The first time was at a pool party. I wore a one-piece lavender swimsuit with little white flowers. A boy my age swam up behind me as I stood in the pool, shoved his hand between my legs, and used it to pull me back against him. I kicked him and pulled away, whirled around, and he crowded me into the side of the pool. Just then, an adult came out onto the pool deck and the boy stepped back. I got out of the pool and didn't go back in. I was 12.
The next time was in my home. I wore a pink t-shirt and hand-me-down denim shorts. A man I knew, there while my parents were out, thrust his hand down my shorts and told me he knew I wanted it, while he rubbed my vulva. I froze. A noise from the other room made him stop, and I escaped to my bedroom. Eventually, I went to bed. He opened the door to my room, pulled down my underwear while I laid on my stomach, pretending to sleep, and penetrated me with his finger. All the while, he told me how much he knew I was enjoying it. I laid there, paralyzed with fear and confusion, until he finally went away. I curled into a ball and didn't sleep the rest of the night, not knowing or understanding how deep his perversion might run, terrified for my little brother in the next room. I was 13.
The third time, I went out for coffee with a man from my university. I wore jeans and a sweater, and a light winter coat. I'd picked him up because he had no car, and the campus was rural enough there wasn't a diner or coffee shop within walking distance. When I pulled into the dorm parking lot to drop him off after our coffee, he lunged at me across the center console and began groping and kissing me. I had to push and punch him several times to get him off of me and order him out of my car. His parting shot was to call me a bitch and a tease. I was 23.
I reported none of these things, told no one. I had no proof. The first and third seemed almost normal and expected -- the price of being female. (That's rape culture in a nutshell, btw.) In the case of the second, I knew it would destroy families and relationships if I did. It was 30 years before I addressed it in therapy. And all things considered, I am lucky. I don't have stories involving extreme violence or ongoing abuse. I didn't come out of these encounters needing medical attention because I'd been physically harmed.
And I'm lucky because I have wonderful men in my life, men who don't think sexual assault is a joke, or appropriate locker room talk, or something totally normal because "boys will be boys". I have men who treat me as a person and their equal. I am privileged to be safe, but I also never forget that safety can be ripped away in a flash.
I applaud Kelly Oxford for starting the #notokay hashtag and for bearing the brunt of the cretinous individuals who still ignore and deny the kinds of things that happen to women every day.