notes from your big sibling
because when i went to go pee i started puking in the bathtub. even after all this i still felt i was able to keep myself together, but then it happened. my girl friends fell asleep on the couch, and it was just me and him. i have no idea what came over me but i started kissing him. i remember that i started it. i also remember he had only drank half of his 40 and he was able to drive home after all this. for some stupid reason we ended up having sex in my bathroom. i remember he kept asking to go in my room but i told him no. i don’t remember a lot of what happened, but i remember i just wanted it to be over already even though i had started it. every day i think about it and it makes me want to cry. i feel disgusted with myself. my friends got mad at me when i told them about what happened and kept reminding me that i had started it… i don’t know what to do or think, being a strong supporter of survivors i want to be that for myself but i don’t know if i’m in the wrong…i guess i should also mention that when i was dating his sister i was sure i was a lesbian, when we broke up i thought maybe i was still attracted to men. after this situation i can’t ever see myself being with a man again…
“The best advice I can give you is: what would you say to your sister or best friend in the same position? How could you offer them support and help now? Do those things for yourself. I also urge you to seek help. You have a lot to talk out and begin to process about this situation and especially about yourself. It sounds like you are young and still figuring out who you are. It’s so hard, but parent yourself. That is, do what is best for you even though it might not be the easiest or most gratifying thing. It’s the most loving thing you can do." - JM
in a relation for few months. Sometimes he wants to have physical interaction but I am too scared. I dont know what to do. I dont know how to overcome that nightmare. can you help me??
“It sounds like you’ve been through a lot and you’re still getting a handle on your trauma and grief. There is no timetable for healing; it can be helped along, but it happens when it happens, and it happens in stages. It’s great that you’ve been able to open up to love again but if you feel scared or overwhelmed about getting physical, you probably aren’t ready to take that step. Your intuition might also be telling you that this isn’t the right person. Follow your instincts and be up front with your boyfriend about how you feel. If he pressures you, he is NOT worth your time. I hope if he’s the right guy for you, he’ll support you while you get confident and comfortable with a physical relationship. You deserve to love and be loved and feel happy, and I wish that for you with all my heart." - Stefanie
Trauma and feelings ebb and flow. They are not constant and they change like anything else in our lives. What you feel in your heart could be forgiveness for him, but it also sounds like you are now placing the blame on yourself and letting him off the hook. Rape is 100% absolutely NEVER anyone’s fault. You are not responsible for what your boyfriend did to you, and even though you don’t hate him anymore, it doesn’t make what he did your fault. Your strength and forgiveness is commendable and I suggest coping by writing in a journal of the ways in which you cope everyday. Reward yourself for feeling strong, and if you feel sad or confused, that is ok too. But please remember, none of this was ever ever your fault. What he did was wrong and just because he wasn’t punished doesn’t mean it was ok." - Katrin
“Please know it’s absolutely NOT your fault. Not hating him is good for you. You won’t be tormented by the memories, and you may be able to move on from him, grow from here and let him go. I am a believer of humans, even with all the wrong that I see, I believe we’re usually better than the sum of our weaker parts. You’re ex-person might not be evil, misguided and wrong, but not evil. That doesn’t make what he did to you right or your fault. Hate subsiding means you’ve moved through the stages of grief and come out on the stronger side. On coping: forgive yourself. Hate is a very negative emotion that often leads to losing confidence and feel miserable about yourself and others. Losing hate, inversely, makes you gain confidence and feel better about yourself and others. I also think it’s always beneficial to go to a support group so you can hear other people’s experiences and share your own as well. They will believe you, they will understand you. I believe you, and I understand." - Marilali
“Hate requires a renewal of feeling, constantly. It’s exhausting, and taxing, and it costs us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It sounds as if you might have moved through it. That doesn’t mean you don’t condemn the behavior and action and events, it just means you don’t feel hate. That’s it. Not hating does not mean that you now thinks it is unimportant or have let him off the hook. It means your life and you and your future are more important, and that is completely true. You sound confused though, about if it was your fault and if he isn’t an okay guy. I’m curious if you are feeling that way because the hate is subsiding, or the hate is subsiding due to thinking those things? Either way, I lovingly and strongly urge you to seek out a therapist. What you are feeling and experiencing is so confusing and retrospect can really distort past experiences. Be kind to yourself and please, seek help in regard to this." - JM
“It can be so confusing when an emotion you rely on to understand your experience shifts. But it doesn’t mean that the emotions you had for so long were wrong, or misguided, or need to be re-evaluated in hindsight. It might just meant that they do not serve you anymore. If it’s helpful to you, you could consider that emotions are, basically, information that your body gives you. They are data that you use to make decisions, to sort out experiences, and to navigate through the good and the bad in the world. Your emotions might be telling you that, right now at least, “hate” is not a relevant piece of data for you in processing that experience. It was necessary and good for you for a long time, and maybe now it has served its purpose. Be patient with yourself, and do what you can to be open to the new or shifting data that your mind and body are giving you about your relationship to that experience. Change can be a gift. Sometimes hate is necessary to cauterize and identify a wound, and sometimes hate gives way to something else. But it shouldn’t give way to self-blame. It was not your fault, and new feelings don’t mean a new truth around that." - Marla
“Dear sweet girl,
I am so sorry for what happened to you and my heart breaks. We are convinced you were raped, we believe you, we know that they are true. The fact that you were drinking does NOT make what these people did to you ok. None of this was your fault. They took advantage of you while you were under the influence without any regard for your safety or say on the matter. That is a crime. No one is entitled to anyone’s body for their own use under any circumstances without consent! If you encounter people who don’t believe you, they are just perpetuating the myth that it is the fault of the victim of a CRIME, not the criminal. They are people who want to side with a criminal. Rape is a crime no matter how you cut it. I hope and pray that you can have nights where it becomes further away, where it’s not as clear, where the pain subsides, and where you can live without fear and instead find some peace. I know the demons of the past all too well myself and with time it can get easier. For now, be good to your sweet self, do things that make you feel well. We love you and believe you. It’s not your fault." - Katrin
“We are convinced that what you say is true; I’m certain that others are convinced, too, but may not express that to you, but most importantly, YOU know it’s true. You are in charge of your truth. People don’t need to understand or be convinced of something in order for it to be true. I believe you will remember that night for the rest of your life. I believe you because I remember what happened to me as clearly as I did the day after it happened. The pain will dull, and it will feel less raw, and others’ opinions will matter less as time goes by. I am so sorry you haven’t been held in love and support by your friends and family. We are here to do that for you. Drinking means you can’t consent. What happened to you is not your fault, and you are entitled to report it or find treatment however you want. If talking it out with a counselor at school, a trusted teacher, your family doctor, a therapist or another safe adult feels right and helpful, please go for it. Some of those people are what’s called mandatory reporters, which means they have to report a crime or a person in danger to the authorities. I hope for the best for you, and want you to know that I believe you." - Stefanie
“I want you to know that I believe you, and I know how dismissive people can be if alcohol was involved in an assault. I’m sorry that people will not listen to you. I know how hard that can be, how diminishing it can feel, but please know that circumstances do not change the definitions of rape and assault. If you said no, if you didn’t want it, if it was forced on you, then it was rape, it was assault, and no naysaying or ignoring can change that. Don’t let anyone tell you it was your fault if you were drunk. I hope you have someone, even just one person, who you can talk to. Someone who will listen. If not, I encourage you to seek out a counselor, a therapist, even an online support group. Just being heard and supported can make so much difference, and it can be the first step toward healing." - Alisha
“The truth, in my experience, is that it is not life that gets better - it is us as individuals. We practice and get better at dealing with all sorts of things, including heartbreaking things, and we have more personal power because that is a thing that comes with adulthood for many people. It’s like leveling up in a video game.
If you are not sure what to believe, believe in yourself and your ability to survive." - Marianne
“That’s a hard thing to answer because it is different for everyone and I don’t want to lie to you. Time and distance do help dull the memories, but I haven’t met anyone that doesn’t still deal with the ramifications in some way or another decades later. As you mature and life changes, the old issues will flare up due to new causes, but that’s always an opportunity to deal with the trauma from a new perspective and to heal more. I urge you to process your experience in any, and every way you can, whether it be journaling like crazy, seeking professional help, finding meetings to attend such as anonymous groups, or even surrounding yourself with trusted friends and a new community. Please be aware that depression is common for survivors of trauma, and it is a liar, making you feel like things will never be any better and you will always feel this badly. It isn’t true. Life moves in cycles and it can and will get better." - JM
“Life gets different. Sometimes, different is better and sometimes different means that we’ve become stronger and are more able to navigate through the present, though we still carry the past on our backs.
Different is neutral - not better or worse - because life can be very complicated. Things change constantly and when I take comfort in anything, it’s that as bad as today may be, tomorrow will not be the same day, even if only by degrees.
It’s not a fairy tale ending or a ‘Happily Ever After,’ but it is something that I can rely upon." - Jennifer
“Our circumstances change, our perspective changes, we develop new ways to deal with what we’ve been through, we find people we trust, we grow, we feel love, and time passes. Those are things to believe in. It’s not always easy, and, in fact, it can be really hard, but you are important. You’re worth the effort." - Stefanie
“If you’re looking for something that you can actually believe, it’s this: Life is just life. It does get better in some ways and some times, but, unfortunately, it also does the opposite in others.
I know that may not sound that comforting in this moment, when life may be horrible and heartbreaking, but what is more important is that you’re here. That, in itself, is something to remind yourself of and be proud of. You are here. You have survived through this. And if you continue, and find the support you need by reaching out like you have now, you’ll continue to survive. You’ll be stronger for it. And, in my experience, while life is still just life, that has made it feel better even when it’s still tough." - Li
“Everyone has written exactly what I felt - life just is. A while ago I heard what ended up becoming a sort of mantra “life is 10% what happens, and 90% how we react to it.” Apparently, it’s quite a common saying, but I had never heard it before. It gave me clarity that life wasn’t going to change, but I could." - Marilali
By A.V. Mead
The first time I confessed I was in the sixth grade, sitting at the kitchen counter while my mother stirred a pot on the stove. I was sweaty, shaking, and the words caught in my throat, causing my voice to lilt slightly as I spoke. Without skipping a beat, my mother said, “No, you’re not.”
No one tells you that when you come out, sometimes people don’t believe you.
She stopped her stirring, sighed heavily, and turned to face me. “Why, on God’s green earth would you even think that?” I could tell from the tone of her voice that being gay was not acceptable, not even slightly okay, that it was disgusting and deplorable. She wanted an answer.
I thought about the new girl who moved to town and with whom I instantly clicked. How we loved all the same things and I couldn’t wait to see her in the classes we had together. How one day I found a porn magazine in my house and we decided she would sleep over so we could look at it together. How we both wondered what it felt like to be those women, and decided to try. She rolled on top of me and pulled down my boxers. Our breath hot under the covers, the moist air leaving our skin sticky. She rubbed me with her fingers first, then brought her mouth down.
I thought about how badly she wanted to be popular, and stopped speaking to me. How the popular girls cornered me between the outdoor shop class and the regular school building, pushed me against the bricks, and told me I was going to hell.
I thought about the day in the locker room when I nudged my best friend and pointed to another girl’s crotch. Shelby* was maturing faster than the rest of us. She had a bush of pubic hair and full breasts. But that’s not what I was pointing at. I noticed her inner lips, protruding slightly, from between her outer lips. I was fascinated by her anatomy, drawn to it. When my best friend glanced, she gasped and whispered, “Eww,” to me. Later, all of the popular girls were giggling about Shelby and her “big vagina.”
I couldn’t tell my mother those things, so I said that I liked to look at girls, that I thought they were pretty. She replied that every girl looks at other girls, that it is perfectly natural to notice when other girls are pretty, that doing so does not mean I am gay (she spit the word like it was poison in her mouth). I was not that way.
In some ways, her denial provided a sort of invisibility cloak. I could kiss and touch all of the girls I wanted because I wasn’t gay. I was like every girl.
My best friend became my ex-best friend during my freshman year of high school, when her boyfriend told her she wasn’t allowed to hang out with me anymore. When I pressed her for a reason, she finally told me he said I was in love with her. I told her that was impossible, because I wasn’t gay. She agreed.
For months, I locked myself in my bedroom and picked my acoustic guitar, wrote lyrics about how sorry she would be some day, how no one would care for her like I did. I cried myself to sleep. Sometimes, if we accidentally ended up alone together in the bathroom at school, I couldn’t breathe. My stomach somersaulted. My head pounded, and the whole world became a tunnel. It was like some primal fight or flight urge took over my body.
But I wasn’t in love with her, because I wasn’t gay. I was in pain, like every girl would be.
The second time I confessed, I was 22, lying in bed, holding my sobbing husband, after yet another failed attempt to have sex. This time I threw in the word “just.” Maybe I am just gay.
I was in love with a 19-year-old freshman I met through our university’s queer-straight alliance. She was damaged, and I wanted to be the one to put her back together. Our relationship was unhealthy, bordering on abusive. One weekend we went out of town and crashed on a friend’s couch after a night of drinking. She began to scream at me. She threatened to cut herself, badly this time. She said it was my fault. She said I didn’t love her enough. She hated me. Why wouldn’t I leave him? She said I was killing her. I held her down to keep her from grabbing the knife, but she hit me and got it anyway. I sobbed, begged her to put it down, to come to me. Finally, she did, and we kissed, our lips exchanging hatred, passion, love. I tried to save her, but I was drowning.
She wanted me to leave him, and he wanted me to leave her, but I didn’t want to do either. I couldn’t leave her because she was my light and my dark, because touching her electrified my skin, because I loved her so much it was physically painful. I couldn’t leave him because I couldn’t be that girl. That disgusting, going-to-hell, pervert that I knew my mother hated.
So I let all three of us break a little more, until she left me for good.
My husband thought it would be okay, that we could put things back the way they were, like you would after a houseguest invades your home for the weekend. Like if we straightened the books and the lamps, we’d be whole again. Neither of us wanted to admit we were never whole. We never would be.
The third time I confessed I was 25, standing in the kitchen I shared with my husband. I vomited into the sink and violently sobbed. He held me and told me it wasn’t my fault, that he didn’t blame me. I retched again. He carried me to our room, rubbed my back while I cried myself to sleep. He whispered, “It’s okay. It’s not your fault,” over and over. Like a prayer. Like this was our last ceremony.
I left him a few weeks later. I wrote my mother a letter in which I confessed it all. She finally believed me. We didn’t speak for a year.
Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if she had believed me the first time—if I had believed me the first time. I think about how many people would have been able to hold onto the pieces of them I stole. I would give the world to go back to that moment, to that little girl in the kitchen, listening to the soft mumblings of the television, studying her mother stooped over the burners, picking at the chipped countertop, desperately searching for the words that will not break her mother’s heart. I would hold her hand and whisper, “It’s okay to be that girl. I believe you. It’s not your fault.”
- A.V. Mead, age 31
*Name changed to protect identity.
She stopped and then I pretended to fall sleep. After I finally was able to leave the next day, I completely avoided her and never spoke to her again. She kept texting me and trying to talk to me and i avoided it all so she got mad. She said I was an awful friend and I was just like all of those other people who were cruel to her. She graduated last year so I don’t have to see her ever again but… It really affected me. Idk what to call it because I never said no. Actually, over a year ago I was at the same girls house and she kept trying to kiss me and touch me and she was trying to show some guy my self harm scars on webcam and i was FIGHTING her and saying no. I avoided her after that night but then i forgave her because it’s not her fault that she doesn’t understand consent and boundaries, i think. She had been constantly sexually abused by family and other people so I can’t blame her. I don’t know when I started blaming myself but… I didn’t even say no. I couldnt say it, I just forgot that it was an option when it was happening. Now, a few of my friends know and have expressed their concern and anger towards her but when I read about sexual abuse or assault or rape I can’t stop crying. I cried at this blog too. I feel like I’m making it a bigger deal than it needs to be? So… I sent this in asks because I guess I want someone to say something to me. I just feel really upset and confused and disgusted. Sex disgusts me now and if I see someone that looks like her, I freak out. I don’t know how to deal with it. I stopped therapy in around April but I didn’t tell my therapist because I didn’t want her to insist that I stay in therapy. Other than that… thank you for making this blog.
“It sounds like you have been traumatized, and while your attacker was also abused it doesn’t lessen the very real trauma you endured. Not saying no does not mean you said yes, and it sounds like, later, she had trouble with an actual ‘no’ anyway. I’m very glad this person is no longer in your life. Perhaps there is another way you can process this other than your old therapist? A new therapist who specializes in working with survivors of trauma may be helpful and/or group therapy can be a good tool because you will be surrounded by people who can reaffirm what I will say to you now: I believe you. It’s not your fault." - Alex
“Hello, little sister. I am also bisexual, and was raped as a teenager. I am so sorry you are going through this. It is a hard, frustrating thing to deal with. I want you to know that you are not making a bigger deal out of this than it needs to be. What happened is not your fault. You made it clear you were not interested in her that way. I’m sorry you couldn’t say no at the time, and I’m sorry that you doubt yourself now. It is not your fault.
It is very sad that she was sexually abused, and I hope she is able to get help. That doesn’t mean that she is absolved for what she did. What happened is not your fault, no matter what. It is not your fault. This is a big deal, this is something painful and scary, and it may take a long time to deal with. You were not an awful friend to her, you were not cruel to her.
You did nothing wrong.
What helped me most was finding someone to talk to about it, a friend I trusted, though I didn’t tell most people, and time without seeing the person again. It’s been years now since it happened. It took a long time for me to be interested in sex again, and even now, if I saw the person, I don’t know how I would react. I think it would feel like a bit of a gut punch. But it gets easier. I don’t think about it often, I don’t even notice people who might remind me of the person anymore. I don’t talk about the rape with my psychiatrist, and I’m not going to tell you that talking to a therapist will make it all better. (I see a psych because I have bipolar disorder, unrelated to anything else.)
This is something bad that happened to you, and I am so sorry. I believe you. I hope you find peace." - Carla
“You are not a bad person if you validate yourself and your experiences. I know it is hard as a compassionate person, to hold others accountable and it is terrible that your friend was sexually abused, but your job is to take care of you, and not at the expense of saving someone else’s feelings. You didn’t do anything wrong, but it sounds now like you wish you had done things differently. Please don’t beat yourself up about this! You are not responsible for the actions and decisions of other people. I do hope you will consider finding a therapist you trust to work with. It sounds like maybe you didn’t want to stay working with the therapist because you knew you needed to work this out or at least start processing? I know it can be so scary. You have pain and trauma with regard to what you experienced that you deserve to process and understand and work to heal from, and you can with the help of good guidance and kindness. You are worth it! Please be kind to yourself and trust that what you are feeling is real." - JM
“I’m so sorry this happened to you, but I’m glad you’re reaching out. Sometimes it can help to talk through it. It sounds like you maybe didn’t say no because you didn’t want to deal with the confrontation aspect, and because you felt badly for her, even while she was crossing boundaries you didn’t feel comfortable with. I don’t know if this is comforting, but that’s a very common reaction. Sex is hard, even when we want it, and harder when we don’t, but I want you to know that it can maybe be different for you. I encourage you to keep reaching out, to find someone who might be able to help you through this, a counselor, or a therapist maybe. If you didn’t feel comfortable telling your old therapist, maybe you need a new one. But understand you’re not making a bigger deal of anything thing. You get to have feelings and your feelings get to be complex. That’s part of the wonder—and pain—of being human. I hope things improve for you. I’ll be thinking of you." - Alisha
“You have brought up so many important points, and detailed your experience so well that it’s given me a lot to think about and I hope it helped you to write it all out.
You have a lot to process, and I don’t like to think of you feeling alone or scared because of experiences that so, so, so were not your fault. If we can let you know anything important I feel it is this: You have nothing to be ashamed of. This wasn’t your fault. If you could ball up your feelings like laundry and hand them over to me I’d gladly haul it away to my firepit. Ok that might be dumb: I know it’s not that easy, but know that you’ve got some not-quite-strangers out here who are on your side as you grow and process and live your life." - Meredith
“I hate to hear how you are hurting. One thought I have is, if ally friends are mutual with the ex, they probably aren’t really ally friends. Are there any other friends outside of that group that you know and trust? Or a trusted adult, like a counselor at school? I worry for you because you state your mom is abusive in the same ways as your ex. I know in the past when I was younger, I would move from one unhealthy relationship to the next similar one, because they were so much like my emotional relationships with my parents; those types and dynamics were all I knew! I worry you might notice a pattern forming regarding the types of people you have relationships with. You deserve better! And there are kinder people out there. I hope you can seek out a group or someone you can confide in and trust to begin processing some of this. You are good and worthy of love without manipulation, cruelty, and strings attached. Please glance at our resources and see if any of those might help you." - JM
“Break ups are hard. Even when they are for the best. Sometimes even hardest when they come at the end of relationship that was abusive. Emotional abuse hurts. It may not leave visible scars, but it still hurts. It hurts your psyche. It can trigger periods of depression, anxiety, and prolonged bouts of low self esteem. It can take a long time to heal.
If you are afraid of being involved in another abusive relationship, take some time now to learn about how they work, how abusers operate, and what you can do to help protect yourself. Check out http://www.loveisrespect.org/. They have lots of information for people just like you in situations just like yours.
The story of your relationship with your ex is your story, too. You don’t have to share it with anyone, but don’t forget, that you are half of that story. Your story matters because it’s yours. Mutual friends who are really interested in being your friend will be willing to listen and give you love. If they aren’t, they aren’t your friends and they are especially not your allies.
You’re in a tough spot right now and I sincerely feel for you. Write back to us any time. You always have a group of loving, patient, and dedicated allies waiting to hear from you here. XOXOXO" - Jennifer
“I’m so very sorry that you experienced abuse in your relationship and your mother is continuing to be abusive. Your story is similar to mine; for many years I kept thinking that there was something wrong with me because I kept winding up in abusive relationships. With the help of therapists, learning from my experience and building a strong and supportive friends network helped me learn that the norm for relationships is mutual trust and respect. One thing i found useful is to keep a diary of experiences, thoughts and feelings that are important to you - it is a very good way to learn to detect patterns in your life. Also now might be a great time to start a new hobby or activity where you can meet new people that don’t share history with your ex. Finally I would like to congratulate you on your insight into your relationships - it shows that you love yourself and want to take good care of yourself. My thoughts are with you." - Margaret
“It sounds like you are really afraid, and I am so sorry. Being 14 is disorienting and weird even in the best of circumstances, and it’s clear you are dealing with some really tough, grown-up stuff on top of that. It also sounds like your experiences have led you to generalize in ways that might be increasing your anxiety, which makes perfect sense, but also might be making things even harder for you. Try not to tell yourself that ALL your relationships will become abusive. Try not to tell yourself that you should be afraid of talking about your experiences. You had an abusive relationship and think you might have an abusive relationship with your mom, and that is quite enough to try to deal with before piling every relationship you might have in the future onto yourself! The negative things in your life are real and awful, and, they aren’t necessarily indicative of everything that will happen to you from here on out. I hope so, so much that things get better for you, and that you find people who validate the possibility of true, uncomplicated friendship." - Marla
“I am so sorry that these things happened to you and that you are not being supported by your parents. You are not the name your dad called you. You are a human being who deserves love and respect. What your stepfather’s cousin did to you is wrong. You are not at fault for that. There are a lot of adults in your life failing you and so I hesitate to ask you to reach out to yet more adults, but that’s what I’m going to ask you to do. Do you have a teacher or counselor at school who might listen to you? If so, please reach out to that person and tell that person what you have told us. I’m worried for you that you are depressed and not eating. I very much want for there to be supportive people in your life who hear you and help you. If I could hug you, I would. If I could hold your hand in mine and tell you to your face all of the wonderful things about you, I would. For now, just know that I am thinking of you and that you are not alone even though it might sometimes feel that way. I believe you. It’s not your fault." - Myfanwy
“The grownups in your family may be grownup aged but they are not real adults if they name-call and don’t make taking care of their kid a priority above their own feelings.
The silver lining of having family who you can’t trust is that you also don’t have to trust anything they say. I hate that they say degrading things to you, but what they say simply isn’t true. It’s your right to be upset, because their lack of support is upsetting. Please, try not to take their insults to heart!
As you grow up it will be your choice whether you want these people in your life, and to what extent." - Meredith
“What your dad and your uncle are saying to you is wrong. You are perfect just the way you are, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You’re learning unfortunately that even people who are supposed to love us sometimes don’t know how and end up hurting us, even if they don’t mean to. I hate that your ex and your stepdad’s cousin did that to you. I want you to know that you are not worthless. You deserve love and happiness. These boys did what they did to you because they were brought up to think that women’s bodies are something they can control and have power over. They did it to you because they are taught that sex is the only way to prove and validate themselves as men. What they did was wrong and I hope you never have to go through something like this again. What I can tell you is that everything gets better as you get older, when you have more agency and control over your own life. You won’t have to entertain people who are damaging because they are ‘family.’ You will be able to choose your family, and I hope you fill it full of people who are positive, loving, and who validate who you are as a person without asking for anything in return. Just know that you deserve to love yourself, and that will help you in more ways than you know. Love yourself as hard as you can. The right people who will love you back will come along much easier that way." - Amelia
“All I want to do is give you a hug. You are not a slut. I wish I could come by your house for a chat - a real heart-to-heart - with your family. You didn’t do anything wrong and you do not deserve to be treated as if you did. This is part of what ‘rape culture’ means. It means that instead of listening to you, the people who should be protecting you and comforting you are hurting you instead. It’s not right. It’s very, very wrong and I am so sorry.
It might help to click through our resources and choose an online support network that does live chats. I bet you can find valuable one-on-one support there to tell you it’s going to be okay and give you advice on how to get through. I believe you, honey. It’s not your fault." - Jennifer
“Everyone else here has said this, but I want to echo: What has been done to you is wrong, and it is not your fault. Please do not punish yourself by withholding food. You deserve food because you are a whole/fabulous/strong human being. You need to eat food to sustain the brave person who wrote us this letter and told your story, a start to your path of healing! So much love." - Alex
By Shaindel Beers
Dear Younger Sister,
This happened in 2004 when I was twenty-seven, which is probably older than you are now, but that’s part of why this is so important for me to tell you—because a lot of times people act like this only happens in high school or college. Or you feel especially dumb about what happened if you were older than high school or college age. I already had one graduate degree and was in my first year of teaching full-time at a community college in Florida. One of my former students from when I was adjuncting in another state had gone on to graduate school and was TA-ing at a small Midwestern university. I was finishing up my MFA in creative writing at a low-residency program while teaching college full-time, and was starting to get some poems published pretty steadily. I’d been nominated for some poetry awards and won some others. I thought I was finally getting somewhere in life. So, when I got an invitation from my former student (I’ll call him A.M. from now on) to do a poetry reading and talk at his university, I was thrilled! I’d never been invited anywhere like this before. I had to pay my travel all up front myself, but after I was there and did my reading, I’d be presented with a modest honorarium. After airfare and a hotel stay, almost nothing would be left over, but it was still an exciting proposition. It was the first time someone was paying me to do a reading at a university.
I made all of the arrangements, and A.M. offered to let me stay at his apartment in graduate student housing. He pointed out that it would save money on a hotel, and I could keep more of my honorarium. At this time, honestly, no alarm bells were going off. I was doing just what male faculty do all the time, right? Flying to a school, getting picked up by a student, and even staying with a former student to save money. Looking back, I didn’t even imagine anything could go wrong. A.M. had been an amazing student writer. I was elated that someone who I had taught was already in graduate school and was going out of his way to advocate for my work.
To save even more money by not renting a car, and to catch up with friends, another male friend from my adjuncting days (I’ll call him D.D.) picked me up at the airport in Chicago, and then we drove a few hours to the university. A.M. gave us a brief tour of the campus. I saw the classroom where I would be giving a talk to the college creative writing club and posters with my picture on them advertising my reading. A.M. pulled a poster down from a bulletin board and gave it to me to keep as a souvenir, smiling as he handed it to me. There was an awkward moment when we had to drive across campus for something, and the three of us tried to squeeze into the cab of D.D.’s pick-up truck. I ended up sitting on A.M.’s lap, which was awkward, but not unheard of when three people are going a very short distance in a truck.
After the drive from the classroom to the coffee shop, where I would read, I met A.M.’s nephews. I thought it was strange that his brother and nephews were there, and then the little boys called me, “Auntie.” My skin crawled; I thought maybe they were confused. I knew I had the same name as someone else in his family, so I brushed it off. The reading went well with the exception of the espresso machine in the college coffee bar going off loudly at odd times. I read the poems I had planned on even though it was uncomfortable that there were children at a poetry reading when I had some poems with clearly adult material.
After the reading, D.D., A.M., and I went out to a bar with the entire creative writing club. I found it weird that the entire creative club was male, but I didn’t question it. I drank a lot. I was the guest poet. Everyone kept bringing me drinks. In graduate school for creative writing, some faculty had joked that the rules for doing a reading at a university were not to get too drunk and not to sleep with someone else’s students. I might have had too many drinks, but I wasn’t going to sleep with anyone’s students. I was just having a good time. I was being cool, and students were looking up to me and asking me questions about my influences, telling me which poems of mine they had really liked. I even called my boyfriend in Florida to tell him how well my reading had gone, and D.D. and A.M. both told him how much fun we were having, that I gave a great reading, that he should be really proud of me. He told me that he was sorry he couldn’t be there, but he was so proud of me for being a guest poet at a university.
When we went back to A.M.’s apartment, we all hung out for a while, talking about the community college we’d all met at, D.D. and I as adjunct instructors and A.M. as a student. D.D. decided he wanted to turn in and go to bed. A.M. wanted to run a quick errand, and I went with him. We went to a convenience store to get orange juice or something to mix with vodka (I don’t remember; it’s been a long time), but I do remember that A.M. bragged about me to the clerk. I was the university’s guest poet. I was going to be famous someday. I was silly; I beamed. No one had ever bragged about me this way to everyone, ever before.
Once we got back to his apartment, everything changed. He was all over me. I wasn’t going to have sex with him. There was no way. Things got manipulative fast. This is what people do when they’re attracted to each other. Why are you such a prude? This is what adults do. I wasn’t attracted to him. I’d never thought about him remotely in a sexual way. I thought of him as a student, and possibly as a brother. I was in a committed relationship. He had just talked to my boyfriend on the phone maybe an hour before. You don’t even have a book out. We paid hundreds of dollars to bring you here. Didn’t you wonder about that? Don’t you think we could have paid for an author with a book? I don’t remember what happened from that point. If I went in to sleep where D.D. was sleeping or if A.M. passed out on the floor, and I stayed on the couch.
The next day, A.M. somewhat rushed D.D. and me out. While D.D. was in the shower, A.M. said, “I kept trying to have sex with you, but you were a mannequin at that point. Or maybe I had whiskeydick.” He laughed. It was clear that he didn’t think he’d done anything wrong. He wanted to have sex with me, and he would have if circumstances had been different. I was in shock. I would only recognize this tone later—that I was something that he felt entitled to.
I didn’t really talk on the way back to Chicago for my flight. When we stopped for lunch, D.D. asked what was wrong. Suddenly, he said, “Oh my God. He raped you, didn’t he?” I was still in shock. I said that I thought he had tried to, but I still didn’t really understand what had happened. I was so confused about the things he had said, You don’t even have a book out. We paid hundreds of dollars to bring you here. Didn’t you wonder about that? Don’t you think we could have paid for an author with a book? They seemed to echo in my head. Maybe I was stupid. Maybe I should have seen what was happening. Maybe I wasn’t really a writer. Maybe this was the only reason anyone would ever ask me to do anything academic.
I was still so traumatized a few months later when A.M. asked for a letter of recommendation for a graduate program in creative writing, I wrote him one. I even still have it on my computer. I somehow wrote a glowing recommendation that included this paragraph:
I have seen A.M. interact with warmth and intelligence with his undergraduate students at (university) where he has taught one section of (course number), and I was impressed with his nurturing and collegial relationship with the undergraduate students in the college’s Creative Writers’ Society when I visited the school last semester.
It wasn’t until after reading my students’ personal essays about rape and the very public cases of Steubenville and Maryville that I even realized what had happened to me was the same. His manipulations and friendly emails afterwards had thrown me off balance, made me wonder if it had really happened, if I was really to blame. I haven’t told anyone until nearly thirteen years later that this happened to me, and I want to tell you what I tell my students when they choose to write about rape and sexual abuse in their personal essays—If something like this has happened to you, whether you are seven or seventeen or twenty-seven, I believe you, keep telling your story, there are people who need to hear it, people it will help, it wasn’t your fault.
- Shaindel Beers