Warning: This op-ed contains graphic content that could trigger survivors and other readers
It takes a village to raise a child.
I grew up in what I thought to be that village on St. Croix; where everyone knows everyone in some strange or small connection. A village where your neighbor could correct you like a parent for stepping out of bounds. Where your teachers and parents went to school together so your grades came home before you did. I grew up in a village so tight knit that my first name was not my name for much of my life. I was “so & so’s” daughter, niece, grandchild. I grew up in a village where police officers threatened to tell my mother about my first speeding ticket. I grew up in a village that raised me.
I grew up in a village that raped me.
I do not remember how old I was when a boy first touched me inappropriately. I do remember that all I wanted was to play with my dolls while he tried and tried to convince me that it was normal for boys and girls to practice like “mommies and daddies.” I thought it strange that a boy in junior high school wanted to play with a little girl. I didn’t understand why he wanted to “see if I had hair down there.” I thought it strange that mommies and daddies needed to take their clothes off all the time. He was my best friend’s brother. What if I cried or made a scene? Would my best friend stop being my best friend? I told their mother that I wanted to go home earlier than scheduled. It was the middle of the night, and I was crying. She asked me why, and I said that I didn’t want to play with the boys anymore. She scolded me. Little girls aren’t supposed to play with bigger boys. I was just scared of sleeping away from home. She said nothing to her son.
Older boys repeated similar actions with me throughout childhood. Waiting until the “watchful” eyes of the adults shifted just for a moment. Disguising assault and rape as “playing” and “experimenting.” I began to believe that I was doing something wrong. I was causing this. If cousins and neighbors kept feeling the need to violate me – there was something about me that was making it happen. By the third or fourth time, I decided I would never tell anyone. Not my sisters, or my parents. They would blame me the way my attacker’s mother had. Little girls aren’t supposed to play with bigger boys.
I remember sitting at family gatherings feeling disgusted about myself while family members laughed and joked about the size of my behind. I was a child – and grown men and women were sitting at parties pointing out my developing body to each other. One joked that if my mother didn’t make sure to get my oversized clothes I would grow up to be fast. I wondered whether or not this had to do with why boys wanted to play with me so much. Why they never listened when I said I did not want to do the things they were forcing me to do.
By the time I entered high school I’d accepted that coercion was normal. No matter how many times I said no, I do not want this…I do not want you to touch me: men and boys did not care. They just had to keep trying, pleading, touching, cornering girls. We would get tired. We would give up. We would say nothing. It did not matter if they were classmates, men on the street, school monitors, or teachers. I can point to multiple occasions where I was the last student to leave a class, only to have a male teacher ask me if I was a virgin or if I had a boyfriend. Male teachers who seemed to take it out on me when a boy walked me to class or when I laughed too much with a male classmate.
By my junior year in high school I befriended girls who had already begun having sex. I remember lunch table conversations about how wonderful they thought their experiences were. I saw nothing wonderful about sex. It was painful. It was usually at the hands of someone who had been ignoring my tears and refusals for over a decade. There was nothing amazing about sex. There was nothing amazing about men. After months of listening I became curious. They didn’t seem afraid of sex. The concept of consent was new to me: this idea that you could tell someone whether or not you wanted something and they would listen. I didn’t know if I would feel shame the day I lost my “virginity” or confusion: could I consider myself a virgin after all? Untouched?
Surprisingly, I felt power the day I did. I had consented to sex with someone my own age for the first time in my life. I knew that anyone else would see a high school aged girl having sex as something bad, it would make me “fast.” I didn’t care. This was the first time I had said yes.
My friends and I did not always date boys our own age. It was common to hear girls at school talk about their older men; normal to see these men line up outside of our high school and pick them up when the dismissal bell rang. They’d buy these girls food, clothes, shoes. They took them to their homes. Our school monitors knew these men. They saw them drive on to school property. They saw them walk into our campus to hang with their girlfriends.
They called the girls fast and slandered them every morning when we walked through the gates.
Eventually I became one of those “fast” girls. I began “dating” a twenty-five year old man while a junior in high school. He was aware of my age from the first day. He’d text me all day while I was at school. We would meet up to talk at night down the street from my house while my family was asleep. On more than one occasion we left in his car to have sex at his home. I would worry that my mother would discover what I was doing. Or that the police would find out about him and he’d be arrested. One day we went out to eat during school hours: me in uniform. A VIPD officer came up to him and they greeted each other with a “daps.” I was terrified and knew this was the moment it would all end. The officer never looked at me. He greeted his friend and walked away.
Whenever I would tell him I was scared he would tell me that I was almost a grown woman – I could do what I want. If she kicked me out I could come stay with him. He convinced me that her not already knowing what I was up to was negligence. I began to believe that my mother did not care about me. My relationship with my family suffered during that time.
Even when it ended, I was surrounded by older men who were dating or seeing my friends. Many of them never saw anything wrong with their relationships. Members of the community, teachers, and parents saw these couples often while we were out. They held conversations with us. No one seemed to be bothered. We knew that it was wrong, and that if one person decided that this was a problem that it would be reported. No one seemed to see this as a problem. I was close with one of these men, a friend’s boyfriend. He was like an older brother to me. Even when she wasn’t around, we all hung out together. We drank. We went to the beach. One day I met up with him to hang out after leaving my boyfriend’s house. That was the day he cornered me, stuck his fingers in me and said he wanted to see how wet my boyfriend had made me.
If I told anyone, my friend would get in trouble for dating an older man.
If I told anyone, they would blame me for being fast.
If I told anyone, they would think I wanted it to happen.
It takes a village to raise a child.
A village did raise me. They encouraged me to do well in school. They told me how they knew my mother. They scolded me for any wrongdoing. They pointed out parts of my body at family gatherings. They scolded me for playing with the boys who were raping me. They called me fast for falling for the predatory behavior of grown men. Every time a news article or story came out about another girl being raped or a man being arrested for having sex with a minor: my village showed themselves. “These girls too fast!” or “They does be having sex too early!” My village spoke loudly. So loudly that they encouraged my silence.
It’s taken years of therapy and treatment to begin unraveling and understanding what I experienced throughout my childhood and teenage years. Mental trauma from these experiences actually prevented me from even acknowledging that I’d been raped until I was a young adult. My last rape affected my ability to build intimate relationships with men. I needed professional treatment to stop blaming myself for things other people had done to me. I had to learn how to understand trauma and how that can prevent a victim from doing something as simple as saying “no” or physically responding when an attack occurs. I am still in therapy. I am still processing. I am still learning.
I am just one of many women, girls, boys
Submitted February 27th, 2019: This was an anonymous op-ed submitted by a St. Croix native living abroad. Anonymous is a woman who grew up in St. Croix, her identity is known by Amaziah George, the founder of State of the Territory News and Tarik McMillan M.S.Ed. NCC, a therapist based in St. Croix.