*Trigger warning for CSA*
Some of you will know that I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). When I heard that Amazon has signed Woody Allen to create a new TV show for them, it reminded me of this story:
When I was nine years old, a family friend was sexually abusing me. This was unfortunately not my first experience with CSA, but it was my first experience with ongoing abuse. I was utterly terrified my mom would find out what was going on and *I* would be in trouble. When I say “terrified” please understand that I lived my life in fear. When I finally, in a screaming fit of terror, confessed “my” crimes to my mother, she did her best to help me understand it wasn’t my fault.
Soon after, as we got in the car as a family to go somewhere together, my abuser pulled up in his car behind us and my stomach lurched as my mom told my dad he needed to go deal with it. I had no idea what to expect, but a confrontation of some sort seemed to be on the menu. I watched in the rearview window as my dad smiled, shook my abuser’s hand, and got back into the car.
The feeling I have when I think of that moment is the feeling that keeps coming back to me whenever I think of this—whenever I think of scrolling through my Amazon options and coming across a thumbnail of Woody’s latest offering. It’s that feeling that my abuse doesn’t count—that my abuser is “acceptable” to the society I live in.
I’m not alone in this, I know.
And can you even imagine how Dylan will feel?
THIS IS NOT OK WITH ME. None of it.
I am fighting for the kids who can’t fight for themselves. I am fighting for the kid I was—the kid my dad didn’t fight for.
Please stand with Dylan and me and all CSA survivors. Sign the petition. Tweet on the hashtag and at @RoyPrice, @Amazon, @Amazon_Studios. Help us fight this culture that uplifts powerful predators at the expense of their victims.
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
- Petition: Amazon: Stand With Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse and #StopWoody (change.org)
- Amazon Studios: Stand With CSA Survivors and #StopWoody (makemeasammich.org)
- Woody Allen Is Producing a New TV Show — And It Should Never See the Light of Day (Mic.com)
- #IStandWithDylan – My Story of Childhood Sexual Abuse (makemeasammich.org)
Trigger warning for discussion of childhood sexual abuse and rape.
(February 4, 2014) This week, Dylan Farrow published an open letter in the New York Times detailing her story of abuse at the hands of recent Golden Globe honoree, Woody Allen. Immediately, the debate began, as I knew it would before I even finished reading: should we believe her?
As I often do, I took to Twitter to show support and talk about my experiences with abuse and the disbelief that often follows under the hashtag #IStandWithDylan. Lots of other people joined me and over the past few days, we’ve talked a lot about the culture that tells childhood sexual abuse victims they are probably lying or maybe they really do believe what they are saying, but it’s still not true.
I have spoken in the past about my history of abuse and alluded to multiple instances of childhood sexual abuse. I was one of the fortunate ones in that when I finally broke down (and I do mean that literally) and “confessed” my abuse to my mother, she believed me without hesitation. I wouldn’t experience the incredulity rape culture demands until I was raped at age 12 and again at 16, and then for the rest of my life at random times.
I have alluded to my childhood abuse, but I haven’t talked about it in detail. But given the conversation I’ve been having on Twitter (and to a lesser degree, on Facebook) the past three days, I feel like it’s time to tell the story of my childhood abuse, partly because I haven’t, partly because people need to understand that predators can be anyone, and partly because, as Andrea Grimes says in her (amazing) RH Reality Check article,
The more stories survivors tell, the less aberrant we will be—though I contend this is an imagined aberrance. If we can tell our stories, and if those stories can be heard, we may someday stop this relentless “he said, she said” tug-of-war where no victim is ever perfect enough, no accused ever quite guilty enough.
This is not going to be pretty. If you’re likely to be triggered, this is the place where you want to stop reading.
The Maintenance Man
It started at four or five. We lived in an Army housing development in Southern California. It was a tight-knit, seemingly safe little community of soldiers and their families. My dad was away a lot and my mom was mostly a single parent with two small kids and possibly another on the way by then. Kids ran around the neighborhood freely in those days (the late 1960s) and we often played in the park at the end of our cul-de-sac, right next-door to my house. One day a friend and I met a park maintenance guy and chatted with him for a bit. I don’t remember anything about that visit except that he stood there and whacked off in front of us. I think he asked if we wanted to see a “trick.” I remember it in almost cartoonish terms, the rapid movement of his hand (in my mind the motions are big and wide) and then the spurting of semen. It was bizarre, but at that age, we had no idea that it was anything else.
I have only vague memories of how I came to spend more time with “the maintenance man,” but vivid ones of him fondling me in his truck, teaching me to suck his tongue, and once behind the fence where the machines that powered the housing development buzzed, I remember his penis in my mouth. The taste of it remains with me to this day.
That was about the time I told my mom (just the tongue-sucking part, as I remember), and she believed me. She told me in no uncertain terms to stay away from that man. The next time I saw him he strolled past where me and my friends were sitting (away from the park, because I’d seen his truck and experienced the first of what would be a lifetime of prickly, sick sensations in my gut). He chuckled. “You told, didn’t you?” he said, in a way that made it clear he was an old hand at this. I like to think he died soon after in horrible agony.
About a year later, my aunt and uncle and cousins came to visit, and I made the mistake of walking in on my uncle while he was napping. That day I ended up performing my second blowjob, and sometime soon after while we were camped out in the front yard, I spent the whole night with my panties bunched around my hand, the elastic cutting into my legs and waist and fingers, while he quietly tried to get into them. I was six.
The Family Friend
A few years later, after we’d moved to Northern California, an old family friend came to visit. He made everyone laugh, and he doted on me. He brought me an accordion and taught me to play it. He took me on outings and let me bring a friend. But it wasn’t long before things started to get gross. He wanted to watch us put our bathing suits on—acted like it was no big deal, so we felt like we were being weird if we didn’t let him. Then one day when my parents weren’t at home he took me into my bedroom to “show” me something that he and his daughters used to do together. He asked me to lie down on the bed and he took my pants off and performed oral sex on me. I was nine years old.
(It will not surprise you to know that oral sex is kind of an issue for me. It’s difficult to enjoy because it often triggers memories of this event.)
I only remember this happening once, but I have a feeling of this as being an ongoing thing. What was definitely ongoing was the growing anxiety inside me. I was absolutely terrified at almost every moment of the day that somehow my mom would find out. (My dad was a salesman by this time and still spent very little time at home. That was pretty much his M.O.) My anxiety intensified when my mom and my aunt went to visit a psychic. I knew for certain she was going to come home knowing everything, and I dreaded seeing her car pull up that day, but she came in smiling and I had my reprieve. And the anxiety continued to build.
Then one afternoon as my brother and I were sitting out on the lawn with some neighborhood kids, she came out angry, yelling for us, and I just knew that was it. We went inside, and I sat on the couch, and panic rose, and after a moment it burst out of me in screaming sobs that must have been utterly horrifying for my mother. But not as horrifying as what she finally got out of me, seated on the toilet lid, me on her lap gasping and sobbing and apologizing. She believed me, and she told my dad, and the next time that guy came over we were in the car on our way somewhere and my gut started doing that thing again. My mom and dad conferred, and my dad got out of the car. I thought he was going to punch they guy or something, but my dad shook his hand and the guy got in his car and left. I was relieved that it was over. My dad had sent him away. But years later I would realize how angry I still was at that handshake.
The Clay Man
You’d think that by now I’d avoid pedophiles instinctively, but instead, I seemed to gravitate toward them, or them to me. The next time I met one (about a year later) I was a willing participant in my abuse. The man around the corner—the one with the workshop and the kiln who taught me how to make a vase out of red clay—saw me coming a mile off. He fondled me and then—Jesus, I almost forgot this part—he gave me a cigar tube to use as a dildo to widen my vaginal opening so he could penetrate me. I don’t remember whether this was before or after he attempted to do so by sheathing his penis in a finger cot to make it small enough, but I suspect it was after. I was ten.
Somewhere in there was the man who fondled my nipple during an evening game of outdoor hide-and-seek at my cousins’ house and the guy in shorts and no underwear who, when he realized me and my friend could see his dick, flexed it at us a few times. And my friend’s dad who took naked pics of us so he could masturbate to them. And the guy who pulled over on the side of the road naked and opened his truck door so he could masturbate at me. And, and, and.
This is my story, and I have heard far too many like it from women I know. I’m sharing it in hopes that it will help promote greater understanding and empathy for survivors, that it will help other survivors of childhood sexual abuse know that they are not alone, and finally, in hopes that those who doubt survivors will take a moment to think about whether they truly need to express that doubt out loud. Every time you call a survivor a liar, other survivors hear you and decide it’s not safe to tell their story. And God forbid a child should hear you—a child who needs desperately to tell his or hers.
If you need support for sexual abuse, you can find it here: 1-800-656-HOPE (1-800-656-4673)
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
I have been aware of predators since childhood. Since I was four or five years old and first had a man’s penis in my mouth. Contrary to some knee-jerks here and elsewhere, the fact that I’m aware of predators in my environment does not mean that I think all men are predators. It’s one of those double-edged swords women so often find themselves at the wrong end of: If we get raped, we should have been more careful. If we’re careful, we’re alarmists (worse, we’re FEMINISTS) who believe all men are out to rape us. There’s no winning with some people.
But those are not the ones we seek to reach this month. Over the next few weeks, while the Steubenville wound is still open and oozing, it’s our job to appeal to those people who are not yet aware (or not yet aware that they’re aware) but are ready for awareness. We’re not preaching to the choir or trying to make the blind see–we just need to be vocal enough and authentic enough to reach those who are out there listening, absorbing, and becoming warriors in their own time, at their own pace.
I’ve seen it happen. I know how powerful our stories can be. Share yours. The world needs your voice.
Note: Lest anyone think that the point of #AlwaysAware is to put the onus of rape prevention on potential victims, it is not. The point is that (most) women are always aware of potential of violence. We are taught to be afraid and trained to be vigilant. Sexual Assault Awareness Month is not for us–it’s for people who don’t spend every day of their lives alert and aware and looking for ways to keep something like this from happening to them. It’s for people who don’t understand how often women experience assault. It’s for those who believe that women, not men, should be responsible for preventing male-on-female rape. Until we’re all #AlwaysAware of the problem of rape culture, women will continue to bear the weight of that awareness all 365 days of the year.
I’m adding new posters as often as I have time to make them. I’ll replace the one at the top now and then, and add alternate ones here.
The idea for “Always Aware” started with a Twitter chat with the Sin City Siren and was further inspired by the above illustration by Laura Boyea (used with permission).
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Trigger warning for rape and child sexual abuse.
She was twelve years old. An age at which, in a perfect world, she might have been curious about sex, but years away from worrying about it. An age when, in a better world than this, she should have remained an innocent child with no idea of the dark side of people like P.E. teacher Julie Correa who manipulated and abused her for three years.
This past September, 30-year-old Kristen Lewis Cunnane brought suit against Moraga School District in Southern California in order to seek justice for what happened to her and to help ensure it doesn’t keep happening. In what they claim is one of nine defenses they have no choice but present, Moraga School District’s recent filing states the following:
Carelessness and negligence on [Cunnane’s] part proximately contributed to the happenings of the incident and to the injuries, loss and damages.
I’m going to repeat myself here, and probably more than once:
SHE WAS TWELVE YEARS OLD.
After I was raped at 12-years-old, I sat in the witness stand completely unprepared as the public defender accused me of being a willing participant in a sex act and later panicking and crying “rape” when I realized I might become pregnant. I was a child and I had no idea that all over the country women and girls faced victim-blaming daily. But I would learn.
This little girl trusted her (female) P.E. teacher exclusively with the information that another (male) teacher, Dan Witters, had abused her. Little did she know, her P.E. teacher was already in the process of grooming her as a sex slave. For several years, Julie Correa raped Kristen and used fear to control her. Kristen finally broke free and blocked the whole thing, but when it came bubbling back up again she got Correa on the phone and eventually coaxed a taped confession out of her and Correa was convicted of sexually abusing a child entrusted to her care. She got 8 years. Now Kristen wants the school district to take responsibility for the fact that multiple teachers perpetrated abuse against her and other students. And the district is fighting back.
Now assistant head coach of the women’s swim team at UC Berkely, Kristen Cunnane says she was “floored” when she read the school district’s filing. You know who else should be floored? Every single parent with children attending school in the Moraga School District. Because guess what? If teachers abuse your child, your school district will blame your child for the abuse in an attempt to avoid taking responsibility. Your 12-year-old will be held responsible for being in the wrong school at the wrong time with the wrong teacher because the school district has to protect itself. After all, as school superintendent Bruce Burns explained,
“…this is a significant case that could have serious consequences for our school district. She is demanding several million dollars in damages. As a result, at this point in the proceedings we have an obligation not to waive any potential legal lines of defense. The district raised nine possible arguments that might be used in court. Attorneys routinely insert these into Answers filed to Complaints. Ms. Cunnane and the media have seized on only one of the nine potential areas and over-exaggerated its importance.”* [emphasis added]
“It is beyond devastating that the District would blame me for the years of horrific sexual abuse I was subjected to when I was just a child. There is a critical need for a culture shift in Moraga and elsewhere when it comes to tolerance of child abuse in schools, and this just underscores that we have further to go than I even thought. I can only hope that this lawsuit will move us one step closer to zero tolerance, while also going some way to compensate me for the years of abuse I suffered.”
This culture that allows us to blame children for sexual abuse? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s called rape culture and it’s where we live. It’s bad enough that adults face this bullshit every day, but the fact that it is acceptable in a court of law to suggest ANY fault for adult-on-child sex abuse might lie with the child is a symptom of a very sick society. And the only cure is for every single one of us to fight it everywhere we see it–by writing about it, posting about it, talking about it until everyone tells us to shut the fuck up, and then we have to keep doing it. For Kristen. For me. For every girl or woman abused and then shamed for her behavior or her clothing, blamed for having the audacity to walk alone while female or trust a male friend or–God forbid!–an authority figure.
Say it with me:
*According to the San Jose Mercury News, “No dollar amount is listed in Cunnane’s lawsuit.” She believes “it’s for a jury to decide.”
6/20/15: Kristen tells her story on CBS’ 48 Hours. Via that report:
The school district paid out a total of $18.65 million to Kristen Cunnane and the three other victims who filed civil lawsuits*.
Julie Correa is eligible for parole in 2018. Her husband has filed for divorce.
*Three “Jane Does” filed suit for their abuse at the hands of teacher Dan Witters (the same teacher whose abuse Kristen Cunnane trusted Julie Correa to help her deal with).
Abuse Lawsuit: Arguments Over Timeliness – Lamorinda Patch, 4/1/13
“Statute of limitations is issue in lawsuit of Kristen Cunnane against the Moraga School District over prevention of sexual abuse from the 1990s.”
Sign this petition to tell the school district they’re out of line.