The past year has shed a light on the undercurrent of sexualization, objectification and abuse of women that has existed for centuries.  Yes, centuries!  This dates back as far as the Stone Age with the barbaric rape of women that accompanied war. Instead of being the spoils of war, today women have to endure the unwanted advances of men to further their careers.  The enemy is no longer apparent. Women have been forced and coerced into sexual acts by men with whom she trusts.  As the media continues to cover stories about young girls, teenagers, and women who have been the victims of sexual harassment and assault, I find myself reflecting on my history as a young girl without the proper protections from parents and other would be caregivers.  

The people who know my story are aware that I left home at a very young age. As a teenager, I realized that my home environment was not conducive to fulfilling my goals of being educated and becoming a professional. What I did not know is that there were men in the world waiting to take advantage of my innocence, early independence, and vulnerability. Maybe it was luck, grace, or divine intervention that kept me.  I would like to take some credit for being a precocious, bright, and cunning individual.  Were it not for these things, it could have been me too.  

There are two memories that stand out in particular.  The first one was a single life event that could have altered the course of my life forever.  My paternal grandmother was my rock and refuge.  I would run to her when I needed a place to feel safe and loved. Her loving qualities did not go unnoticed by men.  She always had a boyfriend. One day she was preparing to leave with her boyfriend (who I will refer to as Ralph).  Thus, leaving me alone in her apartment.  Before they left,  Ralph was whispering things to me. He stated that he would return alone. I knew he had a key. Therefore, he could enter the apartment without her.  His plan was to walk her out of the building and return to spend time with me alone. It seemed like a normal thing to him. Like he expected me to be ok with it, maybe even look forward to it. I was confused. Terrified.  

Ralph was true to his word. He did return alone. I heard him put the key in the door and turn the lock. Click.  What he had not anticipated is that I would put the chain lock on.  Thus preventing him from entering.  I’m confident that this decision changed the course of my life.  From that day on, I knew I was not safe in his presence. Likewise, from that day forward, he saw me.  I was not going to be taken.  He could not have me. I was not the one! Fortunately, I was never in this situation again. As I write this, it strikes me that I never shared this experience with anyone until I shared this story with my husband. Why didn’t I tell an adult? He frightened me. At that time, I felt alone. I had become accustomed to figuring things out without the benefit of parents. No child should be left alone to manage the enormous challenges of life.

The next memory is a bit more convoluted. For the longest time I thought I was the manipulator of this adult male (who I will refer to as Mr. Morrison). Mr. Morrison was a teacher from my high school. He came into my life at a very difficult time.  Mr. Morrison saw me one day walking back from court to Cass Tech High School.  I had gone to face a man who pulled a gun on me while working as a cashier at Churchs Chicken.  He was astounded that I was not accompanied by a parent.  At that time, I was living with my father, who was not much of a parent at all.  During the 19 months that I lived with him there was very little in the way of parenting that he provided. Therefore, this teacher became a source of support for me. He gave me money, provided transportation, and took me out to eat. Mr. Morrison became my friend. At least, I thought he was my friend.

It wasn’t until I graduated from high school that his “support” turned into a pursuit. While I was uncomfortable with his flirtation,  I still wanted the financial assistance. I needed the financial assistance. At that time I was 17 years old and living semi-independently from my family. So I played the game.  I could string him along and get the help that I needed.  I would refer to him as my “Suga Daddy” to all my friends.  He was old enough to be my father. In the beginning, his behavior was similar to that of a father. However, his overtures began to take on the appearance of courting.

It was all fun and games until he invited me to the hotel.   Then the light bulb came on.  He was serious! The support was the bait. He invited me to the hotel to “talk”. I was a little too smart for that one.  I knew what happened at the hotel. I’m from the Eastside of Detroit.  Hotels equal sex! No thank you. By this time I was headed off to college and I would be miles away.  I took this as an opportunity to put distance between us.  Overtime the overtures went away. Eventually, he did too.  

In hindsight, it is clear that he was preying on me. Mr. Morrison was in his early forties. He was kind, warm, and generous. I valued his friendship. It never dawned on me that I was in danger. Earlier I stated, that I was bright and cunning. I was being sarcastic. I was lucky!  Many girls take the bait and find themselves in precarious situations with predators.  Men who they have entrusted with their safety and care. 

I don’t have the answers to this problem. However, I believe the solution is multifaceted.  Girls need to have a voice early on.   She also needs to be educated about the dangers in the world. It is so sad that females must worry about being used and abused by men simply because of her vagina.  This problem is grounded in inequality.  For centuries, women have been regarded as less than and therefore treated as such.  

Women have had to fight for the right to work, the right to serve this country, the right to vote, equal pay…the list goes on. Today woman all over the world are fighting to be free of sexual harassment and assault.  We are standing up and speaking out. We will not be silenced, we will not be harassed, we will not be abused! I stand with these women. April is Sexual Assault and Awareness Month (SAAM). During this month the goal is to educate the public about sexual assault and provide information on how to prevent sexual violence.  If you are reading this blog, I hope that you will stand beside us.