It started out as friends. He was brotherly towards me. On days when my ex-husband made me feel worthless, he’d build me up. He’d come into the office and say things like, “Just between us girls….” He treated me like his little sister — teased me, yet was protective when someone else said something hurtful. I trusted him. His opinion mattered to me. I’m not sure why, but I’m sure it had something to do with the fact that he appeared to be the perfect dad and husband. The typical family man. I was glad to have a big-brother figure in my life to look after me.
That’s until one night about four years ago he drank too much bourbon and started to text me late at night.
I didn’t think too much of it since we were friends. He complained about a work. I did too. Then he asked me how dating was going. At the time it was going horribly. He said a few “build me up” comments like he always did, but this time he commented on the size of my breasts. I laughed it off to the bourbon and the fact that it is quite hard to miss my large chest.
The next morning he was remorseful. I really believed he was sorry so I decided to be thankful it was only a text and that the terrible mistake would end with me. No need to ruin a married man’s life because of one lonely night of texting. Looking back, I think it was easier to erase the messages than to show the messages to someone because I was terrified they would find fault in the way I replied to his comments. I deleted them all.
I thought it was done and over with.
Fast forward a while, when I eventually took a new job and resigned from my current position. In the transition time, before my office was cleaned out and my keys turned in, is when things started to happen again.
He came into my office and sat in the chair across from me. He kicked he leg up over his knee. When he found a moment when no one was around, he mouthed to me, “Can you tell I have an erection?” I was shocked, embarrassed and didn’t know how to respond. You might be asking yourself, “Why didn’t I say something right then and there?” And that’s a fair question, but also a hard one to answer. I wanted to tell someone, but I flashed to how many women have been shamed for telling the truth and I was terrified of what others would accuse me of.
Even though I hadn’t done anything, would anyone really believe me?
The comments and gestures kept happening. He commented on the color of my bra when he looked down my shirt while picking up a pencil off the floor. He commented over and over again on how he would miss me.
I loved my job and was so sad to be leaving, but I also didn’t want to leave having “caused a scene.” I just kept wishing it would end and would all go away. So I did nothing.
Then there was that night, the night that I’ll forever play over and over in my head and shiver.
We had a late event that staff was invited to attend. Following the meeting, a few of us decided to head to a local bar for a nightcap and a debrief on the difficult meeting. I made sure to position myself as far away from him as I could. When it was time to leave, everyone was parked in the front, except him and I. I gave myself a pep talk to watch my body language, make sure I got to my car quickly and just get in and go home.
When we walked to the back parking lot, our cars were the only two in the lot. It was evident that he planned this very moment. He parked right next to me, in a large open lot. I walk around my car; he followed. I opened my door and put one foot in the door, hoping he’d get the hint that I didn’t want to linger. That’s when he started moving closer to me.
I can’t explain why I didn’t just shut the door and drive off right then and there. I was trying to balance the fact that I’d still have to work with him for three more days. That I had hoped that the relationships I’d grown with my co-workers would become my larger church community now that I would no longer be on staff there. I just wanted to finish out the end of my tenure peacefully, without a commotion. I think there is also a part of me that didn’t want to believe I was really in danger and that it wasn’t really happening.
Those kinds of things don’t happen to girls like me. We work at a church for goodness sake. He is supposed to help people. I must be reading into his actions. I’m overreacting. This must be my fault. Just stay calm, stop being such a spaz. He’s married. He’s not interested in you.
That’s when he tried to kiss me. I quickly turned my head and he kissed my check. He embraced me. I froze and just tried to act normal so I didn’t make him mad. Again, I can’t explain why I was concerned about upsetting him in that moment. I can only be honest about what it was that I was feeling. He hands moved to where my shirt met my pants. He slid his hands under my shirt and he moved them to the front of my stomach. I held still while my mind raced. This can’t honestly be happening. He commented on how nice it was to finally be able to touch my skin.
I’m not 100% sure what happened after this. I remember feeling dazed, and wrong and scared. I remember saying things like “You’re a good dad. Go home to your wife” and “I know you work hard. Go home to your wife.” I know I was trying to build him up so he would leave me alone. So screwed up. I should have been kicking and screaming. I should have called him every nasty name in the book. But I was scared frozen. Scared that if I screamed, he would make it appear that I came on to him. If I played it “cool,” maybe I wouldn’t be called a slut.
If I just stroked his ego, he would just let this all go away.
But it didn’t just “go away.” It kept me up at night. It gave me panic attacks. I didn’t sleep. I ate my weight in fried cheese and carbs. I couldn’t think of anything else except how I should have screamed or yelled or drove off in my car over his big toe. I hate myself for being kind to him in the moment when he took advantage of me. I hate myself for pretending like everything was ok in the days following.
I did eventually confide in a friend, but not for the reasons why you might think. He was planning to become a pastor. I told a friend of mine in hopes that he would never be a pastor, but I never expected that he’d lose his entire career. I was encouraged to tell my boss, the pastor at the church where I served. He cried. My heart broke that I was involved, even if I wasn’t at fault, something that would cause the church that I loved pain. I really just wanted to walk away and not cause a scene. Now I was walking away, leaving an explosion in my shadow.
He lost his job. Fired. Will never have a job in ministry again. I’ve been told he never told his wife the whole story. Made it out to be a “sexting” conversation. Never admitted to physically assaulting me. That’s ok. I told my truth. I told my story. That’s what matters.
People deserve the truth even if it doesn’t make sense. Even if it means they will forever question why I didn’t speak up sooner or didn’t scream when he embraced me without my consent. That’s not the point in why I’m telling my story.
In my head, I know that it wasn’t my fault. But I’d be lying if I said I don’t still question every move I made and always wonder if I could have done something differently to make things go differently. But I can’t change what’s already done.
I’m telling my story of being sexually assaulted so it doesn’t happen to someone else. I tell my story so that my aggressor is exposed and the truth of what he did is out there. I tell my story so that other women who may be too scared to come forward can speak their truth with confidence.
If you have been the victim of sexual assault, please do not stay silent. You matter and your safety, your body, and your heart matter. We’ve included a few resources below that can serve as good first steps, but please….tell someone you trust. Don’t let another day go by.
National Sexual Assault Hotline (operated by RAINN) or call 800.656.HOPE
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), an annual campaign to raise public awareness about sexual assault and educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence.