This is a guest essay by Mandi Koba.
I am every victim of sexual assault by a celebrity, a professional athlete, a politician, who has been silenced. I’ve been afraid to speak, come forward and tell my story. But no more. It's time.
I’ve been told that it’s my word against his, and who would people believe? I’ve been told that I was believed but the political and economic implications of filing charges didn’t make sense with the low likelihood of conviction without physical evidence.
I’ve been intoxicated by the celebrity, the attention, the specialness that draws people to the energy of the well known and celebrated. I benefited from my relationship with a high profile man, had my social status elevated, had my confidence sky-rocket. I’ve been conned by the squeaky clean reputation of a man held in high esteem by the public.
I’ve lain in silence, accepting the unwanted touch of a grown man I trusted, believed in, thought believed in me. An adult mentoring me, grooming me, promising me the world if I would just trust, trust in him. I learned to leave my body, not feel the sensation of touch, not notice the passage of time, my brain protecting me from the trauma.
I’ve walked through the door of the police headquarters, experienced the cleave of time into before and after. I’ve disclosed my abuse, every intimate detail of how I was touched, where, how. I’ve answered questions about penetration… if he had an erection, all to a male detective I’d just met.
I’ve been secretly tape recorded and had the tapes released to the media. I’ve been called a sick slut in the media, a gold digger, an unreliable victim. I’ve had attorneys infer that the man who abused me had much more attractive women, options, so the idea that he’d sexually abuse me, a minor, was ludicrous. I’ve had my perpetrator - that’s what he is, a perpetrator, not someone who just made a mistake - held up as an example, a leader, a trusted advisor.
I’ve been afraid, confused, drowned in self-doubt, questioned my self-worth because the currency of his celebrity trumped me, who I was, who I am as a person. I’ve sat with the disgust I felt about the abuse and my inability to see what was happening, the grooming, to prevent it - that I was so desperate for affirmation, for someone to notice me and shower me with attention and tell me that I was more than okay.
It’s still hard to not twist my disgust at the situation into disgust for myself. The shame that comes with sexual abuse swallows you and the swim to the surface is long, dark and tumultuous with only occasional glimpses of the light of the sun. These are wounds that do not ever heal completely.
There will be people, stories, situations, anniversaries that open that wound once again. Like the blood that rises to the surface when a scab is picked, so, too, do the memories, fresh once more.
I’ve recovered from anorexia, my attempt at taking up as little space as possible in a world I couldn't trust, an all too common repercussion of sexual trauma. I’ve stared at myself in the mirror, questioning my will to live, to continue to fight, with a pile of pills clutched in my hand. I’ve experienced flashbacks - the way he smelled - a particular song - a brand name - a toothy smile. I hold my breath, anxiety lowers over me like a black curtain and I am there, again, a loop of my abuse playing like a movie over and over in my mind.
I’ve learned to take account of my senses, slow my thoughts and remember that I am now safe, I am surviving. Surviving and not a survivor, because it doesn’t stop, the trauma never leaves the body. There is no end point. But surviving can turn into thriving, in time.
I’ve had to accept that I will never get the apology I want, deserve. The apology every victim, surviving, deserves. I earned his trust, kept promises, protected his privacy. Willingly, for too long. I’ve lived through the negotiations of a private settlement - been so worn down that I was convinced it was the only way I would achieve any form of justice, accountability. Committed legal blackmail - received restitution. My silence has been bought. My story is not my own.
This should not be the only option available to victims of sexual abuse by high profile men and women. To any victim of sexual abuse. The system, our culture, is set up to protect these perpetrators, to protect their images and the teams, shows, political parties they’re associated with and represent. We live in a twisted time where a person’s signature is worth money. A person just like any other person, with the mark of a pen, a scrawl across an object, increases it’s value and perpetuates the false ideology that one individual has greater worth than another.
We live in a world where a person’s worth is based on their gender, race, location, sexuality and station in life and not just because they are alive, living next to each of us, inhaling and exhaling.
Please know it’s not easy to come forward. It’s not comfortable to make intimate details of one’s abuse available for public consumption. There is no amount of money that can soothe the wound of sexual trauma, make it okay, make it go away.
Please know that our system is broken. The civil arena is often the only way victims can attempt to get justice and that should be shocking and shameful. But it’s not. It’s the victims that are further shamed and victimized - victimized because they have the nerve, the strength, to fight for themselves in the only way available to them. They are not trying to put a dollar amount on their abuse, their self-worth.
Please know victims come forward with the hopes that they will be able to prevent further abuse. That their silence feels like giving the perpetrator permission to continue to abuse others.
Please know that no one would subject oneself to the level of public scrutiny that comes with telling the truth, telling one's story of sexual assault by a person protected by celebrity.
Please listen and give us the benefit of the doubt and not default to blaming us, the victims.
Please listen. Just listen.