I want to share my story of sexual and psychological abuse. It is my hope that by hearing my story others will better understand why abuse is so hidden from those not experiencing it and also have the courage to help those trying to escape it. I also want to share what I have learned from my experiences and share some advice for anyone trying to get out of an abusive relationship.
The first time I had sex, it was not with my consent.
I did not admit this to anyone, including myself, until about two months ago. One of the reasons so many stay silent about their abusers is because they fear that no one will believe them. That has been my experience with people who know my ex-abuser. When I would try to let a friend know that Sam* was acting in a way that scared me, they would say something light, like, “Oh, trouble in paradise,” or worse, they would insinuate that I was exaggerating or lying. Our mutual friends couldn’t imagine seeing this side of him, simply because they had never seen it. Only once did I admit to one of our mutual friends that Sam’s behavior had me worried, and he was gracious and told me that he was glad I said something. Luckily, he told me that Sam went to him before he had the chance to bring it up, and after their talk Sam apologized to me and we talked about what we could do to work on our relationship. But even afterwards, it only took about a week for Sam to return to his abusive behavior. My experiences with trying to seek help from friends only support the fact that abuse is often hidden from our lives, because abusers know how to keep it hidden and victims are unable to get help either because of intimidation from their abuser or the very legitimate fear that others won’t believe them.
I convinced myself for a long time that I had wanted it. I had convinced myself that if we were fooling around, of course it would be expected that he would try to penetrate me, even when I told him not to. I didn’t realize until months after we had broken up the last time that I was a victim of rape. To be honest, I don’t think he realizes what he did, either, and I’m trying not to feel guilty for admitting that someone I once loved raped me. Once I was no longer a virgin, I was terrified of the thought of not marrying the man I lost my virginity to. So, I stayed in the unhealthy relationship, hoping it would end in marital bliss, and no one would have to know that I wasn’t a virgin. It’s important to note, too, that aside from the instances that I am naming in this post, all our other sexual encounters were consensual and truthfully I enjoyed them. I really did care about Sam and felt that he cared about me. Yet the fact that any of our sexual encounters made me feel scared for my safety is completely unexcusable.
The first time he tried initiating sex, he pinned my wrists against the wall above my head and said, “I could take you right now if I wanted.” This wasn’t the last time he would do that. Once when we were having sex, he made me call myself degrading names. Another time during sex, he asked with glee, “Are you raping me?” I was confused, but quickly realized that rape seemed to be some kind of fetish for him. It was startling, and I tried to ignore it. The last time we ever had sex, he took complete control away from me and finished by saying, “Yeah, I bet you liked that, didn’t you?” Then he went to get dressed while I laid on the bed, silent, staring up at the ceiling and feeling dirty. The more I reflect on these experiences, the more I realize that Sam is the product of a society that encourages violence against women in the news, movies, music, and pornography. His masculinity in our relationship reflected one of dominance and power over me, both physically and mentally. My sympathy only extends so far, though. There is no denying that he is still responsible for what he did.
I never drank until we dated. At first, he was supportive of my abstinence from alcohol, but eventually he would start making remarks about how I was missing out on an essential experience of one’s youth. He would get grumpy when I would decline his offers to buy me drinks. He would get quiet and not talk to me at parties when I passed on alcohol. He would say he was disappointed in me and that I was brainwashed by my religion. He would claim that I looked down on people who drink and that I didn’t deserve to be at parties with him. Eventually, I let him buy me a drink now and then. I hated it. It tasted like what I assume nail polish remover would taste like, but he always seemed happier, so I would let him buy me drinks to keep him from being moody when I was around him and his friends.
At least twice he lied to me about being out with a woman he told me he used to have a crush on. Each of these two times I recall, he had invited me to go somewhere with him, and each time he uninvited me and told me that he was no longer going because he didn’t feel well or that he wanted me to enjoy my day off work doing something more fun. The first time I discovered that he had lied to me because he was on the phone with a friend who was speaking loud enough for me to hear about the party that he told me he didn’t go to. The second time I saw photos of him and the woman together at the event. When I confronted him about each instance, he made me feel silly for not trusting him and being overly suspicious. I often found myself apologizing to him for being upset when he did something wrong so that he wouldn’t get mad at me. I apologized to him once when he canceled our plans together because he didn’t feel well, so I went out with another friend. He got mad when he found out that I went out and said, “You should have texted me. I would have gone out with you if I knew you were going to hang out with him.” I felt bad and told him I was sorry. He also began checking my text messages when I would go to the bathroom and hacking into my social media accounts and email. He was terrified of what I would say to my friends about him, and he would blow up at me for it.
And as degrading as some of those experiences were, nothing compared to the hurt and anxiety I felt by the constant barrage of messages he sent me about Mormonism, both during our relationship and after it ended. As a practicing Latter-day Saint, I am used to people criticizing the history, culture, and doctrines of my faith. Many criticisms are warranted; many are rooted in hate. About four months into our relationship, my ex, began sending me hurtful messages about Mormonism almost daily. The messages continued for the next six months. He never attended church with me, although I regularly attended his faith’s religious ceremonies with him and quite enjoyed it. I became lax in my church attendance because of the shame he made me feel for “believing such bullshit.” He would threaten to break up with me if I did not renounce my faith and then blame our failing relationship on my unwillingness to do so.
He would always make big apologies later, calling himself an idiot, a fool, an asshole. He would tell me how sorry he was and how he only did what he did because he loved me so much that he couldn’t stand the thought of me being “an indoctrinated wuss.” My religion was always the justifiable excuse for his mania. We broke up and got back together more times than I can count. Thankfully, I got a new job, and moved to a new city too far away for him to visit me, and never got back together afterwards. But the messages kept coming, even after I blocked him on social media outlets. He would send me texts and emails about how I chose Mormonism over us.
I was terrified when I realized that I knew Sam’s new girlfriend. I recognized her when I accepted my ex’s friend request a few days ago and saw recently posted photos of them together and a relationship status that made my stomach lurch. I met her once and sat by her at church. We got along so well that we exchanged phone numbers. Unfortunately, as I stated before, my church attendance declined when I began dating Sam, so I did not see her again, and I doubt she remembers me. Her number is still in my phone. I worry that I should call her or text her, but I never get up the confidence to do it. Is it my responsibility to say something to her? What if he gets angry and does something to me or her?
I hope that Sam has grown and matured and learned from his mistakes. I find this unlikely, though, as his most recent anti-Mormon diatribe was sent to me on Wednesday, in the wake of the news about the pending Kate Kelly and John P. Dehlin church discipline hearings. I just hope his new girlfriend stays safe. I want to say something, but I don’t know if it is my place, and I assume she wouldn’t believe me anyway. I wouldn’t have believed someone if they told me the same thing when Sam and I started dating. I was too happy, and he seemed too wonderful.
Immediately after I moved away and the relationship finally ended, I felt relief. I didn’t have to worry about him trying to get back together with me. I didn’t have to worry about seeing him around town or coming to visit me unexpectedly. I just had to block his messages. A few months after the breakup, I began learning more about rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, and abusive relationships from friends and in the Mormon Feminist community. Something didn’t add up. If I fit the description of a victim (based on events that happened between Sam and I), shouldn’t I be more distraught? Wouldn’t I have known sooner? I have a few things to say to this. First of all, not all stories of sexual assault are equally traumatic. The trauma of the events were instant and recognizable for me, but knowing that they fit the classification of abuse took me a bit longer, especially because Sam and I already had an established relationship. It’s quite common for victims to want to deny what’s happening and try to normalize it. Nobody wants to be a victim. Nobody wants to be a statistic. Secondly, delayed reporting and non-reporting in cases of domestic violence is actually extremely normal behavior for victims. The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape has an excellent blog post explaining responses that are typical of victims. Today, I’m happy. I am on my way to beginning a grad program at my dream school, I have friends who are supportive of me, and I feel empowered to be free of the daily confusion, pain, and uncertainty of my relationship with Sam.
I know it can be scary and dangerous to leave an abusive relationship, but what if the cost of staying is even worse? If your significant other is disrespectful of your religion, race, economic background, or identity or beliefs of any kind, let them know that it is not okay for them to put you down in that way. If they do it a second time, they are signaling to you that they do not respect you. It is not your job to educate or improve them. You owe them nothing. If you can do so safely, leave. If it’s not safe for you to leave, talk to a counselor at a domestic violence shelter. They have great resources that might help you come up with a safe exit strategy. If someone performs a sexual act on you without your permission, it is sexual assault, even if it’s your partner or spouse. You did not ask for it. If you are sexually assaulted, get out if at all possible. Let a close friend know. Do not contact your abuser if you can safely avoid them. Know that you are whole even when you feel wounded. You are not alone. If you choose to report your abuser, good. If you decide that it is best not to, good. It is your decision, and you will make it based on what is best for you.
Lastly, we must all find the courage to share our stories. As Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” Survivors of abuse need to have their stories heard. It rips apart the lie that abuse is not as prevalent in our communities as we are told. Storytelling is a pathway to healing that lets other survivors know they are not alone.
*Name has been changed
1. resources for restraining orders
2. resources for reporting rape:
3. rape myths and facts
4. Types, signs, causes, and effects of domestic abuse