Story Time: My Sexual Assault Experience
Content Warning: The blog post below may contain triggering and/or sensitive material that could be distressing to some. Sexual harassment and sexual assault are the main topics discussed in this post. If you feel uncomfortable or triggered at any time, please feel encouraged to stop reading.
Help is available. National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM)
This is not a story I thought I’d ever find myself sharing with my Massage Therapy community. I don’t consider myself the kind of therapist to spend time talking about myself unless it relates to how I and massage can help my client’s or other therapists. However, recent traumatic events have lead me to share my experiences.
My parents separated when I was seven years old. And the summer following their official divorce, my cousin violated me. I spent that summer in my dad’s custody with my younger brother and our (soon to be) stepsiblings. One day we had a sleep over with some of my older cousins, we had a lot of cousins but these cousins were a lot of fun. During the sleepover, we separated boys sleeping in the stepbrother’s room and girls sleeping in the stepsister’s. Our stepbrother had a bunk bed and I remember claiming the top bunk for myself. I went to bed before everyone else that particular night. Some point later that night, I woke in the dark to the sounds of whispers, giggles, and the weight of another body above mine. I felt something press against my lips. More whispers, more giggling. I didn’t know what was happening, so I didn’t know what to do and I remained frozen. I was able to figure out that it was my cousin who was on top of me. It’s been so long since I’ve thought about this, I don’t remember everything that was whispered but I remember figuring out that my cousin was boasting that he’d pressed his penis against my mouth. I didn’t move a muscle. He eventually left the top bunk and I fell back asleep at some point after. The next morning over breakfast, I reported the incident to my dad. He questioned my cousin, who now claimed he really just pressed his thumb against my lips. And that was pretty much the end of that. I was made to believe my cousin was using his thumb and not his penis and that he’d be staying with my grandparents for the rest of their visit.
Years later, after relocating from Oklahoma to Arkansas, my brother and I made friends with the only grandson of a long-time family friend. This kid and his grandfather would often visit on the weekends and while our grandfather’s visited, we got to play. Sometimes his mother would accompany them for their visits which was nice for my mom and grandmother. It was nice for me too, because after the divorce, I began to enjoy the company of adults more than I did other children. One afternoon, I must have been just starting middle school, while everyone else was outside chatting, this kid’s mom and I stayed in the house. She had always been very kind and paid me compliments about my maturity and how well behaved I was. I took pride when adults would tell me things like this. On this day, the kid's mom started paying a compliment about how sweet I was and how good I was. Out of nowhere she moved closer and started kissing me on the lips. Again, out of fear, I froze. At some point we broke away from the kiss and I went outside. I remember trying to stay away from, and not look at her for the rest of the afternoon. I even went so afar as to sit in my mom’s hot car with the window rolled down just to isolate myself. She slipped away from everyone else again and came up to the window, she kissed me again quickly because they were getting ready to leave. I think she must have sensed my discomfort because she said something like “it’s okay, we don’t have to tell anyone just yet”, or something similar. After their family left for the day, I told my mom what had happened. It was explained to me that that kid’s mother was very sick physically. We would later find out she was struggling with mental health as well. I didn’t see much of them anymore after that.
Through the rest of junior high and high school, I spent years caring very little for myself. I mostly tried to stay out of the way, blend in, keep my head down, and just get through it one day at a time. On occasion I had so-called friends and once even an ex-boyfriend grope me. I cared so little for myself at the time that I let it happen and later would make excuses for their behavior. I have always had a voice in the back of my mind telling me that “it’s not that bad” or “they couldn’t help it”. It took a long time to develop self-respect.
More recently, since earning my Massage Therapy License and entering the workforce, I’ve had my share and a wide range of suggestive and inappropriate clients. I’ve had clients compliment my appearance, which sounds innocent enough, until they started whispering sweet nothings while I worked on their neck. I’ve had clients grab my hands while working on their forearms, clients who have separated their legs farther apart than necessary. And most alarming, I’ve had a client who kept kicking the sheets and blanket off their body, claiming they were too hot. I explained to them that the Spa’s policy is to keep a blanket on at all times. I did everything I could to try and keep the client cool, but still they persisted to remove the blanket and sheets. The client later asked if there were cameras on in the room.
I have a weakness where I just freeze up in these situations instead of confronting them. Fear has a lot to do with it. I fear retaliation from some of the clients.
Why am I sharing this with all of you? It’s been a long time since I thought about any of this or seriously revisited these experiences. I hope that in sharing my stories that it will jumpstart a healing process I’ve postponed for so long. And maybe help someone else face their anxieties and past traumas too. I want to show solidarity with sexual assault survivors who have been through similar and tragically worse situations.
More importantly, I want you to know that our mutual safety and comfort are my top priority. I share my story because I want you to know that I’ve gone through these situations myself. I want you to know that I would never betray the sacred trust that a massage client puts in me when they get on my table. I would never think of crossing your individual boundaries because I don’t expect that you would cross mine. I would never disrespect a person’s bodily autonomy to inflict harm or satisfy my own agenda or desires. When you’re on my massage table, my agenda is your agenda to meet your therapeutic goals. I might make suggestions or recommendations about ways to improve, enhance, or accelerate the treatment, but I always do so with respect to the client’s right to refusal.
Stay safe and healthy. Reach out for help if you need it. Help is available.
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673.
Peace and Healing,
Kirby Clark, MMT