I wrestled for a while with the decision of whether to post this here. I always intended this space to be more about my writing than about me personally, although I do realize that my life is not disconnected from my writing. In the end, I concluded that this might help explain why this space has been largely neglected for the last couple years as I sorted out some real-life stuff. It has been a transitional period, and not an entirely smooth one.
CW for graphic discussion of rape and suicidal ideation.
I was seventeen years old, but already the mother of his child, the first time he raped me.
Arguably the first time. After all, I was fifteen years old when we first began dating and he was twenty-one. I expressed a desire, from the beginning, to save sex for marriage. He immediately began to push my boundaries, to pressure me into more than I was ready for, because I was “just so beautiful,” and he “just couldn’t help himself around me.” This gave me a great deal of stress, anxiety, and guilt, but I was also flattered because society told me I should be and I’d never been given any kind of an education about healthy consent.
My parents, of course, were concerned by the bond they could see growing between their teenage daughter and a grown man with an overt sexual appetite. They tried to put a stop to it, but they went about it exactly all the wrong ways to be effective with an independent-minded teenage girl who believed she was being unfairly subjected to the heavy hand of authoritarianism. I felt that my parents weren’t understanding who I was, my perspective. I actually do still believe that, and that the friction that arose between us during this time could have been mitigated if they’d tailored their response more to the individual that I was and less to the situation they could see unfolding. But I also know that parenting is hard and that in real time, you don’t get to sit around weighing this stuff. Your kid is doing something dangerous and you have to do something about it, now. They tried. The more they tried to do right by me as parents, the more I fought them. They did their best.
Actually, several adults tried to undertake the thankless task of telling me that there was only one thing a grown man could want from a teenage girl. I took this is as a personal insult. I was smart, responsible, and mature for my age. How dare they imply that I wasn’t interesting enough to capture the attention of a grownup with my personality? I wasn’t hearing the message that it had nothing to do with me, that there was something suspect about a grown man who isn’t interested in forming age-appropriate relationships with equals in his peer bracket. I didn’t understand the power imbalance and how that would affect every aspect of the relationship from the very beginning onward. I trusted that he cared about me, so I couldn’t imagine him ever misusing that. The culture told me that it’s normal for grown men to be sexually attracted to teenage girls, that I should be flattered. People who tried to tell me that I wasn’t safe with him just didn’t understand that he really loved me.
I thought he made me happy and that the adversity our relationship faced was responsible for my constant misery at that time. I am able to see now, with the clarity of hindsight, that he created unnecessary friction and drama with other elements of my life, then positioned himself as my only comfort. Classic, right out of the abuser’s textbook. No matter how “smart” or “mature” I was, I was a kid. I was not equipped with the life experience or emotional maturity to understand the trap I was flinging myself into.
Naturally, I ended up pregnant and feeling completely isolated from any kind of meaningful support network. I’d made this damn-fool mistake myself, and I had to bear the consequences myself. Besides, he loved me. I didn’t believe in abortion. My choices seemed to be to keep the baby and stay with the man who was the only person I felt was on my side, or give the child up for adoption and lose the person I thought I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.
Less than one month after I’d given birth to our child, we went out on our first post-baby date. I was still healing from a badly-done episiotomy that was giving me considerable pain, on top of the usual discomfort of recovering from the ordeal of childbirth. I was under strict doctor’s orders not to resume sexual activity until I’d been given the medical all-clear. I still had stitches. That was the first time that he raped me and I knew it was rape. He took me home after our date and we were kissing goodnight in the back of the van, and suddenly he was inside me even though he knew about my medical condition. I told him no. I told him to stop. I was frightened, both because he was doing this to me and because I feared my healing wound might tear. He breathlessly apologized and said he just couldn’t help himself because he’d “missed me so much” and that he was just going to finish anyway because he was so close.
I was numb as I shuffled up the walkway back into my parents’ house and up to my room.
I was even more trapped than I had been when I’d first gotten pregnant. I’d burned every bridge in clinging to this man against the world. My relationship with my parents had become so adversarial that they did not seem like a safe haven to me. It was this man or…
I did some impressive mental gymnastics over the next few weeks and convinced myself that it may have been rape, but it wasn’t rape rape because he loved me. He’d just missed being intimate with me. I was special to him. He would never hurt me on purpose. It wasn’t like he’d ever do it again, like those particular circumstances would ever arise again. It was going to be okay. He loved me. It was okay.
Eventually I even talked myself into forgetting for years that it had ever happened, because I was afraid of ruining our marriage with “resentment.”
Surprise, surprise, that wasn’t the last time he would rape me. We were married shortly afterward and were together for nearly twenty years. I would lose count before the end. Because the fundamental issue was not about an excess of healthy arousal. It was about feeling entitled to me: my time, my attention, my cooperation, my energy, my skills, my body, the feelings he wanted me to have, and the things he wanted me to want — just, literally, me.
If he wanted my help with anything ever, I was expected to do it without complaint or delay or without even needing an explanation, like an extension of him. Like a pair of remote-controlled robot arms or a virtual intelligence personal assistant. When I expressed ideas he didn’t like or agree with or want to talk about, he would shut that down. Impatiently. Angrily. When I did things he didn’t want me to, he would lecture me about how difficult I was to live with. When I failed to enthusiastically perform my function as his extension and sex doll, he would yell at me about how hard he worked earning money to take care of us and how I didn’t want to hold up my end of the marriage. I wasn’t contributing anything. I was an extra source of stress to him. Didn’t I know that, as stressed as he was, the only way he could fall asleep was by having sex first? Why wasn’t I willing to help him out?
To be clear, I tried. I spent two decades killing myself trying to fix whatever it was that was wrong about me that made him miserable. That made our relationship so hard. That started him yelling all the time and that robbed me of any desire for physical intimacy with him. I tried so hard that I started losing big chunks of who I am because they were obviously problematic and were causing strife within the marriage. Because of the constant barrage of anger toward the me-ness of me, I began to believe that I was intolerable. Cue the endless self-loathing spiral of hating myself but being unable to fundamentally alter who that is, but trying anyway because of hating myself, but always finding that no matter how or what I changed (lost) about myself, I was still wrong. I was always the problem. If only I would just try harder and do better (his lamentation about me.)
And because of the power imbalance, I was always wrong. He always knew better than me or had more experience than me because he was older, had a higher I.Q., had done more things in his life, had had more jobs, knew more people, had studied more subjects, earned more money, had a more permissive upbringing, was more worldly, I was autistic. There was always a reason why he was the ultimate authority on any subject and my opinion was not only wrong but needlessly argumentative. Clearly I just didn’t trust him, and that was hurtful.
I was also so closed off, he said, that it was damaging the relationship. He was constantly pressuring me to be more open, to tell him what I was thinking and feeling, because otherwise we couldn’t be truly intimate. It never even occurred to me that all of this sharing was one-sided because, after all, I was the one with the trust problem. I was the one who had to work on being more open. He was the gregarious extrovert so obviously he wasn’t holding anything back. (Except that the only emotions he ever shared with me were anger and disappointment, but it took me many years to see that.)
On top of everything else that was wrong about me, we were incompatible in the bedroom. He always really wanted to have anal sex. I really wanted not to. Far from taming his interest, my resistance only made him fixate more on the satisfaction he wasn’t getting. The forbidden fruit I denied him. His preferred method of getting himself hard when we were being intimate was to spoon me and rub his member against my buttocks. Eventually, he started “just slipping in accidentally” sometimes or “getting too excited” and doing exactly what he wanted and I didn’t want him to.
For many years — most of our marriage — I would tell him afterward how I hadn’t wanted to do that and I wished he hadn’t. He would apologize but of course it didn’t stop happening. Every time after he was done, I was overcome by shame. Eventually, it began to seem to me that this was what he enjoyed most about it. I couldn’t bring myself to use the word “rape,” not even in my mind, not even when I used to wake up in the middle of the night to discover him penetrating me without my consent, because this was the person I was married to and the life I had to live. We had a son together and I knew I’d be unable to support myself financially if I left him, and I definitely wouldn’t be able to support our son. And by the time I actually started thinking about divorce, I already knew I couldn’t leave my son with a cruel, disinterested father.
That was what kept me from taking my own life for all those years, no matter how often I wanted to. Needed, to — a deep soul ache to escape that I could neither cure nor indulge. I knew I couldn’t leave my son with him.
Before we were married, we’d talked about family planning and had agreed, both of us, that the most sensible course of action was for him to get a vasectomy. He didn’t want kids, I didn’t want kids. He wanted the ability to have lots of consequence-free sex. Hormonal birth control is bad for women long-term and the surgical options for women are more invasive, riskier, and again mess with hormones. As soon as he could, he said, he’d make an appointment and have the procedure done. No big deal. It should not have surprised me that this never happened. That not only did it never happen, but no amount of begging or pleading ever resulted in him being serious about condoms. (He always said he’d put one on “in a minute.”)
I was on hormonal birth control as often as I could physically manage it, but it made me very sick and always packed the weight on, which in turn deepened my depression and affected my physical health. I also spent large portions of the marriage uninsured because we couldn’t afford it, and I couldn’t pay for birth control at those times even if I’d wanted to. The stress, month-to-month, of never being sure whether we’d messed up and gotten me pregnant again was taking its toll. This only got worse as the years passed and he became more openly abusive.
Ten years into the marriage, I found myself pregnant again.
Between the PTSD I still deal with from pregnancy and my son’s birth, and the clawing horror I felt at the thought of being trapped with my abuser for eighteen more years, I was gripped by a manic desperation and began to plan my suicide. I couldn’t, I just could not, have another child with him. I literally would rather have been dead. When I realized that I was serious about that and not just panicking, I had an honest conversation with myself about the moral objections I held (at the time; I’ve since revised my stance) to abortion. Would it really be all that morally preferable, I asked myself, to have my own death and the resulting termination of the pregnancy on my soul, as well as the crime of leaving my living son alone with that man? No, that made no sense.
There has not been a single moment since then that I’ve regretted the decision. Nor the second abortion I had when I found myself pregnant again six months later, even though my body has never completely bounced back from that one. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I made the right decision, the only decision that was good for me and my son. It fills me with rage deep in my bones when I see abortion slammed as the selfish decision of promiscuous women. From anyone on the outside looking into the situation, it would have appeared that I had no reason to terminate a pregnancy. I had a “loving” husband who worked hard to provide for me, and motherhood was a role I had already taken on once before. I was the only one who knew my circumstances. All women, all, have the right to make their own decisions about what is best for them and their lives, and it is no one else’s place to judge.
I will never forget the time a family member, in a perfectly calm voice to my face, told me that if he ever found out a woman had aborted his (hypothetical) child, he would find her and murder her with his own hands. I listened to him say this, having had two abortions to save my life, and tried to appear that I was not chilled down to the very marrow of my bones. But I’ve never managed to forget the way he said it.
Despite the two pregnancies — the two abortions — one right after the other, my husband still never had the vasectomy he had agreed to so many years ago. I went back on hormonal birth control, which I was only able to afford thanks to Planned Parenthood’s assistance for uninsured and low income patients (which I understand has since been axed.) My health deteriorated as a result. In the late watches one night, after my lack of interest in sex had led to me being shouted at in my own bed yet again, I crept out into the dark living room and cried soul-weary tears that this was my life. It was clear to me that I needed to die; my husband had made it clear that I was an intolerable failure, everything I had ever wanted to accomplish with my life was now out of my incompetent reach, and I would never be able to take care of myself. I just needed to hold on, I had to remind myself, until my son was eighteen. I simply didn’t think I could do it and the emotional and sexual abuse was doing its own job of killing me slowly.
My husband woke in the night and came out to see what I was up to. Because I was unable to hide my tears, I tried to explain, pleadingly, how he was hurting me. I still believed back then that he wouldn’t want to be doing it on purpose, and that he would stop if only I could get him to understand. I tried to explain how my failing physical health made it even more difficult for me to try to do the things he expected of me and how scared I was that there might be something seriously wrong with me that we couldn’t do anything about because I had no health insurance. He listened to me cry at him for a while, then he told me curtly that people don’t stay sick for as long as I was claiming to have been. They either get better or they die.
He went back to bed and I sat in the dark alone, the tears startled out of me. Claiming to have been. I could not reconcile his lack of compassion in the face of my pleas for understanding with his claims of loving me. The message seemed clear: either get with the program, or get on with dying, and stop being so much trouble.
I wanted to die.
That was in 2010. Just five more years and I could have the only escape open to me. I just had to hold on that long. I almost didn’t survive my birthday in 2013. Holidays of any sort are his own personal Hell and he would take that suffering out on me and our son. On my birthday that year, the day started out nice and I was lulled for a moment into thinking it might actually be a pleasant one. Then I did something wrong: I made plans to see my family later. Suddenly I was being yelled at about how inconsiderate I am, how selfish, how bad at communication and just at being a person in general. (When I received my autism diagnosis in 2005, he took that as an open license to tell me at any and every opportunity how bad I am at emulating “normal” and that the way I do things is wrong.) For at least a half an hour, I stood stunned and listened to a catalog of all the ways I was terrible to live with and how I had ruined his plans for the entire day.
I reached my being-yelled-at tolerance and got in the car. I didn’t know where I was going, only that I couldn’t be at home. I was crying again and the desperation was clawing up out of me again. After a while, I wondered if I shouldn’t turn around and go home. In that moment, when I asked myself that question, death felt preferable. I was in the desert outside of the city by then and started looking for a suitable place to crash the car. Not even the thought of my duty to my son was pulling me back from the brink, as it always had before. That was a chilling realization, but it also didn’t deter me. The need to escape was too strong and I had never been all that effective, I reasoned, at protecting my son anyway.
There were two things that saved my life that day. One was my pride — I realized that if I died like this without planning ahead, someone would find all the bad writing on my hard drive. And two, my dog would not understand why I’d never come home. He loved me with his entire being, unconditionally, and I could not do that to him.
I drove until the storm of tears had passed, then I pulled over at a gas station, wiped my face, put my mask back on, and went home. I was numb.
Like all abusers, he was gentle with me for a while after he could see that he’d pushed me to the brink. But not for long. He’d long since stopped pretending that he didn’t hold me in contempt. He was vicious, bitter, resentful, angry. Full of negativity and always looking for ways to blame other people for everything he perceived to be wrong with his life. Living with him was soul-draining. His fuse was shorter than ever and there was no telling what would set him off. When either my son or I tried to ask him to yell less, to hurt us less, he was openly scornful. How dare we consider him abusive when he had never hit either of us, not once? He seemed very proud of that, because he said it often. We had nothing to complain about, he informed us.
He had a way of constructing no-win scenarios for me so he could be justifiably infuriated with me when they played out. Even in something as simple as a conversation, he would manage to orchestrate scenarios where I had two reply options and they were both damning. Well are you a liar or a failure? Which is it? Because it has to be one of those for the reasons I’ve outlined. Which is it? Why are you refusing to answer me? Are you giving me the silent treatment now?
But the tactic applied to larger things as well. He expected me to complete my BA so I could get a solid enough job to support him while he earned his, but he did not take on his share of the parenting or housework and refused to allow me the time or space to do my schoolwork. He wanted a tidy house, but he lived like a slob and complained when I put things away that he had wanted to use, and furthermore didn’t like to ever see me doing housework — he wanted me ready to focus exclusively on him when he got home. He wanted to have a fat savings account, but he forbade me to ever put any money away because he might want to spend it (which he did,) then he was furious with me when we never had any money. He wanted me to be enthusiastic about having copious amounts of sex with him, but only the way he wanted, and he would literally yell at me mid-coitus if I didn’t like it or if I suggested he do something other than what he was doing.
Imagine being pinned to the mattress by someone who outweighs and is stronger than you, trusting yourself to him in the most intimate of ways, and suddenly being yelled at right in your face while he penetrates you. A lot of people like to argue about what rape actually is, and whether it’s even possible for someone to rape their spouse, but I was being violently assaulted, in anger, in those moments. He probably did things to me over the years that were even worse than this, although it’s difficult to rank two decades of abuses, but it was remembering the helplessness and terror of those moments that gave me a hysterical, sobbing panic attack while writing this piece. Either it never occurred to him, or he never wanted to examine the possibility, that my trouble being interested in sexual intimacy with him might have had something to do with him being my rapist.
When my dog died just before Christmas of 2013, it broke my heart. Something else inside me broke too. I spent every day for the next few months grappling with the bone-chilling knowledge that I was now bereft of the thing that had saved my life the last time I was close to suicide. The knowledge that I would inevitably be on the brink again, and there would be nothing to stop me anymore.
My husband became angrier and more abusive and was bothering less and less to hide his vicious resentment toward me. The “kind” periods came less frequently and were over almost as soon as they began. He was just angry all the time. He no longer pretended to be sorry when he raped me; the most terrifying moment came when he’d just done it again, and I finally managed to use the actual word for what he had just done, and he said, “I know.”
My dog ended up saving my life after all, in a way. He had been both my emotional support and my last effective safeguard against suicide. With him gone, I realized I was only a breath away from not being able to endure my Hell any longer. I realized that, for my son’s sake, the status quo could no longer continue because it would kill me. And he couldn’t afford that just yet.
A friend of mine had offered me an escape route, knowing that my only alternative was death. The plan had been for me to tough out the marriage until my son graduated from high school and could get out himself, at which time I would move in with this friend. But with my emotional state being what it was, I didn’t know if I could make it that long. One night, as I was being yelled at in my own kitchen over bacon, I reached my limit. I had a sudden moment of clarity: I didn’t want to be getting yelled at in my own house, and I didn’t have to be. I walked out and went for a drive.
Instead of crying my misery out as usual before heading back home, this time I found myself growing angrier by the second. About everything. About all the years, everything he had put me through. The way he talked to me, the way he looked down on me. How he leveraged all of the ways in which he believed himself to be superior, to keep me constantly subordinate to him. The way nothing I ever said to him had ever made him see how wrong it was to treat me the way he did — had only ever shown him exactly where my weak spots are so he could hurt me more. I eventually had to pull over because the rage was literally blinding me. As I sat there by the side of the road, choking on the red heat of this fury, I received a text from him.
“I’m sorry I yelled. I know it’s not productive. When you’re ready to come home, I’d like to talk about my stress lately.”
I had an epiphany as I read that text.
He wasn’t sorry about any of the things he’d said (and some of them had been awful.) He was only sorry for yelling them because that had spooked me into running. He wasn’t apologizing for the way he talked to me or the contempt in which he held me. He was simply trying to soothe me back for more abuse that he intended to justify by explaining his “stress.” And there would always be stress, I realized. There would always be some rational, explainable, unavoidable reason why he had to have a short fuse, why he couldn’t help it and there was nothing he could do about it right now, why I would always be the target he let loose at because he had to keep it cool and professional out in the world. It would never end, and I would always be unreasonable for wanting him to treat me better. He would always find a way for it not to be his responsibility. Always.
And I couldn’t survive that anymore.
Even though we would live together for over a year after that — until our son turned eighteen, got his GED, and we could both leave — that night I told my husband it was over between us. I told him I couldn’t survive his opinion of me any longer, and that we were done as a couple. I moved into the guest room, which had a door I could lock for my own peace of mind, and did my best to hide there for the next fifteen months. He never raped me again, although he did find other ways and moments to violate my boundaries. And my insomnia, which had been a problem all through my adulthood, reached a screaming fever pitch: I became unable to sleep when he was in the house, because of fear. This meant I could only fall asleep in the morning after he’d left for work. And it meant weekends were a constant struggle. It was the most difficult period of my life, but I came out alive because there were people who loved me and stood by me and helped me through.
I will always remember that in the horrible last month before I escaped — when my ex-husband was industriously cutting me off from all of our mutual friends and spreading his version of our failed marriage, even threatening to “ruin” me — my dear friends Jamie and Sean asked me what was wrong, and believed me when I told them. I was at a point in my recovery journey where I was not yet safe and just beginning to unearth the extent of the damage, but was still heavily under the influence of twenty years of gaslighting and doubting my own version of events. Simply being listened to and believed gave me more strength than I could ever have imagined. People like them, and others like my friend Tasha who flew to Phoenix in order to help me pack and get out, are the only reason I came out alive. If I’d confided in my friends what was going on and they’d told me I was making a big deal out of nothing, I know I wouldn’t have survived.
I’ve been safely on the other side of the continent from him for two and half years now. I’ve only just recently begun to feel safe sleeping at night. I finally stopped having a panic attack every time I see a silver pickup truck. I did have a panic attack just last week when I saw that someone local to me has the same spelling of his surname, which means they’re a direct relation. I had another when I saw that Al Franken photo. I’ve developed an animal terror of raised voices and am now unable to deal with even healthy, necessary conflict. Recovery isn’t linear and I’m all the time still discovering and unpacking new trauma.
When I ran away from him and was finally safe, I had a new issue to struggle with: how could I, in good conscience, not warn everyone who knows him that he is an abusive rapist? How could I set some future woman up for that danger by keeping the secret? Did I have any right not to sound the alarm?
There were a few problems.
Most importantly, my son. He was, at the time, living with his father’s sister. She was, despite having been told the situation, still forcing him to have contact with his father. I felt I couldn’t be honest and public about the kind of man my ex-husband is without putting my son in danger.
Also, I spent twenty years in the relationship. In the beginning, it was because I loved him and I believed we could work through his issues and one day we’d be happy. Then it was because we had a child to raise. But from the outside, all anyone could see was that we’d had a long marriage and we’d never made any relationship problems public. Why would I have stayed with him for so long if he was as bad as I claim?
Those twenty years also imbued me with a sense of loyalty that I doubt he reciprocated. Sure, he’d been abusive and lately hadn’t even been pretending not to loathe me, but hadn’t we been in love once? Hadn’t we shared our lives for decades and didn’t I owe him some dignity as the relationship ended? He’d been gaslighting me so relentlessly for so long that I couldn’t even get my head around an idea as simple as “You don’t owe your rapist his privacy.”
But the truth is that, even if I wanted to shout my story from the rooftops, I knew that no one would believe me.
In public, he is gregarious and charismatic. He’s the guy with a thousand friends who all know they can call on him for help and he’ll be there, no matter what they need. He’s a progressive ally, a friend to women, a loud voice against the demands of traditional gender roles and toxic masculinity. He’s the life of the party, energetic, full of exciting stories and interesting connections. People trust him. His friends admire him. He’s a community leader and a mentor (often to young women, who consider him safe) at his job and in the SCA. Who would believe his unsociable ex-wife if she tried to say that he was none of those things at home? That with his family he was sullen and taciturn, morose, angry, short-tempered and mean-spirited, entitled, resentful, controlling, emotionally unavailable, and outright abusive?
To make the point even clearer, he told me before I left that “all of our friends” believed the reason I was leaving was because I had some big secret and was planning to screw him over. (His favorite theory was that I’d signed a fat deal for the book I’d only just finished writing and was trying to get away with not paying him “his” share. LOL okay, champ.) That “no one” could think of any other reason why I was leaving in such a hurry. Obviously he would not have told them about the years of rape and abuse I was running from, but he had apparently gone out of his way to help paint the picture of me as a crazy, vindictive bitch out to ruin him.
I was quite literally running for my life. And he’d made it clear that none of our friends would believe me if I tried to confide in them. I had to cut ties with a lot of people I thought very highly of, because I had no way of knowing who was safe. Who was left for me to tell?
I swallowed the truth of all of the years of abuse and went about trying to build a new life, unpacking my PTSD in bits and pieces along the way.
We ask survivors to justify why they didn’t stop their own abuse sooner. That is, frankly, a continuation of the abuse they’ve already suffered. This man singled me out for predation when I was a child and spent the next two decades trying to groom me into his perfect victim. Forcing me to fit into a box that grew smaller and smaller every day. Gaslighting me when I questioned what was happening. As a grown woman of nearly forty, there is now no way for me to untangle the ways in which he shaped and twisted my development into the person I could/might/should have been. He literally finished raising me.
I hope that sounds as disgusting as it is. The grown man who pressured me into sexual activity as a child then undertook the work of completing the upbringing my parents were no longer able to provide because he had alienated me from them.
Because of Roy Moore, the news has recently been full of people weighing in on the subject of grown men “dating” teenage girls. Saying it’s okay if the girl is “mature” or if it’s “consensual” or she “looks old enough.” There are those who talk about teenage girls as sly temptresses who “ruin good men’s marriages” and “know what they’re doing,” as though having a young body that a man finds sexually appealing can ever, ever upend the built-in power imbalance between a girl child and an adult man. I’ve spent much of this news cycle sick to my stomach and wrestling with PTSD-related panic attacks. I can’t help but think of myself at fifteen, so “mature” for my age, so convinced that I knew what I was doing. So very wrong, and about to jump headfirst into a lifetime of trauma and rape and abuse.
There is no such thing as the fifteen-year-old who has the emotional maturity and life experience to be in an equal power dynamic with a grown man, and know what she’s getting into, and be safe from the damage that such a “relationship” is going to do to her development into adulthood. Full stop. This is why we have laws stating that a child cannot legally consent to sex with an adult. For god’s sake, when did it become controversial to assert that it is our job as adults to protect children from harm? Apparently the rules are different when the child in danger has a female body and there’s a male boner at stake. I cannot overstate my disgust, my actual physical disgust, at the society that is debating this as though there’s any wiggle-room on the subject of not sexualizing children. This is the society that told a 21-year-old man that it was okay to prey on high school girls because they’re sexy, and that told a high school girl she should be flattered by the attention. Our cultural norms led me right into the lion’s den.
Because he was already my husband and I was already neck deep in a situation I couldn’t escape, I told myself it wasn’t creepy and gross when I began to age but he continued to fixate on my body looking as young and slender and hairless as it was when I was a child and we first started being intimate. I handwaved his preference for porn featuring women that look that way because hey, you can’t shame a person for what gets them hot. But the fact is that it is creepy and gross for a grown man to have a sexual preference for adolescent girls. It indicates a lot of unsavory things about the way he thinks of women in general, the dismissal as human beings he has for mature women of his own age. His feelings of resentment toward women and his sense of inadequacy. It is well-documented that men who prefer young, inexperienced girls do so because they like the power imbalance, because they have anxiety about being on equal footing with a woman, and because they worry about being a satisfying lover to a woman who knows enough to know what good is. That’s my ex-abuser in sum.
There is nothing innocent or healthy about an adult man seeking out teenage girls for sexual relationships because they’re “just attracted to younger women.” The fact that there are people throwing that argument all over the place is causing real, actual, lasting harm both to survivors of abuse and to the girls who are right now being groomed for abuse.
So why am I saying all of this now?
Because of this. Because of this news cycle that on the one hand has given me a sense of solidarity with the victims who are speaking up, pride in every one of them who is finding their voice and speaking their truth, vindication at watching so many powerful predators finally face a reckoning. But also because of the inevitable backlash of victim-blaming and rape apologia. It has been making me sick to watch society try to patch over the hole that so many brave survivors are blowing open in our rape culture. As though this is a political issue. As though this is a men vs. angry feminists issue. As though this is anything but human beings standing up and saying, “Hey! How about we grow some decency as a species and stop excusing and ignoring the vast, pervasive, systemic human rights violations we’ve permitted for literally all of civilization?!”
I know I’m nobody and my story means nothing to anyone who doesn’t know me personally, and that in the Trauma Olympics where we force survivors to compete for the right to claim a legitimate grievance, I don’t even take a bronze medal. But I’m another voice joining the rising chorus. Another cautionary anecdotal tale. And like all the others, I’ve had it up to my eyeballs and down to the depth of my soul with protecting my rapist’s reputation at the expense of my own mental health. The silence we’ve all been pressured to maintain about the abuse we’ve suffered has only led to our abusers being allowed to perpetrate more abuse, to more victims being primed to walk into their own trauma without warning.
And because my son is now finally safe himself and able to talk about his own trauma, I no longer have to worry about the repercussions to him of being open about mine.
In short, #MeToo. The fact that he was my husband didn’t make it okay. His name is Timothy M. Makofske and I’m still in recovery. Am I trying to ruin his life? No. I only hope I might save someone else’s.