Since I write to a +18 crowd, I’m assuming that no child will be reading Changeling. But I know I cut my teeth on the Nightmare of God by Mark E. Rogers (don’t read it…that book will change you) and Jilly Rogers by the time I was 14 so I was reading far above what I should have been at a time where I was. If you are a child, and someone is hurting you in any way, tell an adult. Adults such as teachers, principals, pastors all have a legal requirement to inform the authorities. If one person doesn’t help, keep trying. There is nothing that you could possibly to do have deserved being hit or touched or emotionally abused. You are the child in the relationship, and the adult is the one responsible. If your victimizer has something over you and is threatening you, please, just tell an adult until someone does something. Whatever your victimizer is doing is going to be 100% THEIR fault. Like Kevin says, if it is out of your hands, you cannot be held responsible.
But more to the point, if you are over the age of eighteen and you still are looking for help, it is out there. At the con this weekend, I was asked if the stats are true, did I really think 1 in 4 women are still dealing with their sexual assault on a day-to-day basis and I said for the most part, absolutely.
Here are some places to start, whether or not you’re dealing with sexual assault. And if you’re in a position to give support, they’re also the sort of organizations that are chronically underfunded, and may take support in the form of money or volunteers or both.
Help lines for kids and teens:
- Kids Help Phone (Canada): a free, anonymous and confidential phone and on-line professional counselling service for youth.
- Your Life Your Voice (US): a toll free number available to kids, teens and young adults at anytime.
- Childline (UK): ChildLine is a private and confidential service for children and young people up to the age of nineteen.
- Kids Helpline (Australia): a counselling service for Australian children and young people aged between 5 and 25 years.
- Canadian Federation for Sexual Health
- Planned Parenthood Federation of America
- United Kingdom Family Planning Association
- Sexual Health and Family Planning Australia
Crisis centres and suicide prevention:
- Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention listing of crisis centres in Canada
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (US),
- NHS suicide help information (UK)
- Suicide Prevention Australia
I was attacked in Korea. I man broke into my apartment and grabbed a knife off my counter. I managed to get free. I hadn’t been drinking. I had been wearing a T-shirt and underwear because I’d been sleeping when he attacked me. I hadn’t said anything or done anything that provoked the attack. I wasn’t actually sexually assaulted, though he punched me in the face over a dozen times. My eyes had both swollen, one completely shut, the other barely could open. Of all the bruises, the fingerprints on my neck where he’d choked me to the point of blacking out twice were the last to fade.
He tried cutting into my arm four or five times, but for some reason it seemed like a good idea at the time that I should put the 13″ very sharp butcher knife in the drawer the night before the attack away. I’d been living in the apartment for three months, and for all but that one night, the butcher knife and the dull steak knife he’d grabbed had been side-by-side. As I did the dishes that night, as I was drying the knife off, a voice in my head said “you should put the knife away” just occurred to me, and I put it away in the drawer. Don’t ask me why or how, I’ve just have an intuition voice in my head that I’ve learned not to question. So when he tried cutting into me with a knife so dull that it bulged the skin around the knife but didn’t actually cut in, I recognize the fact that I was very, very lucky.
So when Mr. Thinks He Know It All on the panel asked me if I really believed that all women who have been attacked still deal with their assault, I laughed in his face.
Because just like the fact that I put the knife away, just like the fact that my attacker hadn’t brought a knife with him and chose one that I knew to be too dull to cut anything, just like the fact that I wasn’t actually violated physically but not sexually, I was one of the “lucky” ones.
It’s almost as though some people think that the only kind of rape out there happens in the dead of night, with a stranger, while the woman is out somewhere she shouldn’t be. The comparison to cars left running in bad neighbourhoods gets used a lot, which is infuriating. Even worse is the comparison to a woman *choosing* to drink and drive (something *SHE* acts on) to a woman who gets drunk and gets assaulted (something *THE RAPIST* acts on) as being the same thing.
Those kinds of rapes are by far just a sliver of assaults. Most (70%) of survivors know their attackers. They haven’t left “their car” in a bad neighbourhood. They left their keys on the kitchen counter and someone she knew stole them. You can be wary of strangers, but are all people supposed to be wary of everyone because anyone could be a rapist?
For most survivors, what is taken from them is not just the violence or the threat of violence on their person. It is the betrayal of trust. They trusted that the world was a safe place and now that they know that it is not, it changes them as people. So yes, Mr. Thinks He Knows It All, I do believe that all survivors deal with their assault on a daily basis.
But this post isn’t about telling a man who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. It’s about getting help. There are therapists out there that can help you deal. You do not have to be afraid all the time. You may always be aware of your surroundings more than before, but contact the sexual assault helplines in your area. Do a google search. RAINN is there 24/7 no matter how long ago your attack happened.
And lastly, I want to talk about those who, like Matt in the story, have been groomed as children to see their bodies as a commodity by people who want to use them. In a room full of writers paying money to take a weekend off to network with other writers, the people who, as children, had been groomed by their victimizers to devalue their own bodies probably weren’t present. Children need to feel safe in the same way they need air and food and water. When something as basic as their own body’s autonomy is taken away from them, who they were going to be as adult without the interference in their basic needs has changed.
Children are not sexually mature. Once a child starts developing secondary sexual charactertics like pubic hair or mensturation, they’re not suddenly ready for sex. Puberty is an on-going process that takes years to finish, and the young adult is not sexually mature at the start of puberty, they’re mature at the end of it. Young women who have not finished puberty but get pregnant may face complications up to and including death for the mother and child. In times anon, puberty didn’t start in girls until they were at least sixteen. So not only are children not equipped physically to be having sex, they are not emotionally ready either. Sexual contact with a child is sexual assault.
Those children who are just statistics on the page — one in four. One in six — all grow up to be adults. And as adults, they self-medicate, self-harm, or self-destruct. For every one sex worker who is engaging in sex work to complete a goal, there are countless workers who had no choice. These are the people in our society that the middle class have entirely written off. If the survivors have not been taught how to value themselves as children and choices that they make lead to worse choices in the future, they deal with the hole inside them that can be only filled with self-love. We cannot blame people for trying to fill that hole up with sex from people who don’t love them, or who have a bad way of showing that love, overeating, drugs, alcohol or just bad choices in general. Help is out there as well, no matter how far down from rock bottom they are.
In Changeling, Matt goes out and gets himself picked up by the absolute worst person he can find on the day of his eighteenth birthday. When he started hooking at seventeen, if he got caught, there would have been social workers and a special judge and his record would have been expunged. Once he turned eighteen, his record was set in stone. Even though nothing had changed from one day to another, he should have somehow pulled his shit together.
Child sexual abuse is already a crime and with the right kind of therapy, it doesn’t have to ruin a child’s life. It doesn’t take much for a child victim to internalize what is happening to them out of shame or guilt and never tell anyone what has happened. We’ve all had the colouring in of the bathing suit lesson that what is under your suit belongs to you, but in a perfect world every child will understand with as much clarity that nothing an adult ever does to them is ever their fault. Their bodies are wonderful, amazing precious gifts that are theirs and theirs alone. Sex can be a wonderful thing with a wonderful person, but the act that takes place when there is a large gap in age between the participants, coercion or threats or drugs isn’t sex at all. It’s a violation, and it is not their fault no matter what they say or do.
Sex work is work first, sex second. But if the sex worker is not there on their own free will, that’s not sex work. That’s organized sexual assault. And there is help out there. Call RAINN. They can help. And if you know a child who is not being cared for, is reluctant to be touched or who doesn’t seem to have a healthy set of boundaries around adults or other children, make sure they understand that they are not in trouble or have done anything wrong first and foremost. As the victim of physical abuse of a child, by the age of six I had internalized that abuse was what happened to innocent kids. My beatings were “punishment” because I was “bad”.
I wish someone had told me there was nothing I could have done to deserve what was happening to me. Don’t blame the victim.