Diary of a Professional Teen is a weekly column of #deep thoughts by twentysomething teenager and youth expert Taylor Trudon. Every Thursday, she’ll talk about her feelings in relation to what it’s like to be a Young Person in 2016.
Warning: This article discusses potentially triggering topics, including sexual assault.
When my mother first told me about the time she was sexually assaulted, it was over the phone. I was in college. I can’t remember what we had been talking about or what had prompted her to tell me, but I remember the way I sharply sucked in my breath and the feeling of my heart stopping. I was astonished by the way that it had casually come up in conversation. Why was she telling me this now? Why hadn’t she told me before? I didn’t understand.
Earlier this year, I attended the United State of Women Summit in Washington, D.C., a daylong event where thousands of women congregate to discuss the most important issues we face. My mom came with me. She forwarded me her email confirmation for the summit the day she received it, with nothing but exclamation points. She planned out her outfit a week in advance; her suitcase was retrieved from the basement days before it needed to be.
We weren’t sure what to expect that day in D.C., other than knowing we would be in the same room as President Obama, who was a featured speaker. We knew we’d be hearing from other politicians and activists, including the First Lady. I was also excited for my mom to meet so many of my friends, mentors, and past colleagues, whose names she knew from hearing me talk and seeing them tagged in my Instagram photos. I knew the day was going to be special for her, for us — but not for the reason I thought.
When Vice President Joe Biden took the stage that morning, we didn’t know that he’d be talking about sexual assault until he launched into one of the most moving and impassioned speeches I have ever heard. He didn’t mince words speaking about the ways young women are hurt every day. I held my breath as he spoke about combating rape culture and when he said with authority, “We will have succeeded when not a single woman who is violated ever, ever asks herself the question, ‘What did I do?’”
Unable to take my eyes off of him, I reached out and put my hand on top of my mom’s, interlocking her fingers between mine. My eyes were filled with tears, and when I turned my head to look, I saw that hers were, too.
The Vice President was angry for my mom and for all the women like her. Here was the right kind of angry person, the kind my mom needed when she was 16 and thought it was her fault that she had been raped by an older student at the beach. She shouldn’t have been at that bonfire. She shouldn’t have been drinking. She knew she would never be believed. So she didn’t tell anyone.
I sometimes think about my mom shaking and crying in her car after she was attacked. How she had to go back to school — my school — on Monday morning, to walk the same halls as her rapist. She still doesn’t know much about him, except that he was a senior and had a twin brother. Maybe he’s on Facebook. Maybe he’s married now. Maybe he has a daughter who laughs when she tries to help him understand Snapchat, who he kisses goodnight, who he texts, “Be safe.”
This week, I’ve been thinking about my mom back home in Connecticut, listening to the words of Donald Trump on the news, listening to a man who is campaigning to be her president. A man who repeatedly insults women, who intentionally walked in on teenage girls undressing, who brags about sexually assaulting women.
My mom deserves better than that in her president. We all do.
“If I could do it all over again,” my mom told me recently, “I would’ve blown the whistle.”
My mom didn’t tell me about her assault sooner because she didn’t think it made any difference. She figured her story didn’t matter 35 years ago, so why would it matter now? She didn’t have a whistle to blow, figuratively or literally. But we have to be each other’s whistleblowers. With more women continuing to publicly speak up about Trump and their assaults, it’s imperative that we believe them, as Biden has written. It’s equally important to acknowledge that there are thousands of women who are unable to make their individual narratives visible — not because they don’t want to, but because by doing so, they will be putting themselves at risk. Their jobs, their families, and their lives could be endangered. We can’t forget about these women. We can recognize our privilege and use our power to shine a light on their stories, which often go untold. We can be allies to all survivors.
In his “United State of Women” speech, Biden said, “It’s not her fault. Period.” These are words I wish my mom could have heard all those years ago, and they are the words that every young woman needs to hear today. Thirty-five years later, my mom’s story is still valid — and so is every woman’s, whether she can speak out or not.
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, call the 24-hour National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (1-800-656-4673), or visit RAINN.
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