how a man shamed me for using the whisper network

CW sexual assault

In college, I lived in the Foreign Language House, a special wing of a dormitory dedicated to students who wanted to practice a foreign language every chance they got. It was a close-knit group, and activities like naked Star Trek — which, as a survivor of sexual abuse, I had way too much body shame to participate in — were the norm.

One of the guys there gave massages. He was a good friend, and I trusted him, so when he offered, I said yes.

I don’t remember a lot about before & after, but I remember his hands slipping around my ribcage and touching my breasts. I remember his fingers sliding under my bra band and into the waist of my pants. I remember freezing. I remember being afraid to tell him to stop because he was a friend, and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

His feelings.

Never mind it triggered memories of my brother’s grooming,  hands slipping up the front of my shirt “on accident” while wrestling. Never mind I felt violated and used. I thought he was a friend. It was normal in Foreign Language House for people to touch each other — hugs, hand-holding, cuddling under blankets — and I had no reason to think a “massage” meant “sex.”

I want to say I pushed his hands away, but I don’t remember.

I want to say I told him to stop, but I don’t remember.

But I remember the aftermath. The aftermath was the worst part.

A woman moved into my dorm, and I warned her about the massages. I told her to watch out because you think it’s just a massage, but then he gropes you. “His hands start sliding under your bra,” I said. “If he offers, don’t do it.”

He had visited the room a few minutes before to introduce himself. I saw how he was looking at her, and I didn’t want it to happen to her, too.

I didn’t know I was participating in the whisper network, in which women warn each other about men who violate them.

And I didn’t know he was lingering outside the room, listening through a vent.

Later, he confronted me. “Sounds carry through those vents,” he said. “I heard you.”

He accused me of violating him. Hurting his feelings.

His feelings.

I wanted to ask how come he lingered outside that room. Was he worried I might warn her? Did he know he had done something wrong? I was too flustered with shame, too afraid of hurting his feelings again.

His feelings.

It was never the same after that. Friends stopped saving me seats in the cafeteria. I had hurt their friend’s feelings. He was such a nice guy. How could I even think he would grope me? 

Nobody asked about my feelings.

Nobody asked if I was OK or why it bothered me or what happened.

Nobody.

It was just like my family all over again: shhhhhh, keep things our little secret or else.

And it worked. The shaming worked. I started to think I had done something wrong.

Last night, I learned my husband (then an acquaintance) was on the other side of all this. He had to listen to this guy complain and whine about his hurt feelings.

“I explained to him over and over why he was wrong,” my husband said. “He wasn’t having it. To him, you were getting in his way, spoiling his chances to pursue other women.”

His way.

I left the dorm not too long after. He stayed. He got me out of his way.