When I was young, my Dad's sister got her second divorce. Alcohol and abuse. The family made her, a hard working nurse and mother, the butt of many derogatory comments and jokes. Women were either dominating business owners who were practically sexless or they were talked about like objects.
When I was about twelve, one of my cousins held me down, forced my shirt up and gave me a titty twister. I fought. I called for help. Everyone there laughed. I went to my Dad, he dismissed it. When several other male family members found out they were not amused, and made sure that cousin never had a chance to try again. I felt like a shadow, a lesser human because I was told that I didn't have the right of choice- because of my gender by my own Dad. The other family members who disagreed were the quieter younger men- a great uncle who was younger than my dad, an older male cousin and my youngest uncle who didn't like that cousin's rudeness or behavior. No one spoke out. They quietly menaced him, shadows themselves.
Those guardian angels didn't know about my mother's brother and his secret sleep over seductions. The clues were there. He ended up marrying a fourteen years old girl. Got kicked out by my grandfather for his interest in underage girls. He was never reported - see, the answer when you speak out is "she's crazy, she's exaggerating, she's." Victim blaming, dismissal, excuses. Shadows, more shadows.
I got married in my young twenties. One night I woke up with him forcing penetration. I fought, but it's not easy to break free when someone already has you pinned. He said it was his right. Wrong.
I left. A retired man rented an apartment to me, a safe haven. He had another young lady in the basement apartment and one in the garage. He looked out for us while we healed and got back on our feet. My male co-workers modeled respectful behavior and my cousin Scott, as ever, was there for me as I dealt with the ugly emotions that needed to be done to with. Scott doesn't put up with shitty people. He's always called people out and been one of the bravest role models I've had.
Fast forward, years later I was working at the VA. A client threatened violence toward us, his treatment team. He had tested positive for crack. In the chaos, one of the VA cops grabbed me, walked me to my office to teach me self defense because "these guys can be dangerous and you need to know self defense." I was unsettled and he was an authority figure, someone I trusted. He fingered me to teach me not to freeze and break a hold from behind. My co-workers realized something was going on and kept knocking at the door trying to get in. He put them off.
Afterwards I went to my mentor, a Veteran who worked in Human resources. He asked me questions, got details. I didn't see that cop again. I found out from a good VA cop friend that he was fired for sexually assaulting and harassing female employees. My mentor had represented me, my co-workers too. No one said a word, other than the words that needed saying: that behavior is not tolerated here. No one made me sit through a court case or go through questions, my mentor handled it and stood for me. He, he was the one who counseled me and helped me heal. She did not deserve this, this was not acceptable: his words. Notice: for each instance, one guy acting negatively and more than one guy standing up and demonstrating respect.
Getting grabbed at bars, gas stations; cat called; these things you lose count of. Getting compliments, good Samaritan interventions, respectful intetactions: these are what I appreciate and count.
Regardless of gender, consent is key. There are too many stories like these in the lives of friends and strangers. We can intervene if we see or suspect, we can question and support. Shine light into the shadows, if they are empty great- if something ugly is lurking we can change it.
We can teach the next generation that abuse doesn't have to be part of their life experience. Idolizing abusers and abuse is unhealthy. Minimizing and dismissing is unhealthy. Labeling victims is deplorable. Many abuse victims punish themselves every day, racking their brains to figure out what's wrong with them, why them, what is wrong with them. Some realize it's external, it's the abuser's fault not theirs; they heal but never forget. We watch the shadows, ready to avoid or confront the next attempt- never wanting to feel powerless again.