When I was twenty-one, I was sexually assaulted. Not once, but many times over the course of a month. I was trapped on a fishing boat in Alaska. Eventually, it was my assailant that brought me to shore in a tiny skiff to meet the plane home. I had never been more terrified of dying in my life. I thought he was going to throw me overboard. It took me several long layovers and three days to get home. Coming back from Alaska, I was sexually assaulted in a Seatac Airport stairwell. That was before cameras everywhere and TSA. By the time I arrived home, I was a mess. When my mom pulled the rubber boots off, my feet had begun to “jungle rot” from the three days of swampy dampness. Emotionally, I was vacant.
I started a lawsuit against the boat engineer that assaulted me but the case proved to be complicated, expensive, and the process exhausting. I didn’t go after the airport assailant because I couldn’t remember what he looked like. Victims of sexual assault often describe having an outer body experience during their victimization. I had one of those experiences at the airport. I left my body; I went somewhere else.
Then one restless night I had an epiphany that changed my life. The engineer had already taken a month of my life, and the court case was dragging it out even longer. That was it! I was done, I had had enough. That was all he was going to get. I wasn’t going to let my assailant have one more minute of my time. I dropped the case.
It was in that moment of clarity I reclaimed my life from victimization. First, I recognized that these assailants were broken, damaged people. Anyone that victimizes another is full of their own demons. Secondly, I stopped the clock on their hold on me. I wasn’t going to spend the rest of my life with their shit on my shoe. Shit happens. It happens to everyone. I am not unique or extraordinary. Everyday bad things happen to good people. Even then I had the foresight to know it wasn’t my fault. We live in a broken world brimming with jacked up people. I was making the conscious decision to pick myself up, brush my hands off and move on.
I am not saying it was easy. For a long time, I had trouble sleeping, and I had issues with trust (sometimes I still do). And I couldn’t have done it without a super supportive family and my faith. But all in all, I choose to deny my assailants any more access to my life. I refuse to give them power over my relationships, my sense of adventure, and my love of life.
I am decades past those incidents now. I look back with gratefulness for that epiphany. I’ve seen scores of lives destroyed by victimization. I have seen victims crushed and emotionally paralyzed from their unimaginable encounters. I’ve seen the damage done by assailants creep into relationships, marriages, and child-rearing. I’ve seen victims despair, spiraling into self-harm or suicide.
If you are a victim of a sexual assault, tell someone, get help, prosecute them if you can. I also challenge you to shut your assailant down. Do not allow them the power of taking up one more minute of your time. They’ve taken all they are going to get. Don’t lay waste to victimization. Deny that devil his due.
Even now, I apply the “stop the clock” method to toxic people. I refuse to let some bully ruin my day. If someone is ugly to me, I hold my hand up to stop them and say, “I’m sorry, that’s all the time I am going to give your bad behavior.” I turn on my heels and walk away. They are usually too stunned to retort. Every day I take my power back from people who don’t deserve it. I shut them down and shut the door. Years ago a boat engineer made me a victim for a month. He doesn’t get to have the rest of my life.