer—a warming embrace and love, thank you.

To my closest of friends back home, who many years were pressured to do something they didn’t understand, and have since apologized, this is not my attempt at exposing you, but my way of telling you thank you and I am grateful to have my true friends back. I love you and I have forgiven you a long, long time ago.

To my family, who in recent conversations, expressed a desire to understand what happened all those years ago, as my emotional disconnect from them has created up and until now, unresolved issues—thank you and I love you, forever. I want you to know, in no way, shape, or form was this your fault. You provided me with the love and affection you were able to give me, but at times, not what I needed, due to my inability to communicate something so horrific, I didn’t know how or where to start.

And to you, reader, for taking your time to read my story and step into a world where women are not the only ones who can be victimized by such behavior, but that men can too—at the expense of other men.

My name is Andrew Rossow. And this is my confession.

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