Content warning: article discusses sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers.
When I was a freshman in high school, all the girls in ninth grade gym were taught self-defense, should they ever come in contact with a predator one day. I was informed that 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused or raped by the age of eighteen. Back then I knew deep down in my heart that one day I'd be that one put of four girls. I was right. I hate being right.
2016 was the year that changed my life forever.
I was 16, a junior who had just passed my driver's test and recently started working at a small restaurant on the main street in my hometown. I loved my job — the employees weren't dull. We were a family. There was one employee, however, whose eye's remained fixed on me every shift, and before I knew it, I had become their prey.
Let me fill you in from the beginning.
Towards the end of my second semester as a freshman, I had been walking down the hallway with one of my older friends, a senior. We were talking about random things when we were abruptly interrupted by this super tall guy who had pointed at me and very loudly said, "Damn, that girl is short!" I laughed, asking who he was, and my friend rolled her eyes, telling me he was just some goofy guy in her grade.
I never saw him before, and completely forgot all about him and his comment. I've always been short and I've heard short jokes and comments all my life. Two years later, I catch a glimpse of the same goofy guy walking across the room I was sitting in during my work orientation after being hired to host at the restaurant on Main Street. I thought to myself, "Oh no, not this guy again."
He started talking to me during my first shift, and we quickly became work pals. He was friendly, funny, and very easy to talk to. During my second shift, he asked for my number and from that night forward, proceeded to text me quite often. While meeting someone new and fun, I thought he was cute, and I'll admit I developed a tiny, shallow crush on him. Later it came up that he had a girlfriend, and I quickly dropped those faint feelings. He was a friend, nothing more and I wanted no drama whatsoever.
My coworker loved hugs. He was extremely tall compared to me. He was 6 feet and 8 inches, whereas, I am 4 feet and 11 inches tall. He loved hugging me and in doing so, he'd pick me up and spin me around. He hugged everyone though, so I never assumed his hugging to be any special affection. It was a normal thing he did to me, to everyone, and years later, I can only hate hugs.
He also loved taking my work tie as well as my other female coworkers and pulling us closer to him by yanking them and then playfully choking us. Back then it was a harmless thing he did and we always went to him willingly. This was his nature and we were used to it.
I noticed nothing strange in the beginning, however, everything he'd been doing was leading up to my assault.
Towards the end of our time together, and before he was fired, he spent one shift spanking and slapping the thighs of me and another coworker with dish rags. We were annoyed and asked him to stop but he just laughed and brushed it off. Every time we walked by, he slapped us with the rags hard — it did hurt. "No" means no, no matter what the situation is.
This friend of mine wanted me to drive him around and hang out with him outside of work. Mind you, he's three years older than me. He was an adult while I was still just a kid. I knew he liked me because he was flirtatious, always told me how cute I was, and how badly he wanted to be with me. Even though he had a girlfriend, he still flirted and I hated it. She even worked at the restaurant as well. She never even saw him flirt with me because she was the dishwasher, he was a waiter and I was in the front hosting. I wish she heard everything and saw the things he did to me, but things didn't unravel that way. When they did, she hated me.
It was a Tuesday night and had been like any other regular work shift for me. I clocked in, hosted guests, bussed tables, washed laundry, polished wine glasses and silverware, and helped servers when needed. We had just closed and my manager said, "we need napkins, go get napkins from upstairs." So I made my way upstairs, thinking nothing of it. My coworker followed behind and went upstairs to the storage room/laundry room with me. He sat on a table and watched as I grabbed tablecloths and napkins from the dryer to fold and put laundry from the washing machine into the dryer.
During that moment, he made his way over to me and got very close, towering over me. He yanked me by my work tie, choking me, and whispered in my ear, "Are you a virgin?" I was startled as he continued, "I can change that for you." I pushed him back and was immediately aggravated. I informed him that his girlfriend was downstairs and he needed to focus on her, not me. He laughed. He grabbed a rag and smacked me on my thighs and butt with it. I yelled at him to stop — another laugh.
He asked for a hug and I was deeply annoyed at that point. He begged with his baby face and dark puppy eyes so I gave in. As I reached out to give him a simple hug, he picked me up and held me tight in his arms, groping my butt and breathing on me. I was super uncomfortable and silently pleading for someone to come in the kitchen and catch him — they didn't. When he put me down, instead of letting me go, he grabbed me and held me on his lap. He groped my breasts and continued hugging on me. I pushed away but he didn't care. He finally let me get up and I was paranoid, my heart was racing. I couldn't believe he had just done that to me.
I was too freaked out to fold fresh laundry so I went into the storage room to grab other folded napkins instead. He followed. The napkins were in the back rack at the top. My coworker knew I couldn't reach them so he said to me, "I'll help you with the napkins if you give me a kiss." I told him no, but he was persistent and didn't leave me alone.
I watched him move things around to hide the camera from seeing both of us. He turned back towards me, walked up to me, and pulled me close to him. He had his arms wrapped around me, gripping me so that I couldn't get away. He repeated himself saying, "Give me a kiss and I'll get you the napkins."
Again, I told him no.
He took matters into his own hands by thrusting himself on me, groping me everywhere, kissing my neck, trying to force a kiss on the lips as I turned away, and biting my ears even though I begged him to stop and get off of me. When he finally let me go, he grabbed me napkins, spanked my butt, and followed me back downstairs. I was completely disgusted and at a loss of words on what to say or what to do.
While downstairs, I proceeded to buss and reset any remaining tables — he conveniently helped. I wanted to be left alone but he wouldn't go away. He asked if I enjoyed what he did to me and I said "No, not at all." And his response was, "Well I loved it." I was amazed at how sickening his mind was. After finishing my closing duties, my manager told me I could leave. What a relief that was, an honest from God blessing. I clocked out and as I walked outside, my co-worker was at the top of the stairs waiting on me. He asked me to come upstairs and give him another hug, I told him, no, and even after his constant begging, I refused again and hurried to my car. We never worked together again and I haven't seen him since that night.
My healing process has been a slow, horrific journey. In the beginning, I couldn't stand being around any men, even my dad or brother. I targeted tall men, hating only them. I had anxiety attacks in class. I couldn't stand the thought of being touched or even looked at. No matter how hard I tried, I never felt safe or comfortable in my own body anymore. Now, I don't know who I am or how to act around anyone anymore.
Being a victim of sexual assault is something I feel so ashamed of even though I know it wasn't my fault.
Being cornered, feeling so small — nothing has ever made me feel more powerless in my entire than when I was assaulted by someone almost three times my size. It was the worst and scariest feeling not knowing if things were going to escalate. I never sought out professional help. I never reported my coworker. He was nineteen, I didn't want to ruin his life in the way he has permanently ruined mine. His harassment towards me turned into sexual assault and I'm permanently traumatized.
As I'm still struggling to move on and heal from my unresolved trauma, I've had to grow and remind myself every single day for the past four years that I'm strong enough to get through my battles and understand that what happened to me will never define who I am as a person. I carry these ugly scars with me knowing they're forever here to stay, but I intend to use them in a way that makes them appear beautiful. I'm learning to accept life as a survivor because having the strength to share my story is one closer to moving forward. It's a big deal. Coping with this trauma, it's possible. Because so many people are doing it with and without anyone around them even knowing it.