April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and I've been thinking about what I want to say about it for awhile. Twelve years ago at the end of March, I told my mom that my stepdad had been sexually abusing me for pretty much the whole time she had been married to him. A few days later on April Fool's Day 2006, my stepdad mysteriously died. He didn't take his own life. He just died. This month marks half of my life that Ric has been dead and that I’ve been telling my story. It's pretty surreal.
After Ric died, our lives went through a giant upheaval, as you can imagine. We moved out of the house we lived in and into my grandparents' basement. We slept in a bed that was very strangely flanked by a painting of wolves attacking each other and a giant, taxidermy bear that stared menacingly down at us with its marble eyes, gritting its teeth. It sounds horrible, and it was, but I still laugh about it to this day. Like seriously, what the hell was happening to us? When you've gone through what we did, you learn to laugh at the hard stuff. At least I did, and it got me through a lot.
It’s now 2018 and I love my life. I feel so lucky to be able to tell my story. I don't wish I could go back in time and change what happened to me (but please don't assume everyone feels that way, because some people would absolutely change their circumstances if they could). But here's the thing: my mother believed me. My father believed me. Some of my community members talked, but for the most part, people believed me. Who knows what my life would be like right now if they hadn't, but I can tell you that it would have been a whole lot harder for a whole lot longer.
With this in mind, I want to challenge you to do two things:
1. Believe people. When people say they've been abused, believe them. Period. If right now you're thinking, "but what about the people who are lying?" - know that people who lie about being assaulted or abused make up such a minuscule portion of people who speak out, and it hardly ever happens.
2. Be critical of your own behavior. You might not be a sex offender or a rapist, but I'll bet you've made someone sexually uncomfortable, or you've said words to someone that were meant to cut them down, or you haven't believed a survivor, or you've made a racist, homophobic, or sexist joke, or you've laughed at a trans person. I say this because I've done those things. I know what it feels like to be abused and yet I've done those things. If you think you haven't done any of those things, I encourage you to take a deeper look. Being better matters. Being the perfect person is impossible, but being critical of our own behavior is essential.
I hope you'll take my story as a call to action. Be a better person. Apologize when you need to. Don't when it's self-serving. Read about the history of our country. Believe people who are hurting. Love your people. Try to love yourself. I'm doing it, too. I'm right here with you.