Trigger Warning: This true story includes content about the sexual abuse of an individual from childhood into adulthood and references to suicide.
The opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer or any organization mentioned here.
I love to travel. Not in the wanderlust way people post about, dominating social media feeds with gorgeous pictures of dream locations, but to escape— slipping through life’s bars and wired fences to see if the grass is greener on the other side, even just for a moment.
I travel to run, because that’s what’s familiar.
I grew up with a revolving door of characters in my family life and adults giving well-meaning but bad advice. Advice like telling me that kids picking on each other is okay. It just meant that “the other kid likes you.” How a bully is just struggling because “they don’t know how else to express their crush,” so this behavior is “normal and totally okay.”
School should have been my safe space but it ended up being the most dangerous.
By the time I started the first grade, I had already attended at least three different schools. A boy in my class had been held back multiple grades; therefore he was older than any of us and probably should have been in middle school. This boy made it a habit to corner me on the playground, in the hallways, after school, gym, before school. He always ended up right there next to me. Always tried cutting off my exit.
By the middle of my second-grade school year, he had already attempted to remove my school uniform multiple times— usually behind a partition between the school and the jungle gym. Sometimes it was just him. Sometimes it was him and a couple of the other boys. As that escalated, so did the number of times his teenage older brother lingered after school.
This classmate and his older brother tried to lure me into their truck on a rainy Friday afternoon. I was waiting for my ride home, which was late. All the teachers were already inside. The busses were long gone. The parents had left. And there I was, alone in my drenched school uniform with a forgotten umbrella on the pavement as the boys tried to pull me along.
I remember the sound of my backpack slamming against my classmate’s face when I slipped free and ran. I did not get in that truck. I remember climbing into the back of my ride’s car and hiding as soon as it arrived.
On the ride home, my shivering was mistaken for the cold, my wet clothes clinging to my shoulders and legs. I was scolded for forgetting an umbrella. I never told my family what happened. They never understood why I suddenly started to purposely get detention every day at lunch to avoid going outside with him; they never dug deeper. The only reason anyone got close to finding out something was happening is that one day we had a substitute teacher. Over and over, I asked her to keep the classmate away from me. He was pulling and pushing my clothes, touching me. She said to ignore him and for me to stop disrupting class. His hand went under my uniform. I stood, slammed my hands down on the little desk, and shouted for him to “Leave me the f— alone!” as I had heard at home multiple times. I was sent to the principal’s office. She laughed at my exclamation, and I never got in trouble. She never dug deeper either.
For unrelated reasons, I soon changed schools (again). Things were quiet for a while.
Every summer and winter break, I went to see my grandparents. My assortment of friends there always acted older than they were and tried to pull me along. They decided it was time I started dating and went about setting me up with someone I had known since I was 8, despite my disinterest and clear declines of the idea.
My friends all chanted:
“But this is normal.”
“He’s so nice.”
“Shut up; at least he’ll deal with your weirdness. Don’t be so picky!”
I was 12 when his sister set us up. He was 16 going on 17. We ended up dating. I figured (hoped) he would lose interest, and then everything would be quiet again.
Instead, the pressure for sexual activity was nearly immediate.
First, conversations on the topic. Instructions on what to do, veiled by surface-level concern over how to keep yourself clean if you don’t wash and touch in these certain ways.
Then the request for photos.
Then the breaking into my grandparents’ home while I was alone.
Then the forest behind his house, where I was held down and restrained. Where screaming for help received no response.
Throughout it all, friends telling me this was normal; stop being dramatic. It’s all my fault for not giving him what he needed in the first place.
The threats came next. Mostly threats of suicide if I left or didn’t do something he demanded. Snide reminders he would be a sniper for the military one day and always wanted more target practice, especially if I avoided his calls for too long.
And then a box of rose stems cradling a dead, decapitated rat appearing on my doorstep like I lived in an old mobster movie.
At the age of 14 I unfortunately learned how easy it is to fall from one dangerous, abusive situation to another on your climb out. My next relationship wasn’t sexual in nature, nor physically abusive. Instead, it was emotionally manipulative. Constant reminders on how I’m dirty and disgusting. How I’m odd, and it’s my fault these things happened – if I could only be more “normal” and act like he wanted, then it would be okay. He wouldn’t be disgusted with me. He wouldn’t be angry all the time. How I asked for those situations to continue unless I listened to him.
It was easier to get away from this relationship, and I thought that meant I could get away from the abuse, any form of it, that could try creeping into my life again. That it would never happen again, I was sure. Why did this form of abuse affect me less than the others? Because I happen to have a lower threshold for emotions. Emotional control and abuse just happened to have less of an effect on me.
Another shot with a two-hit combo, I was still 14 but nearing 15. A young man I met online in a place that I used as an escape over the years, weaseled his way in as a trusted, safe source. Looking back, I see his attempts at emotional manipulation, which quickly shifted into mental manipulation and more threats of suicide. There were physical fights, some I was called to listen to, some I learned about later. Images of injuries shared and blamed on me and my choices. Over and over, I was told no one would believe me because he was so good. So sweet. The picture of an all-American boy.
I thought I would be safe living states away, but it started again. Pressure for sexual conduct, including pictures, phone calls, videos, and the demand and pressure of keeping him alive.
Then the move. Crossing states to the coast. He was no longer states away. He visited, seemingly innocent by all outsider’s standards – even my parents. They had no idea that when they went to work, he took a pocket knife and carved his name into my chest. I have scars to this day. Property of: —— that’s all I was ever meant to be. It was plastered in my skin, so it was “meant to be forever,” he told me as I bled.
He threatened his own life before anyone got home. He carved my name into his thighs and said he could cut too deep and end everything because of what I do to him. Over and over, he cut. Lighter and lighter than before, yet never as deep as how he cut me.
A bloody shirt was left as another reminder. He insisted I keep it and use it for the photos or videos he would demand. A reminder his life was in my hands, and my life was in his.
A week or two before the end of my Senior year of high school, while I was 17, my best friend from adolescence visited. She knew about the abuse in my past. She was at the start of her transition (MtF) at the time and was my date for prom. We spoke about her transition plans and how she worried about biological children. She wanted her own kids and couldn’t expect that after a full transition. I told her to talk to the doctors, that there were ways. She said she had a plan.
I woke up that night to her on top of me, holding the blanket down across my arms. When it ended, I asked why?
She just said she wanted biological children before it was too late.
We still went to prom.
We still spoke for years.
Everyone loved her.
People told me:
“She couldn’t have done this.”
“You are strong, you could throw her across a room with one hand behind your back.”
“You must be lying.”
It took six years for me to completely cut her out of my life.
Since that event I’ve gone through:
multiple new numbers
multiple new houses
a new school.
Growing up, I’d always heard how the more attractive someone is, the more often they get unwanted attention. So, I vowed never to be attractive.
Each assault told me I wasn’t doing enough. I eventually decided I needed to gain weight. By the time of my last physical assault, I weighed over 320lbs. I gained and gained after each attack, always thinking I just haven’t done enough to stop it yet. It was my fault it kept happening. I gave up on the things I loved in order to run from the things people would want from me— could do to me.
The fewer people who liked me or wanted to be around me, the better I felt.
Old names reappeared on occasion. Old issues. But I continued on. Continued going. Continued gaining.
Graduate school was the end.
In a class I was often the only one speaking in, I had people ask for help. I offered to tutor, mostly in groups. One day everyone but one cancelled. I still tutored him. As he left the apartment, he pushed me into a door and pinned me there, just feet from my landlady’s door. Another assault attempted. Another string of words into my ears trying to make me think it was okay, that it was admiration until I kept fighting him back.
Why? Why me?
Is it a pheromone telling people, hey, come get me! What’s going to stop you?
Maybe it was a ‘vibe’ I gave off?
Probably also no.
It took this experience in graduate school for me to understand none of this was ever about me. I was just a placeholder for something else; some negative ghoul or monstrosity within the predators who targeted me.
From the age of six and even now, I’ve battled with the idea that this was my fault. Being told it was my fault. Being told I chose to be in these situations and to have these things happen to me. Or being told I was lying about it all. And sometimes these thoughts continue to haunt me, but every day I work to understand that the past doesn’t dictate the future, it only tells us how we got here. My thoughts and actions going forward are mine to understand and dictate.
I carry the scars and stretchmarks physically to this day to remind me of the damage done to my body.
You know what else I carry now? A high percent of muscle and drive for the things I love and once gave up on. I have the drive to focus on me, not the people who used and abused me. I dropped the weight, gained the muscle, and gave people at my old gym a run for their money.
I also started working with organizations to combat human trafficking and abuse. That’s how I found ILF and first volunteered to help. And this association and all the work I can do for ILF is the spot I’m most proud of on any document about me, any conversation. I may travel to run, but this is something that is a consistent part of me. Because maybe I can help someone who went through something similar. And hopefully, I can help them never go through it again.
There wasn’t an ILF or another organization around when I was a kid that focused on finding predators targeting children. I’m not that old, but the internet as we know it now was really just starting to take off. The fact that most of my abusers utilized the internet in one way or another to try manipulating me was new. I was told it was just how the internet worked. And, unfortunately, this is still what people are told today. The internet has given predators easier access to their targets. It has also given survivors, parents, individuals of all kinds, the ability to find help. The Innocent Lives Foundation is giving me a chance to help someone else avoid the situations I lived through. That’s why #Iam4ILF … to the point I’m willing to get a tattoo on the side of my head. I stand by this organization and the work that I hope to do to spread awareness and help children and families alike. You’ll see me around, blistering their social media, streaming on Twitch, or just popping up to donate whenever I can. I hope you take a moment to learn more about the ILF’s mission. The more people know, the more we can help.
Finally, I don’t know who needs to hear this, but listen:
Multiple assaults? Not your fault.
Multiple attackers? Not your fault.
Multiple locations? Not your fault.
And I don’t think you’re exaggerating or lying.