Coming Of Age In A Misogynistic World

Two girls walking down the street in Chicago in the summer with backpacks Photo : Alanna Bagladi

[Trigger Warning: Sexual assault, pedophilia]

The last few months have been hard. As an aspiring journalist media producer—but more importantly as a woman and survivor of sexual assault— keeping track of all of the sexual assault headlines and the names of abusers has been hard. It’s been even harder having to reflect on my experience of being sexually assaulted— an experience I’ve shoved deep in the back of my mind in hopes of healing from the pain. It is, however, a little relieving to know that I can finally tell my story without the fear of not being believed or belittled. I can finally tell my story and people will finally listen.

My story, like a lot of the stories we’ve been seeing on the news lately, happened years ago. It is different in that my abuser wasn’t in any position of power but it’s important to note that sexual assault happens everywhere and can be done by anyone. In my case, my abuser was my friend’s older brother. I had just turned 13 and he was almost 22. I had just begun undergoing puberty and coming into my body. My face had slimmed down, I grew breasts, and my hips and legs grew curvier. Along with a physical transformation came the hormonal one. I was starting to become interested in the idea of dating and, like every other teenager, learning what sex was. These two things, however, were not to be spoken of, as these topics (especially sex) are seen as taboo in Mexican households.

I began talking to boys and occasionally hanging out with some behind my family’s back but nothing ever went further than that. I was too socially inept to date or kiss anyone, let alone have sex with them. More importantly, I was terrified of what my mom would think if she ever found out. She didn’t mind me having friends though and would allow me to hang out with one of my best friends, a boy, almost every day after school. We’d spend most of our time at his house talking and browsing Facebook (which had just started becoming popular amongst our age group). One day I saw that his older brother had sent me a friend request. I didn’t think this was weird because I had seen him every day for the last year and he was friends with some of my cousins. I hit confirm and didn’t think twice about it. Things, however, took a weird turn.

He began messaging me every day. He’d ask me how my day was going, and if I was doing well in school. But then he would ask me questions about my bra size and my sex life. I remember never knowing how to answer these questions because I had just started wearing a bra and learning about sex maybe a year before that, so I typically stopped responding when these questions came up. One day I changed my profile picture to a cute selfie (though I don’t think they were known as selfies just yet) and he sent me a message saying I was going to be a beautiful woman and that he was going to make it his wallpaper. I was a little flattered but mostly creeped out. A few weeks passed and he switched to texting me. He said he had stolen my number from his brother’s phone. I didn’t respond. A few hours later I had received an MMS photo of his penis along with a message that read “come over.” I deleted it immediately.

A few days had gone by and I hadn’t seen or heard from him. My family was moving out of our apartment into a house down the street. I was wearing a t-shirt and shorts and came outside to watch my brother and uncle walk the furniture down to the house. I felt him staring at me from two houses down. It was a stare that sent shivers down my spine. He texted me “nice shorts, you look like you’d be a freak.” I blocked his number.

The next day I was walking home from another friend’s house when he saw me and approached me. Without hesitation, he pushed me against a wooden fence and felt me up, beginning at my breast making his way down to my vagina before ending at my butt. He wrapped his hands around my throat and licked my neck near my ear. My eyes filled up with tears. His hands and body continued to apply so much pressure to my body, a body I was still growing into and learning to love. He whispered all of these things about how my body was so nice and my skin was so hairless and perfect. Of course it was hairless, I was 13! I hadn’t even had my first kiss yet.

I ran home and locked myself in the bathroom and cried. The next day I told one of my friends and she said I should be flattered I was getting attention from an older man. I nodded my head and walked away. I told my uncle, the one family member I knew wouldn’t dismiss my feelings. Upon hearing about what had been going on, he immediately approached the guy and his family. They defended him, saying that he would never do anything to hurt anyone and that he was a good person. When I approached him he said, (and we’ve all heard this bullshit commentary) “As the brother of two sisters, the future father of a daughter I would never condone sexual assault.” Having women around you or in your family doesn’t denounce your harmful activity. It isn’t a requirement for internalizing the difficulties of living within a sexist society. I am a sister, a daughter too, but most importantly I am a human being.

When I was sexually assaulted, my pain was dismissed. I was made to feel ashamed of myself, angry at myself and more importantly, like my pain didn’t matter. I had to heal in silence while this man walked away with no real indication of how much internal confusion and pain he had caused me. I was 13. I was under age and made to feel like this was my fault. Like I had lured this man in somehow and needed to adjust my behavior.

After that, dating became harder. The first few times I had sex I was terrified. My boyfriend, who I had lost my virginity to, never understood why even when I tried to explain it to him. I think that was the hardest part for me, feeling like those closest to me did not understand my pain. This resulted in me never telling anyone else about it. I still don’t really talk about it.

Because of all these brave women coming forward, I no longer feel scared or ashamed. I had years to think about this and forgive myself for something I didn’t do. I had years to heal within the confined walls I had built but I am now ready to tear these down and share my experience with others.

It’s hard knowing that my abuser will never make headlines because he was my friend’s older brother and not a top film producer or director. And it’s hard knowing that this is a common narrative in our society and that men got away with sexual harassment for so long because they could. But now that we can all tell our stories, it is a little easier to believe in change.