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My sexual abuse story, my daughter, and red lipstick

The real problem with sexual violence is silence. Not the silence of the victims but ours, as a society. We talk a lot about the subject but we rarely say "Sexual violence is never the fault of the victim."

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My sexual abuse story, my daughter, and red lipstick

Four years after I publicly came out about being raped at 19, I still haven’t told my daughter I was sexually abused.

She’s turning 9 in a couple of weeks. She’s now interested in boys. She’s in love.

Is it time I tell her?

Until very recently, there were quite some people who knew that I had been sexually abused, very few however had heard me say it personally and only two knew the story – my friend who was with me that night and the therapist who helped me put myself back together.

When I got home that unfortunate night I decided to move on with my life as if nothing had happened. The following evening I even went out with a friend. 

In the first few years after the event, I thought that I kept quiet out of fear for my safety. When I moved to the Netherlands, more than 2000 km away from the people involved, I didn’t say anything for another nine years. When I started therapy I found out the true cause for my silence which wasn’t a concern for safety.

That night as I was climbing the stairs to my mom’s apartment where I lived at the time, I rerun the events of the evening wondering what I could have done differently to prevent the rape. What if I hadn’t smiled? What if I had worn something else? What if I hadn’t gone dancing? What if…

There were a couple of times during the 15 years of silence when I attempted to say something but then more questions came up. What did really happen that night? Could I say I was raped? …because I didn’t scream. It didn’t look anything like what I had seen on TV. I didn’t fight back. I didn’t even tell him to stop.

Looking back at the therapy I did, I would have expected that it would be all about what the man did, the act. In reality, it was so little about that part and so much about me reclaiming my right to say that I had been raped. 

To this day I still wonder why did I feel that I had to earn my right to say that someone had done something to me? After all, I was the victim that night. Why did I feel like I had done something wrong? How come I felt like I was the villain in this story?

Where did all these voices come from? Is that a natural human reaction or is it something I had internalized because of countless things I had heard until that point?

Today I know what happened that night wasn’t my fault. It doesn’t matter what I had done or said. That man never got my enthusiastic consent.

Today I also know that four years after I learned all that, I was afraid to tell my story because my family and friends still don’t know all that. I wanted to tell them my story but I couldn’t do that and educate them what sexual violence really is or debunk rape myths. That’s not something a victim needs to do. It’s our responsibility to educate ourselves.

As a victim, I need to be able to tell my sexual abuse story without having to defend myself. 

While not sharing my story was out of fear I would be judged, not telling my daughter what had happened to me when I was 19 is a conscious choice.

As a mom, I want the best for my daughter, and talking about rape prevention isn’t the best for her. I believe that telling her how to dress so she’s not too provocative or not to smile too much because someone might misunderstand her smile is doing her a disservice. I’m simply priming her for deep shame.

I want to magnify the light in her, not dim it. It was that light that got me to look for help and start therapy. Seeing the joy with which she used to run naked in our garden when she was three was so infectious. 

I want to raise my daughter in a way that she feels empowered about her sexuality and sensuality. I want her to continue to feel comfortable in her body when she wears a short skirt and a crop top now that she’s almost 9, becoming a young lady interested in boys.

I want her to know sex is a pleasure. I want her to be interested in boys (or girls). I teach her about how men and women experience sex differently. Not better, not worse. Just differently. 

When she wears a dress and she sits with her legs wide open, I tell her that I love how free she feels AND that she needs to be mindful of the people around her. Do they want to see her vulva? We talk about consent. She needs to know all that not only as the one giving consent but also because she has to receive consent before exposing herself to anyone, no exceptions.

I explain to her why I want her to know where she is at all times and with who – It’s not that I don’t trust her but she’s still too young to know whether someone has the best intentions for her. If I think she shouldn’t go somewhere I tell her why – “I don’t know that girl’s parents well enough. If you want to play with her, you’re welcome to do so at our house.”

I talk to her about saying No and situations that might seem like fun, like someone asking her to go see a puppy at their place. She knows she needs to say “I first need to ask my parents.”

When I take her to bed, I ask her “Is there anything you want to talk about?” No matter her answer, I tell her “You can always tell me if something’s on your mind. I’m here for you.”

If there’s one thing I want her to know viscerally, it’s that if something happens, I will always believe her and support her.

I’m not hiding what happened to me either. She has plenty of opportunities to ask about it. Like the red lipstick I often wear in April, a colour I rarely wear during the rest of the year. As they say “it’s not about vanity, it’s about visibility.” “They” being an organization I discovered during my healing process, called Red My Lips. In April which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Red My Lips run a campaign where people join them by wearing red lipstick the entire month to raise awareness about rape myths and sexual violence.

The end of my therapy coincided with their campaign four years ago. I decided to join by wearing red lipstick for a photo I took for the article in which I publicly shared I had been raped. That was the first I wore red lipstick since I was a little girl and I felt strong again. 

I highly recommend you check out their page about rape mythswhat sexual violence isvictim-blamingconsent, as well as these two videos – “If A Robbery Report Was Treated Like A Rape Report” and this one about the problem with “rape prevention”.

If it seems like too much information. Just pick one. 

Thank you for joining the conversation, even if all you do is read one of those Red My Lips articles. It does make a difference.

P.S. I feel it’s worth saying it one more time, this time in straight words – “Sexual violence is never the victim’s fault.”

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