Several summers ago, one of my colleagues was involved in a terrible automobile accident. She was driving out of her quiet Kempsville neighborhood when an SUV slammed into the driver’s side of her Volkswagon Jetta. She survived, but her pelvis was broken, a rib was cracked, and her spine was fractured. That same summer, two weeks before her car accident, I was sexually assaulted. I had been sunbathing on of our Bayside beaches around noon on a Thursday, when a man jumped on my back. While holding me down with one hand planted on my shoulder, he sat on my back and masturbated. I survived, but inside I was broken, cracked, and fractured.
My colleague had a physical therapist who worked with her very other day. With the help of this therapist, she learned how to navigate around her house with a walker while her bones mended. I had a counselor who worked with me, too. She helped me navigate my way out of the trauma of sexual assault, with the goal that I would return to the woman I was before this happened to me. You see, for about a month after the assault, I could go no further than my own back yard. My house and yard were the only places I felt safe. When I did leave, I was right next to my husband, with my hand firmly planted in his. He was my walker.
And I couldn’t talk to anyone about what happened but my counselor and my husband. It was about six weeks after the assault that I drove the three hours north to where my son was working for the summer to tell just him about it, face to face. He quietly listened, saying nothing, but watching my face for every nuance of emotion it might reveal. When I finished, he had a few questions, one of which was how his father was handling this. By then I wanted to lighten the moment for my son, so I smiled and said that his father wants just five minutes alone with this guy. My attempt at humor failed. His eyes kept a steady gaze on mine, and he said “It would only take me three, Mom.”
I also remember sitting in church that summer, surrounded by people whom I trust – people who have helped my through some rough spots over the last fifteen years. If this man had beaten me up on the outside instead of on the inside, I would be in the hospital recovering from the wounds and these good, good people would be praying for my speedy recovery. But it does not work that way for the victims of sexual assault. My inability to talk was not related to any sense of shame; I was spared that. I could not talk about it because of the pain of sexual assault.
It was not like any other pain I’d known; pains I could point to and say “It hurts right here”. No. This pain felt like an iron-cored mass of heavy ooze slithering along my insides. Sometimes it enveloped my heart, and I could not feel things. Sometimes it lodged in mind for the day, and I could not think. And then, whenever I thought to talk about it, it lodged itself in my throat and I could not speak. I never knew when or where it would be next, nor how long before it would move one.
My colleague returned to work. Her physical therapy was done, her bones mended; she was back to her old self. I am just about back to my old self as well. But when I am in any public place, and suddenly find myself alone, my shoulders tighten up, and I start looking behind me. My hand reaches for my bag and the can of mace I always carry now. My counselor assured me that this fear will also diminish with time, and I believe her. She was right about everything else along this rocky path.
The man who did this to me needs counseling. I suggest that he gets it because as his perversion escalates, he loses control, and then he gets caught. Newspapers protect the victims of sexual assaults, but the paper has no problem printing the pictures of the perpetrators. The paper also puts their name right underneath their picture. Then, everyone knows his dirty secret. That’s when it’s his turn to start looking over his shoulder, for there are some folks that want just five minutes alone with him; there are others who only need three.