If I were stronger then, I would have left him after he sexually assaulted me in our mutual friend’s downstairs bathroom. I would have known that it was sexual assault. I would have told somebody. I wouldn’t have excused him by telling myself, “Hey, he could have inserted, but he didn’t. He only tried. I was only crying because I was nervous about my first time.” But I wasn’t stronger. I was about to turn 16 years old and was dating a guy that I had fallen for over a year ago. He had a girlfriend that he claimed he was leaving me for, but that took a while. When I finally started dating him, two weeks in, we were hanging out at a mutual friend’s hour and he wanted to go downstairs and get some private time. We started kissing and things were going faster than I was anticipating. I was a virgin. He was not. We had been sexting for a while before starting to date, so when I started to have reservations about it happening now, he started calling me a tease. He said I was obligated to since I had gotten him excited for so many months. I had to. My pants were around my ankles when I started crying as he was attempting to keep going. Later, he was proud of himself for stopping. He said he had kept going with his last girlfriend even though she was crying. I stayed with him for over a year after that. He took advantage of my kindness and my body and hurt me in ways that he would never know. We fell into a routine of damage and heartbreak that I became used to and numb to.
It wasn’t until I met A new boy that I found out that this was not how people who cared about you treated you. This new boy was kind and sensitive. We could talk for hours about music, books, and movies. We both loved cats and tea and Disney movies. I remember the first time he hugged me, it was like the world stopped and I was finally allowed to feel safe again. I was allowed to be strong and independent. He loved that about me. He wanted me to stand up for myself and try new things.
Finally, I built up the courage to break up with my sexually abusive soon to be ex. I wanted to do it in person. When he broke up me with our on and off relationship, it was always via text or phone call. I didn’t want to do that to anyone, ever. We were in a local food spot where my friends were at another table. I was surrounded by my ex and his friends, all of whom I detested. I realized how little I wanted to be there and how much I wanted to be with my friends. This was the time. I tried to pull him aside three times and each time he said “not now” and I cowered. I ordered only a cup of tea and he ordered the same thing he always did. I felt myself falling back into routine. One last time, I tried and when he tried to argue, I said, “no, now.” I pulled him into an empty hallway and asked if he loved me. He couldn’t give a straight answer. “Well,” I said, finally asserting my independence, “then I can’t be with you anymore. I can’t be with someone who doesn’t love me as much as I love them. It hurts. And I won’t do it anymore.”
So, I went back to the table, picked up my tea, and walked over to my friends’ table. “Can I join you?” Was all I was able to get out before breaking down into tears. The new boy sat across from me, staring at his lap. I spent the night bawling into my friends’ shoulders. At the end of the night, the ex came back to say goodbye and I hugged him.
In the coming months, I would consider going back to him. He would beg and apologize and I would say no every time. I loved see him squirm. I was now the one in control. I loved the feeling of being strong. Being in control. Knowing what I was doing was right. It felt so good that I never wanted to give it up.
As the months passed, The new boy and I would become close. He and I became close friends and on an evening in May after spending time together at a family party, he asked me out. I said yes. One week into the relationship, I told him about my assault. He told me later that that night he went home and cried for me. He cried that someone he cared about so much could be treated so badly. One week later, he told me he was falling in love with me. A month into the relationship, we made love. The difference between the new and the old were so severe. The old was dark. It was painful and damaging. The new was beautiful. We would go outside and be with flowers. He would take care of me when I was sick. He was there. He showed up. And three years later, this boy is still the one that I am with. We have both changed a lot. But he always encourages me to stand up for myself. He wants me to be strong and brave. He never wants me to hurt again. If I were strong then, I wouldn’t be as damage d as I was then, but you know what, I sure as hell am strong now.
— Survivor, age 20