Us Project photographer Megan Bowers Vette: My personal story
So Us is an initiative to give a silent community of people a voice through the capturing of their precious stories. And to start this have been the first to have my portrait taken, as you can see in the last post. But what actually is my story ?
I was sexually abused by a serial kiddy fiddler from pretty much from as young as I remember. He was one of those men that "just really loved kids" and always had a supply of lollies and balloon animals. It was hard and very confusing for a young child to both love and hate your abuser at the same time. He was a very close friend of my family and we spent a lot of time at his farm. He had the most loveliest wife you could ever imagine in your life and as I grew older she became one of the main reasons why I kept my mouth shut, because the thought of how much it would hurt her to reveal the truth about her husband was overwhelming.
Looking back it was one of my biggest regrets that I didn't scream and yell, kick up a huge fuss. Part of the healing for me was forgiving myself for not making someone listen to me. I know that he went n to do this to several others, and for all I know there were several before me. I carried a lot of guilt that had I have spoken up, I could have saved others from having their lives ruined by the hands of this dirty old man.
The only thing I was grateful for was that he wasn't a rapist. That I didn't have to endure the pain of penetration or was forced to touch him as a 5 year old. He was more into fondling and kissing, and I remember he would always be calling me his "girlfriend". There would be times when he would call me that in front of his wife and my parents. "There's my girlfriend!" he would say, and they would all think it was such a cute and funny little nickname, not knowing the truth. When he did that I would feel sick to my stomach, and I think it reinforced to me that no one really cared about what was really going on.
The main thing I remember the most was the kissing. He has a pipe smoker and it would always make me gag to smell and taste his foul tobacco tongue down my throat. It was my first real experience with romantic kissing and its really unfortunate that I don't have any pleasure in kissing all together in my adult life. I used to feel jealous because obviously kissing is something humans enjoy very much with each other. I always cry during romantic, passionate kissing scenes in movies. People think i was a sucker for cheesy romance, but I am grieving for what I have lost, or have never been allowed. The pleasure of human connection.
I am not sure why I never spoke up. I cant remember wether he threatened me or convinced me somehow. When I was 7 I made an attempt to tell my mum and dad. I can remember telling them I was scared of him and didn't want to go to his place anymore. I remember them sitting on my bed looking at each other with confused faces. I thought I had gotten through to them what was happening, but I found myself alone with him again and again until he eventually left the country 7 years later.
It was there at 7 years old that I made the decision that my parents couldn't protect me, I was on my own, and from then on I would never tell them anything that effected me ever again. This led to a lot of anger, especially towards my mother. Im not sure if that is because she's the one who always seemed to want to go out there all the time or wether I just had the view that its the mothers job to protect the child. It was only last year that I came to the realisation that for whatever reason, she actually didn't know he was abusing me, that when i told her I told her in a 7 year old way and she actually didn't know. Forgiving my mother has been one of the biggest steps towards healing for me.
The funny thing looking back is that even though there was planned, systematic abuse carried out over years and years, theres one single incident when I was 9 years old that has affected my life much more profoundly. Growing up I had a particularly close bond with an older boy close to the family. He was always protective and generous to me, and I guess I felt that I knew him differently. There were a few times at gatherings where I would be teased by boys in the normal 9 year old way, and he would threaten to beat them up. I felt like we had a bond and I trusted him. He was like my big brother.
On this particular day there was a family gathering at my Aunties farm. She had a large forest area near the house where we would all play regularly, all of the cousins. But this time it was just me and him in the forest, and we were all the way on the other side of the forest, by the road. I was 9 and he was 14. Everything was just normal play as it normally was, until I turned around and he was taking off his pants. He lay on the ground and asked me to sit on him. Even though I had been kissed and felt up by my 70 year old "boyfriend" for several years now this was completely new to me. I had no idea what sex was and I trusted him. So I sat on him.
The feeling of what happened that day completely changed my life. It was several years before we had sex education in schools but I knew that whatever had just happened was completely wrong. But the worst part about it was that even though I didn't know what he had just done to me, I felt like my whole world had been shattered. I couldn't rely on him and I could no longer trust him. He wasn't my protector, he had become my abuser. And I was never going to be the same again. Everything we had was completely gone because of his 5 minutes of horniness.
One really resounding memory I have is something that happened later on that day. I think he could sense that my whole demeanour towards him had changed and that had obviously worried him. He took me aside and said sorry and handed me a $5 note that he had in his pocket. I remember staring at that note for a long time, feeling like my heart had just splattered all over the floor. This wasn't just money, it was an admission of guilt. It was conformation everything I felt about what had transpired earlier was true. He had violated me. He was guilty.
I don't even have memories of him after that. Im sure we saw each other, but in my mind that was the last moment I spent with him. I buried that incident as deep as I could. I was already very skilled at doing this and I covered it up so deep that I never thought about it again for years. Even when we went through sexual education i didn't identify with the fact that I had already had sex. I still pretty much consider my virginity as lost to my boyfriend at 18. But it seems when we bury these things they have a way of just exploding out of you at times when you least expect.
That moment came for me when I went to see a play some locals were putting on in my hometown. Pretty unremarkable play really, just your common rape culture enabling garbage that we have all become quite desensitised to. Jokes about abusing children and rape in that "family guy" kind of way. The type of thing thats shock for shock value that we are all supposed to laugh at and are "damaged" if we don't. Shit that has been adding to the rich tapestry of our society that shames victims and protects abusers.
Well we don't always know what triggers us but that night I got triggered. I went home and screamed and cried like a 2 year old. I remember falling asleep from pure exhaustion, face puffy and sore, eyes feeling like they had been raked through a sandpit. The next morning I just remember flying awake and sitting bolt upright, with the words just playing over and over in my head " oh my god. It was rape. I was raped".
You don't have to be a stranger who holds someone down and physically hurt them to rape them. Tricking a child into sex is rape. Taking advantage of innocence to get sex is rape. Taking advantage of someone in an altered state is rape. Tricking anyone into sex against their wishes is rape. If boys as young as 14 think this is acceptable way to interact with girls then we need compulsory education about consent in our schools.
And thats my story.
Image by Tracey Stevens