You are a victim of domestic violence and sexual assault and battery—Shari Karney, Esq.
I don’t think I can call myself a sexual assault victim. I willingly participated.
“My therapist sees it differently.”
Emma (her name has been changed for this story) lives in Washington State and is in the fashion industry. She’s 26 years old.
“I fell madly in love with Joshua in high school when I was 15 and he was 17,” said Emma. “He was my first love my perfect love and we both assumed someday we would get married. I was a virgin, and young for my age. Petite in size, sheltered by my traditional Indian family, I grew up in a bubble of love and safety.”
Joshua (his name has been changed for this story) was fun, charming, affection, smart. This was the kind of love I’d read about in romance novels and saw in Rom-Com’s. Always one step ahead of me, he seemed to know my every need and mood, better than I knew myself. I felt safe, loved, and special with him.
He’d watch chick flicks with me and I’d watch Shark Week with him. We cuddled while watching TV, made jokes, ate, talked. He told me how much he loved me, needed me, how special I was. That he could never be without me. I trusted him. He wept when I left for a five-day school trip to New York for Fashion Week.
We lived in a secret world, just the two of us. He told me over and over, like a mantra, that whatever goes on between us, must stay between us or the magic would be broken. Other people would not understand our kind of love. He’d make fun of my friends at school, giving them nicknames like “Asian arm candy”, “chicken legs”, “nerd-o”.
Over and over, he told me “Your family doesn’t understand you like I do.” “They are so old-fashioned.” “They live in the world of the ordinary, while we live in the world of the extraordinary.” He called my strong, opinionated grandmother, “feisty” “bossy” “bolshy”, my sisters, “bitchy”, my brother a “nosey nuisance” and a brat. When it was time for either of us to go home, it was if a part of me was being shredded and pulled away. My skin was incomplete without him and his touch. Even when I wasn’t physically with him, he was a constant in my head. Two halves of a whole, joined at the hip.
Joshua would climb the shrubbery outside to sneak into my 2nd floor bedroom and leave a poem or a fashion magazine he had snatched at the dentist’s office. At school, he’d surprise me at my locker with treats, treasures, candy. A flower he thought would be the perfect palate for the prom dress fashion line I was working on. He was a confident dancer, smooth and elegant while the other boys at school seemed awkward and speechless.
We had secret spots, trails, trees, coffee houses, we claimed as our own. The tree we first kissed under; the initials carved into the park bench.
We decided to hold off having sex until I was 18. But we had constant sexual contact, open mouth kissing, his arm or hand always touching me, his body close to mine. He touched my face, my hair, told me no one would love me the way he did.
Going slow, handing me a smuggled can of beer or strawberry lemonade laced with Vodka from his backpack, to help me relax before introducing me step-by-step to the next level of sexual intimacy. First, long kissing, stroking, then more insistent touching, getting more intense as time went on. His hand would drift to my breast, my butt. On other occasions, the kiss would lead to him pulling my hair so I was off balance, trusting him not to drop me while he kissed and held me. He moved my hand onto his penis, and didn’t stop moving my hand until he was satisfied.
He would rub me between the legs and then masturbate himself in front of me. Each sexual encounter went a bit further from the last. I didn’t feel like I could say no. I didn’t even think it was my choice. I wanted to be able to do something for him for all that he was doing for me. It was subtle bartering. He was patient, gentle coaxing, kind. I was so in love with him.
After high school, I pursued the fashion industry with gusto, while he had taught himself computer coding and started an entry-level tech job in Seattle. I moved out of my parent’s home, and we moved in together.
We had intercourse for the first time when I was drunk and 20 years old. It was painful, he, impatient.
When my family called, Joshua would grab my cell phone and politely chime, “She’s in the shower” or “She’s still at work” or “Is drawing right now and can’t be disturbed.” Our life together got narrower and narrower, until it was just the two of us. He was never rude to my family; he just cut them out of my life, little by little. So too, with my closest girlfriends. They thought I was one of those girls, who found a boyfriend and dropped them. My friend Janine, one time, said Joshua gave her the creeps. I made the mistake of telling him. I thought he’d laugh. He texted her from my phone saying I never wanted to see her again and to leave me alone. I never saw the text and couldn’t figure out why Janine had abandoned our friendship. Joshua told me that Janine was “just jealous of us” and wrote her off as a loser.
After our second year together, I would wake up from a deep sleep with him on top of me, inside of me. He began demanding sex 4-6 times a day. When I was too tired, or sore, he’d mock me, insist I take a hit of his joint, and he’d have sex with me anyway. Even if I was laying lifeless, my eyes staring up at the corner of the ceiling, out of my body he ‘d be thrusting away at me. If he bought dinner for us, he’d demand that I give him sex in return or I couldn’t eat.
Every occasional kind action or word, required sexual favors in return. If my family came over to visit, I would be his sexual prisoner for days later. He was insatiable and inescapable. I thought this was normal. I had nothing to compare it to. This must be love. He must love me so much that he has to have me multiple times a day. Love meant ownership. I drank more and more in order to have sex with him.
I was finally able to leave him because I started AA meetings for alcohol addiction. I made a commitment in AA to remain celibate for a year.
It’s been 3 years since I left Joshua. My career and life are doing well. I’m taking care of myself, giving back to the community, and approaching wellness holistically. But I still cannot enter the dating world. All I’ve experienced and known about love, intimacy, sex, has been from Joshua. I can’t trust anyone. The idea of having sex with someone brings back painful memories. In order to have sex with someone, I need to be completely sober. Drinking for me is now associated with feeling out-of-control.
I still can’t say I am a sexual assault victim/survivor.
Maybe it could have been my fault, maybe I led him on, maybe this is what all couples do, maybe this is normal behavior, maybe I’m blowing it out of proportion, and maybe this is what love is.
I felt responsible.
Author: This leads to the question that I have been asked hundreds of times over the past year. What is sexual assault? What is the legal definition of sexual assault? How do I know if I’m a victim of sexual assault particularly if it happens in an intimate partnership, relationship, marriage, with someone I know and trust, within my family, at college, in church?
“Being sexually abused at such an early age was the scar on my soul. But I feel like it ultimately made me into the person I am today. I understand the journey of life. I had to go through what I went through to be here. But now it’s time to take action to save the next generation of women and children from what we went the
Shari Karney is a survivor’s attorney. She represents victims of child sexual abuse by sexual predators such as a member of the clergy, a teacher, celebrity, sports coach, wealthy businessman or any other powerful person, Karney Law is here for you.