His name was…well it doesn’t matter, and I met him when I lived overseas. He was from a large family, twenty-four years old and raised conservatively. I was close to his younger sisters, my brother was close to his younger brothers, my mom was close to his mom. We went to his house all the time. I was thirteen and he was twenty-four.
I began to develop a crush. Now, crushes are strange things. They can be completely harmless, or they can threaten to take over your entire world. They can be fun and sweet, or they can consume your every thought. This crush was the latter kind. My immature, naïve thirteen-year-old self was “in love” with this man. My heart was set to marry him when I was old enough of course. I was thirteen, and I had no idea what I was thinking or doing. My mom knew about these overwhelming feelings, but they didn’t seem to bother her. He and I still were in pretty constant contact with each other. We still saw each other on a regular basis. And then I decided to tell him how I felt about him. There were overwhelming feelings inside of me that I was consumed by and I told him. I was thirteen and he was twenty-four. Is there a specific way that a grown man should deal with a child who has an unhealthy crush on him? Let me put it this way. Is there a godly way? Yes, I think there is. Encouraging the crush is not the right thing to do. Asking intimate questions is not the right thing to do. Offering to hold hands on a scary carnival ride is not the right thing to do. Going to a secluded parking lot with the promise of a shoulder massage is not the right thing to do. Allowing hands to creep forward, down the front of the child you have pulled into your lap is not the right thing to do.
“What, it’s just your upper chest,” he said when I questioned the placement of his wandering fingers. After this, I was too shy to tell him to stop the other two times his hands wandered to places where they should not have gone. Putting the choice to be appropriate and mature in the hands of a thirteen-year-old is not the right thing to do. Asking a thirteen-year-old girl if he could teach her how to kiss was not the right thing to do.
Continuing to see him, spend time with him, not tell people what was going on was not wise. I recognize that now. There was an element of enjoying the attention that he paid me, while all the time having a nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right. But I was thirteen. Yes, I knew the difference between what was wrong and right. But this guy? He told me he was a Christian, he came from a good family, I thought that he could do no wrong.
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was New Year’s Eve, and I was with my cousin. She was dying to meet this guy that I talked about all the time, so I texted him to meet us at the little Christian bookstore, and my mom dropped us off. At first, it was fun. We walked down Main Street, wandered onto the beach, went on a carnival ride together, and came to rest beneath some Norfolk Island pines. He wanted something from me, and I wanted to be kissed. So, he said that we should go to the place where he worked. It was closed, and he had a key. I was excited. Here I was, thirteen years old, beyond insecure about my appearance, hungry for affection, unaware of the dangers of going to a private place with an adult man. I said yes, and followed him like an obedient puppy. We left my cousin beneath the pines, with the promise of returning within the hour.
He walked me back down Main Street until we came to his workplace. He pulled out the key, let us in, and locked the door behind us. It was one of those tiny stores that was one room, not bigger than a master bedroom, with an awkward and tiny back area. There was one chair, and he took it. I remember kneeling on the floor. I was nervous and dehydrated, and I was shaking. He handed me a jug of water and waited until I was ready. For what, I didn’t really know. But he said to come sit on his lap. This tugged at the major insecurities that I had with my weight, but I obliged.
“What now?” I asked him, not knowing what to do, how to start. He told me to start, to kiss him.
“No open mouth kissing, and no tongue,” I said. Somehow in my childish naivete, I knew that that would be wrong and too much for me. So, we kissed. It started while I was sitting on his lap, and then we stood up. It was weird and awkward. I didn’t know where to put my hands. He had bad breath and a beard, and our teeth crashed into each other.
His mind was ten steps ahead of mine, quickly moving him into the next stage, and I had to pull away. This was beginning to feel wrong, but I didn’t know what to do. When I asked him if he had feelings for me, he said, “No, I think of you as a little sister.” This response made my stomach uneasy.
We started kissing again, and this time he pulled away and put his mouth by my ear.
“Can I just have one touch?” he asked, hopeful.
“Sure, I guess. Where?”
“On your nipple.”
We looked at each other, but neither of us moved. I didn’t know what he was asking, he didn’t know that I didn’t understand.
“It’s no fun unless it’s bare skin,” he said sounding disappointed.
Suddenly I understood what he was asking for. I looked at him and said, “No, I am not taking off my dress and you are not putting your hand inside of my dress.”
So, he groped me through my clothes while he continued kissing me. Yes, he groped me. I looked it up this summer and I found out what it was called. He assaulted me, a child, by groping me. He could have gone to jail for what he did. It didn’t matter that I sort of consented. I was legally a child, and I didn’t want him touching me the way he did. It left a scar on my heart that still aches seven years later.
When he was done, when he had satisfied himself, we left in silence and walked back to where my cousin was still waiting for us. On the walk, I innocently asked to hold his had because if we had done what we had just done, he would surely let me hold his hand. But no, he would not. So, we walked in awkward silence. A few minutes later, an awkward hug concluded the time we spent together, and he left.
At first, I felt so grown up and mature for having my first kiss. But as I continued to think about it as a few days passed, it was eating me up inside. I felt dirty, I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt, I felt angry. I didn’t know what to do because our families were still close friends, and I was scared of him. Finally, I told my mom, with the condition that she would not tell my dad. I couldn’t face my dad with this piece of news, as I was convinced that he would “kill me.” Surprisingly, my mom obliged, as she always told dad everything I said. I remember so clearly the day that I told her, sitting on her bed, filling in every dirty detail. She freaked out. There is no other way to put it. And we talked about it. She told me that it was partly my fault because I put myself in that situation and I should have known better. That is the opinion she held to for years, so I began to believe it and was filled with intense guilt and shame. I was assaulted, wronged, robbed of my first kiss and part of my innocence because of what I did, because of what I was wearing. That is what I believed.
Finally, I worked up the courage to tell my dad. And he did not kill me. In fact, he did something that I will be forever grateful for. He went to this guy, and the guys’ father, talked about what happened and delivered several well-timed threats.
After this, I saw the young man a few more times. But it was impossible for me to talk to him normally. I was terrified, I was still feeling so much pain, shame, and guilt. He didn’t apologize for what he had done, and that fed the thought that it must have been my fault.
Fast-forward to this summer. I was in bed reading. And suddenly, my mind was filled with flashbacks of every detail of that day, the day that I was assaulted. It flooded back as if it had happened the day before. It was playing in my mind like a video, a video that I couldn’t stop. Apparently, I had never dealt with it, I had suppressed it and held it inside, allowed it to dictate the way that I thought I deserved to be treated. But I finally was able to see truth. I was indeed sexually assaulted by an adult man, and he treated me as something to be used and cast aside. I became petrified that his intention had been to rape me. In a burst of courage, I sent him a message—as he lives overseas and I live in the US. I asked him flat-out. “Were you going to rape me?” He said no, and that gave me a sense of freedom. I was able to articulate that he had assaulted me and that it caused a lot of pain. And he apologized. He apologized. That was amazing. That was an excellent step toward healing.
I can never fully say how much what he did to me affected me, the way I view men, the way I view myself, the way I view consent and fault, the level of safety I felt in following relationships, the rebuilding of my identity that isn’t tangled within the title of “victim of abuse.” But what I do know, is that my identity is in Christ, not in how I have been treated.