On July 21, I had the honor of speaking at SlutWalk Denver (an annual march started last year to protest the widely held belief that a woman’s appearance invites rape). When the rally was over, a young Black man who looked about in his early 20s approached me to say he was really struck by what I had to say. As we conversed, he was moved to share his story of being molested by an older woman as a child.
He said that as an adult, he often lashes out at women for seemingly no reason. He told me how he’s lived with intense, overwhelming anger since his molestation. He expressed the desire to be a better man and master his anger. He communicated that he was hurt and in pain. And he stated his confusion over even naming it “molestation,” because his body was stimulated and got physically excited every single time.
This young man now has two young boys that he parents alone. He wants to show them a positive example of manhood, he said, not the angry Black male model he was fed growing up. He looked at me with eyes filled with sorrow, trepidation, defeat, deep hurt. And absolute trust. Because he said he’d never spoken about his abuse to anyone before, and expressed how much of a weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
I thanked him for trusting me with his story, and reassured him that the abuse wasn’t his fault. He’s not the only man to have survived this experience, I reminded him. I encouraged him to continue healing and warned him that it would be hard. Going back to confront your demons is in no way easy. I sent him on his way with the number to RAAP (the Rape Assistance and Awareness Program, a Denver-based organization that assists survivors of sexual assault), as well as other resources. And I commended him on his courage.
Speaking with this young man called me back to the first time a Black man—my lover—opened his spirit and revealed his sexual trauma to me. I’ll never forget how fragile he was in the moment; how much it mattered to him that I believe his story; how much he needed to speak the truth to stop it from eating at his insides; how much he needed my acceptance after baring his inner self.
It’s sad knowing that men who are survivors of sexual assault, molestations, incest or rape have hardly any safe spaces to speak out about it without their manhood being called into question. The flip side of rape culture is the marginalization of the men who have been assaulted—their voicelessness, anger, confusion and mental illness—as well as a host of other issues they’re left with.
As a woman who is also a survivor of several sexual assaults, hearing these men speak their experience reminds me of the importance of my role in support of men who confront this issue. I’m reminded that hurt people often times hurt other people. The realization even pushes me to see my violators as human and acknowledge the deep pain that must’ve thrived in their psyches long before I showed up on their radar. It moved to me write this piece, to speak out as a woman on this issue and stand in solidarity with my brothers who are also survivors.
To all the men who’ve shared stories with me, I thank and honor you. To the men who live in silence with this secret, I say from experience that freedom and happiness live in your healing. If you’re a man who’s experienced sexual assault, rape or molestation, know that you are not alone, and that there are both women and men who support your healing, honor your manhood and know that it’s not your fault. Please seek out safe spaces and speak out. Your sanity, your life, your story and the safety of your future female partners are all worth your truth being set free.
If you or a loved one have been a victim of molestation and you need someone to talk to, visit the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network's website for help.