“Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.” ~ Proverbs, 12:18; The New Living Translation of the Holy Bible
Words are powerful. I learned this when I was twelve years old – I was mercilessly bullied and called all sorts of horrible names while I was at school. The boys who tormented me went on molest and sexually assault me the next year, and sometimes I wonder which of the abuses hurt me more. In the deep watches of the night, I hear their voices and the hateful, hurtful words that they said just about as often as I still feel their hands on my body. Let no one deceive you – that “sticks and stones” thing we learned in kindergarten is a load of crap.
During my eighth grade year, being molested was a daily occurrence. There was nothing uncommon about being backed into a corner and touched intimately, and it didn’t matter if I yelled or fought – generally, no one came to my aid, and my struggles just ended up causing me more pain. Everyone in my tiny elementary school knew what was happening, and no-one wanted to deal with it. When I spoke with my teacher about it, he said, “Well, if you wouldn’t wear make-up and dress like that, then these boys wouldn’t feel like they could take liberties with you.” A classmate asked me on the bus why I “let” those boys do that to me – didn’t I know it made me look like a slut?
I lived for many years believing that I had done something to deserve the treatment I received. I didn’t know or understand that what had happened to me was not my fault. I thought that my 36-C sized bra caused the problems, or maybe it was my Levi’s, or the tee-shirt I wore that day – after all, it only came down to the top of my jeans. For a long time, I accepted what I had been told – that somehow, I had caused myself to be raped and abused because of what I had chosen to wear, and the fact that my body had developed earlier than those of the other girls in my class. I accepted this horrible lie and took the blame upon myself, and it nearly killed me.
But I am here, alive and well, thanks be to God. And about ten years ago, I came across some words written by Shannon Lambert, creator of Pandora’s Aquarium and a very wise woman. Shannon said, on her website Welcome to Barbados – “It doesn’t matter what you said, what you did, what you wore…” Wise words. They brought me healing, and they have helped me to realize and understand that I didn’t deserve to be raped. What I wore had nothing to do with it. In the end, my rapists chose to hurt me, and they didn’t make that choice because my short tee-shirt had inflamed them beyond their ability to control their urges. They made that choice because they wanted to hurt me. Nothing I did caused that desire, and there was nothing I could have done to change what happened. I learned that what happened to me was not my fault; it really didn’t matter what I said, what I did, or what I wore.
Words are powerful. They can wound us deeply, compounding the horror of the sexual and physical assaults we suffer. But we can stand up and say, “No more.” We can refuse to take the blame for the actions of another. It doesn’t matter what you said, what you did, or what you wore. It doesn’t matter where you were. If you were raped, your choices were taken away, but if you survived, then you have choices now. You can stand up and you can tell the world that you are strong, that you refuse to accept responsibility and shame for what your rapist did to you. You can choose to work hard for your own healing. Despite the scars you carry, you can choose joy.
Next month, I'll be attending a SlutWalk. Yeah, I hate that word; hearing it makes my skin crawl. I hate it because it has had so much power in my life; it was used to wound me, and so I've decided to refuse to allow it to hurt me anymore. I will march and speak and wave my sign, and I WILL NOT be ashamed about it. I will take back the power that word has had over me, and in doing so, I will be choosing to live in freedom and in joy. I survived - and hurtful words have no power over me anymore.