Try to understand

Sexual harassment. This is my story.

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

TW: sexual harassment, inappropriate touching

This pandemic has given me a lot of quiet time to pause and reflect on my experiences for the past few years. Normally, I wouldn’t share such bits and pieces of myself to the world for fear of widespread scrutiny. You see, I am deeply flawed. However, if my story can help at least one person in this world who happens to read what I have to say, then it might be a story worth sharing. This is me, at my most vulnerable.

I was twelve years old. My gymnastics coach was teaching me how to do backbends. I started the sport very, very late. Up until this day, I am not sure if he meant to touch my chest and my vagina. However, he was touching my chest over and over again as he taught me, and I knew very well that he didn’t need to touch that part. When I toppled over once, that was when he tried to catch me but ended up touching my genitals instead. It was only after I came home that I realized what had just happened to me, but I couldn’t bring myself to put my experience into words for a long time.

I tried to tell myself that perhaps it was just a mistake. However, even if there’s the slimmest chance that my gymnastics coach somehow didn’t mean any harm, the pain and hurt that I felt remained.

The pain that I felt was unlike any other. I felt like I had done something wrong. I felt ashamed. I hated myself and I felt so stupid for someone to take advantage of me. I felt helpless and violated. I felt furious. That part of your skin will never forget what it feels like.

I couldn’t put into words what had happened to me or what I felt. I just stopped going to my gymnastics classes and felt miserable. I think I was able to hide my misery quite well, since no one around me — from my family members to my guidance counselor to my teachers — noticed anything wrong.

The only ray of hope that I held onto was a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. It was the version for teenagers. One girl wrote about her own experience with sexual harassment. Her situation was much more severe than mine, since her abuse went on for years and the perpetrator was her own father. It all came to an end when she told her mother what she had to go through, and her mother immediately left her husband. I think he served time in jail for his crimes as well.

I felt the young girl’s hurt. I felt her anger. I drew strength from her bravery, and eventually I was able to briefly write down what had happened to me on a piece of paper that I left in my mom’s closet for her to find. Up until this day, I can barely get the words out to tell this story.

A few days later, after my mom had read my note, she sat at the dining table with me, alone. Since she herself had experienced sexual harassment when she was younger, she knew how to handle my situation. She made sure to tell the gym what had happened, and made sure I had another gymnastics coach. I don’t know what else happened behind the scenes. I love my mom so much.

For years after, I wore thick layers of clothes and all sorts of long bottoms, trying to cover myself up — thinking that it would protect me. My sisters made fun of me all the time, because for years I hid from them whenever I was getting dressed. I endured it all, because I didn’t know how to explain to them that my habits resulted from my trauma.

Sometimes, I still have nightmares. The dreams come sometimes, when I have less piles of school work to occupy me. Once, a boy molested me all throughout my house. He was so strong and I couldn’t escape from him. In another dream, a man tried to grab at me and bring me to work at his brothel. In yet another, I saw terrorists pointing at my friend and I. They wanted us to become their sex slaves.

I try to forget these nightmares as soon as I wake up, but these are the kinds that always stick with me.

My family and I recently visited my grandmother. She has Alzheimer’s disease, and I don’t know if it’s the entire reason for the way she acts now, but she gropes people. It sounds pretty funny at first. My parents tell me that she’s actually trying to tickle people. I’m sure she doesn’t mean to hurt us, her family, but when she reached out to grope me, panic rose in my chest and I could barely breathe. I excused myself to go to the bathroom. As I stood in the bathroom staring at the door, all of my bad memories came flooding back. I didn’t want to feel the terror and hurt of my body being violated. Again.

As I write this post, shame, fear, and relief are flooding me. I feel shameful about the fact that I’m finding it so difficult to move on from my experience. Whether or not this shame is justified remains to be seen. I feel afraid because people might not think of me the same way that they used to do. If they pity me, I don’t know what I’ll do. I feel afraid that they’ll laugh at me or dismiss my experience as a petty little girl’s drama.

Despite all this, I feel a bit of relief. I am mustering my courage at this very moment to even keep myself writing at all. I hope that my 12-year-old self all those years ago would appreciate my efforts to be brave. I hope to move on from this chapter of my life as well. Hopefully, these bad experiences will no longer haunt me throughout the rest of my life.

As I reflect on my experience, it doesn’t hurt me as much as it used to. I’m glad, because I don’t want it to have power over me anymore.

If there’s one thing I want people to take away from this post, it’s this: whenever someone wears long clothes or refuses any kind of touching from you — try to understand. There’s probably a story behind that too.

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Sometimes I read, and sometimes I write. Sometimes I ask questions, and hope to bring the answers to light. Anyway, thanks for stopping by!

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Margarita Beatrice

Margarita Beatrice

Sometimes I read, and sometimes I write. Sometimes I ask questions, and hope to bring the answers to light. Anyway, thanks for stopping by!

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