CW: This essay discusses sexual assault. If you or someone you know has been assaulted, find help and the resources you need by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673, or visit www.RAINN.org.
By Arturo the Cuban
I am a man who is the survivor of sexual assault perpetrated by a man when I was a child.
Someone who was a member of our family so to speak. He was my mother’s common-law husband for ten years. He was the reason I disappeared from home around the age of 11. He was the reason I became a street kid until the age of 16.
I never spoke out. Not as a child anyway. There was the fear of embarrassment that comes from being raised in a tight-knit Hispanic family. I would later find out that I wasn’t his only victim. He also tried to perpetrate the same acts on my cousin who was much older. My cousin beat his ass. He told everyone. My mom’s so-called marriage was done and we moved a couple cities over.
It was then that I came out and spoke to some close friends at the time. We were a tight-knit community of hardcore kids who spent most of our time between the Lower-East Side of Manhattan, The World Trade Center, and Washington Square Park in New York City. We took care of each other in order to survive in a city that was not only harsh, but violent at the time.
I would go home every few days or so. Make an appearance. Let my brothers and my mom know I was alive. It was on one of those trips home that one of my closest friends came with me and beat the living shit out of the perpetrator. Did it stop him from ever doing it again?
I would find out later that it did not.
It turns out that the only thing that could stop a monster like this was death. He is dead. Not because his life was cut short, but because several massive strokes and heart attacks would inevitably take his life. He died after living more than ten years with a bag of shit attached to him, pissing himself. He died after spending decades moving all over the country for what I assumed was to avoid detection. Out of fear of being ratted out. I know this because my youngest brother shunned our biological father and considered this sick fuck his dad.
He called him Pop.
God I hated that shit. But as a kid I didn’t want to destroy the image in my younger brother’s head of what a father is. He treated my brother well. As far as I could tell anyway. I remember asking both of my brothers, in a roundabout way if they shared similar experiences. I didn’t go into detail as they laughed it off. As I suspected, I was alone. At least for awhile.
My father wasn’t around much. So I felt that for my brother to have a father figure was a good thing despite the evil only I knew lurked within this man.
The three women he was with after my mother, spoke of him raping them. His daughter too. For the first time in my life I felt a kinship with some of his other victims. I spoke to them and they encouraged me to speak out. But I didn’t. At the time I felt like maybe they were using me to get back at him. Revenge. I was just a teenager at the time. A very confused one at that.
If you’ve ever seen the movie “Kids” you’ll know what I’m talking about. Those kids in the movie didn’t just represent my life. They were a part of it. Some of them were my friends. I wouldn’t get involved in drugs or alcohol until later in life. At the time I was a straight-edge kid. No drinking. No drugs. No cigarettes. None of that. Well, except some weed. I’ll admit I sucked at being a straight-edge. But we all shared so many commonalities when it comes to sexual assault.
It was then that I tried to speak out. Nobody in my family heard me. I was just some street kid who was perceived as some junkie bum who slept on park benches. It was a tactic that was used to ruin my credibility. I was confused they said. Looking for attention they said. Looking for some kind of out for my bad decisions. All of us were treated the same way. It was a time when no matter what a child, male or female, would say, the word of the perpetrator would be taken over that of the victim.
Because of that I lived my life with resentment towards my mother, my brothers, and everyone else who ignored me. At the same time I was to preoccupied with being a part of a community of street kids that took care of each other. We had older brethren, as we called them, that helped look after us. They showed us how to eat, bathe, survive. Occupying empty warehouse space. Squatting. Buildings that were abandoned as the city skirted bankruptcy.
No one ever came to check on these places. We lived in abandoned factories occupying an entire floor. For as bad as it was, we had each other. We made the best of it and had some really great times. Most of those friends are gone now. Dead. Drug overdoses, suicide, murdered. All a result of struggling to cope as they all got older.
I survived with a sense of guilt. I wasn’t there. Forced to move away and live with my biological father. A move that would save my life. The guilt overcame me not because I felt that I was to blame. But because the city was in recovery mode and the sanctity and security that came with being a street kid was quickly disappearing. My street family was dying and I was nowhere to be found. A ghost thousands of miles away. No contact. No connection. None of it.
I miss them. I always will.
We were all survivors who no one gave any credibility to. But when I look around I still see some of us in the real world. Some are quite successful. An actress. The front-man of a world renowned Hardcore band. An author. And me. A still struggling, but not starving, artist.
I’ve had my share of successes too. From a semi-popular underground band, to a studio musician for many popular artists, to a government contractor. If you know my story, all that came crashing down four years ago after a mild stroke.
I’m a survivor.
But today I struggle As millions of other people are. Listening to the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and how all these men treated her, talked down to her, and dragged her name through the mud undoubtedly brought out some very hardcore feelings for many women (and men) up to the surface. Everything that has happened surrounding Dr. Ford is emblematic of the suffering all sexual assault victims struggle with. My wife included.
I’ve never written about what happened to me and like Dr. Ford I’ve never really talked about it to anyone but my wife and my former therapist. I didn’t do so because I never felt like I had the support of anyone other than my wife.
When Terry Crews came out about the assault against him, I almost had the courage to do this but I just couldn’t. Instead I reached to him on Twitter and told him that I believed him and that I got him. I did so without ever revealing what happened to me. He responded with gratitude and thanks. I didn’t share my story out of fear. I saw what so many other men were doing and saying to him. I was disgusted. I wished I had that strength.
Today is different. After hearing Dr. Ford’s testimony and seeing how people were treating her online I became angry. Some of my closest friends and even family spent more time victim shaming her than listening to her. I found myself in a deep debate defending a girl I barely know.
She is the daughter of someone I once considered a friend. She joined in the conversation about victim shaming and sharing her story only to be shamed and treated like complete shit for not speaking out sooner. One of the people shaming her was mutual friends with the perpetrators of her assault. Yet he rose to their defense (while claiming he “never heard” of anything happening to her) by saying the same shit over and over again.
“You should have come out sooner!”
“You’re not a victim until you file a police report!”
“Waiting 30 years ruins your credibility!”
As I fought tooth and nail defending her she left the conversation. I imagine it was too much to bear. She kept talking to me via text and I continued to support her in every possible way I can.
I just kept getting angry and went on the attack. I lost my composure. Started hurling insults and fighting back against what I kept referring to as rapist apologists. I called them every derogatory name under the sun. I was in a fit of rage. I probably shouldn’t have gone that far, but I did and I don’t care.
Because I’m a motherfucking survivor.
Then I told her. The girl I was defending. I told her I was sexually assaulted too. By the time all that was over. She was thankful. Grateful. I felt good about what I did. At least for a little while
Then it all started to sink in. The words of Dr. Ford made my anxiety explode. Crippling depression also started to set in. I had the shakes all night as I tried to hang out with the wife and kids binge watching Trailer Park Boys. I needed to laugh. I just couldn’t. I mostly faked it and tried to enjoy our family time. After all that’s what kept me going until now. Living for the moment and trying to repress those horrible memories.
A day later, here I am. Shaking from the nightmares of what happened to me. Shortness of breath as I write this to finally tell my story. I need to. I have to let it out. I cannot bear witness to this any longer by myself. I need support. I need to give support. We all do. We need to be here for each other. Encouraging others to speak up. I have no family support aside from my wife.
The last time I brought this up to my mother, she asked that I not mention it to my brother for fear of causing a rift in my broken ass family. It was never mentioned again. Terry Crews’ story is what gave me the courage to tell my mom. But her response led to me to feel so much shame that I shut up about it. AGAIN She wants to protect my brother and his image of the perpetrator.
But what about me?
The man is dead. Never brought to justice. Fuck him. If my brother doesn’t want to acknowledge what happened to me at the hands of the monster he holds so dear, then fuck him too. After 33 years since the last time I was assaulted, it’s my fucking turn to speak my truth. I will hide it no more. I will not be silent to the appeasement of anyone else.
Mom, if you’re reading this, I love you. But I just can’t anymore. I can’t. I’m doing this for me, for my friends, for my wife, and every other woman and man out there that struggles with these thoughts. These horrifying memories. I’m doing this so I can move forward with MY life and so that I don’t live under a cloud of shame anymore for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. I’m sorry mom, but fuck that shit. It’s nothing against you, but we are at the dawn of new age. I love you with all my heart. But you need to understand that I AM A SURVIVOR OF SEXUAL ASSAULT.
I’m taking my life back from him.
The dead man.
May he rot in hell.
Arturo is a front-line anti-racism activist, essayist, and upcoming author; advocating for equality, justice, and accountability. He is a married father of three young men and a stroke survivor. He is currently working on a series of books focusing on social issues and racism in America. Arturo is also a freelance journalist.
Jen’s book ON BEING HUMAN is available for pre-order here.