Some Teen Girls Never Tell

You may have noticed that teen girls are not contributing their #MeToo stories nearly as much as older women are. That’s because they’re afraid.

It’s because we live in a culture that does not respect girls and women, a culture where men that decide the laws that govern our bodies—and, according to the National Sexual Resource Center, perpetrate 96 percent of sexual assaults.

The bulk of the barrage of #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport stories we’ve been seeing have come from women in their thirties, forties, fifties, sixties—many of whom are disclosing sexual assaults that happened decades ago. Their stories provide clear proof of the reasons that survivors still don’t feel they have a voice for what happens to them, even years after they are sexually abused.

That doesn’t mean they don’t carry enormous scars.

Teen girls are sexually assaulted, abused, harassed and intimidated at staggering rates. I’ve heard from thousands of women who have held their secrets for years in my line of work.
Adolescent survivors of sexual abuse often feel tremendous guilt and shame: They feel it was somehow their fault, and they begin to distrust their feelings. Although they intuitively know they are strong, our misogynist culture exerts such a force over everything that they retreat—they go inward, become afraid, push down the feelings and try to forget.

Teen girls who report face the same kinds of questions and comments as women like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, who have come forward about being sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when they were in high school and college. They’re asked what they were wearing and why they brought it on themselves and why they drank and why they flirt. They’re told that boys will be boys and that they’re making too big a deal out of it and that it was harmless.

The list of girl-blaming and girl-shaming assumptions goes on and on. Teen girls are caught in a culture that blames survivors. They are told that they brought their assaults on themselves, or that they deserved them. It should not need to be said in 2018, but sexual abuse, assault and misconduct are never the fault of the survivor. If you’ve been sexually assaulted, know this. It was not your fault.

Blasey Ford is a woman whose conscience will not allow her to keep still. Decades later, she still remembers what she wore, how she felt, where she was—if not the precise address, at least the room, the boys, the surroundings. She remembers feeling like she could have died. She remembers Kavanaugh’s hand over her mouth. The trauma stayed with her enough to bring her into therapy, to confide it to her husband, to tell her friends—to be willing to come forward and tell us all so that she might help prevent a sexual predator from ending up with a lifetime appointment to our highest Court, presiding over cases that will affect the lives of women and girls for years to come.

I have spent more than three decades as a psychologist working with adolescent girls of every race, class and circumstance who have survived sexual abuse and assault. I help them to find their voices so they do not let the abuse dig deep into their psyches. I have received many phone calls and emails in the past week from teen girls and women who are triggered by Blasey Ford’s retelling of that night in high school. They tell me they are scared for her. They remember their high school and college almost-rapes.

Many women and girls haven’t spoken up yet, even in the midst of the #MeToo movement—but if we’re honest, nearly every single woman has experienced sexual harassment, assault or abuse. Every day in my practice, I bear witness to their ongoing traumas: the persistent physical discomfort, the continuing fear of enclosed spaces, the newfound fear of intimacy, the disruptive nightmares and migraine headaches.

We can help teen girls and young women facing trauma by showing them support, and by letting them know that they do not have to hold on to shame, self doubt and self-blame for decades.

We do that when we stand with survivors.We do that when we stand with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez and the women like them carrying trauma. We do that when we let them know that we believe them.

Survivors of sexual trauma need our voices now. Think of your daughters, your nieces, your neighbors. Think of yourself and speak out until your lungs ache. Say it once or twice or over and over again: We believe you, Christine. We believe you, Deborah. We respect you, we thank you, we honor you. Thank you for bringing more light and hope to the millions of girls and women who have been hiding in the darkness for far too long.

Dr. Patti Feuereisen is the author of Invisible Girls: The Truth About Sexual Abuse, which will be re-released in December 2018. She is also the founder and director of Girlthrive Inc., a non-profit awarding teen girls and young women with thriverships, and a private practice psychologist in New York.

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Comments

  1. I was date-raped my senior year in college. He was a graduate film student and it was our first and only date. I told no one. I was angry at the guy but also at myself. I was so confused by a flood of conflicting feelings that I just wanted to forget it as soon as possible. I even took an F for the class we had met in rather than sit in a room with him and take my final exam. In 1977, there was no real language for this. We didn’t know the term ‘date rape’. I felt so humiliated I couldn’t even share this with my mom or my best friend. I felt it was half my fault and that his action was a condemnation of my worth. I felt that anyone who knew about it would think less of me. So I fully underst Dr Ford’s choice to remain silent. It actually lends her story more credibility from my life experience.

    • I am so sorry to hear this Connie, but glad that you are able to speak about it now. Adding your voice to this story brings more support to Dr. Ford. I hope you are not only triggered by this awful hearing and the extraordinary bravery of Dr. Ford but that you have some healing as well.

  2. As I write this, I feel sick to my stomach. At first when this started to happen. The Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford trail. I thought it was a long time ago and he didn’t know what he was doing. Then I stopped in my tracks and said OMG! this is what happened to me when I was 16 years old. The memories are so clear and makes me shiver. I felt so ashamed of myself after it happened. I remember a lot of people at my high school didn’t believe me because he was so popular! As I see what is happening now. It pains me to the core and if this happened to me
    and Mrs. Ford how many other girls and women this has happened to. This is something that gives you nightmares, Takes your self esteems away. You want to put a bag over your head because you feel you could have stopped it. I am so sorry for everyone this has happened too. We must fight and be strong for each other! We are more powerful when we empower each other!

    • Yes Kimberly- that is how it happens- some memories are pushed down, but they are not forgotten. You now have uncovered a trauma that you tried to forget. But as you remember, you remember the boy, the place the feelings. And now you know that you are strong and helping others by sharing your story. Thank you

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