Worth Living Ambassador Jenna Fournier
Hello I’m Jenna, a psychology student at Carleton University. I like music, coffee shops, art, poetry, and I do weightlifting. I have been diagnosed with many things, most notably Borderline Personality Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Phobia.
Warning: These are my experiences alone and I do not speak for all survivors of sexual violence. Please be warned that the following content may be triggering and discusses sexual violence as its topic.
I never expected as a child that existing would be this hard. That being me would more often involve surviving than it did living. That I would be wearing a perpetual sign on my forehead reading Hurt Me. It wasn’t long into my childhood before I experienced violence for the very first time. I didn’t realize then, that violence would be a recurring theme in my life. People warn children not to talk to strangers. We’re all guilty of teaching our children only about the people we perceive to be monsters. The man in the white van, that offers your child candy. The stranger who lures your kid into the forest. These are what we imagine predators to be. They are the monsters that jump out at you in the dark, wolves snarling, baring teeth. We know what monsters look like; at least we think we do. We teach our children about these monsters, but fail to teach them about the wolves in sheeps’ clothing. The family member, the kind neighbour, the friend, the boyfriend. The ones closest to us, the ones we may even love.
Sexual violence kills someone’s soul. It tears it out and leaves it on the floor to rot. I remember hearing someone in high school once say they rather be raped than murdered. I remember being angry with them but not knowing how to put my anger into words. I never had the words until now. Being raped is like being murdered except you don’t get to die.
When I was eight years old, I experienced repeated sexual violence. I did not understand what was happening at the time. I just knew that it was happening. The perpetrator was not a stranger, was not in a white van and wasn’t even a man. The incidents did end. I don’t even remember why. I don’t think I even thought about it until years later. Thinking back, I don’t know why the person did what they did but I don’t think the reasoning is relevant. All that mattered is that it happened and that it hurt me.
I’m not sure if I was predisposed to being vulnerable. If there is something in my DNA that makes me weak or easy prey. It’s hard to feel like I wasn’t to blame for my victimization when I found myself in another sexually violent situation a few years later, and a few years later after that… and after that.
I began to realize that this is how it was for me. I was a small fish in a world full of sharks. The sharks mostly took form in the shape of men. Hungry for what they claimed to be theirs. A fish isn’t a fish to a shark. It’s just food.
What did middle school look like for me in terms of sexual violence? It looked like eighth grade boys grabbing at my body like a free-for-all buffet, a male friend describing how he would rape me, and yes, he used the words rape. A friend telling me how her father would assault her over and over again. Her mother telling me that his abuse was somehow my fault. It looked like a girl who was assaulted in the stairwell. The teachers telling the female students to take a friend to the washroom with them just in case something happened in the hallways. As if that were the solution instead of charging the boys for assault. It looked like a teacher telling my mom it was best if I stayed home but didn’t give her a reason as to why. The reason was that the boys at my school were treating me as theirs to take. Steak served and ready to be devoured. Starving eyes staring back at me.
When you are young you are told that the adults are there to help. If something goes wrong, they will save you. I soon realized the only saving would be the saving I did myself.
After being treated like subhuman for so long I began to feel subhuman. I gave up on myself. I put myself into situations I shouldn’t have been in and didn’t deserve. I didn’t fight back. I once casually took my jacket off after realizing someone had spit on it and proceeded to clean it off in the snow. I didn’t make a big deal out of it because I felt that maybe I somehow deserved it.
Slut. Whore. Worthless. Every time someone uttered one of these words it made its way under my skin leaving wounds that still haven’t fully healed over. And it wasn’t just the kids- in my middle school some of the staff thought I was selling myself for sex (but didn’t do anything about what they thought was happening), a staff member once told me they knew I was a good person deep down inside and that I should respect myself more. Apparently I was taking advantage of the boys and not the other way around.
Tenth grade. A boy- no a man befriends me. He just wants to be friends. He just wants to be friends but now his hands are down my pants and I can’t scream. I say the word “no” but it barely comes out. He laughs. It’s a joke to him. It’s not a joke to me because I still have nightmares to this day, I still see his face on strangers on the street and I still flinch when people touch me.
Twelfth grade, I’m walking up the staircase. I feel a hand where a stranger’s hand shouldn’t be. I turn around. I say “why did you do that” to which the girl replied, “Because I felt like it.”
There are some experiences that just begin to feel inevitable. Catcalls, sexist jokes, being sent to the principal’s office for having a skirt too short, because your teenage body is being sexualized. By adults. Men who sit too close to you on the bus, men who follow you home… shall I continue?
Boyfriends who go too far without asking, boyfriends who I let go too far because I think “what’s the point of trying to say no?”, The way I always type 911 on my phone when I walk home in the dark ready to press CALL. Considering carrying pepper spray in my purse but realizing I am more likely to be assaulted by someone I know, and knowing I have my own personal statistics to back this up.
These are just the way of living I tell myself. This is what I know. I remember telling a male friend that I wish I could go for a walk at night whenever I felt like it. He answered “Why can’t you?” I remember seeing a sign on my university campus that said “We Believe Survivors” and another male friend said “Why would you believe them all?” As if people speaking up about their assaults has ever been easy, has ever gone their way. As if survivors should receive any ounce of doubt.
I remember being in a criminal behaviour class and the topic was sexual violence. The males in the class were talking about how the video the professor played “Was just not realistic” and ” Men aren’t like that” I remember thinking to myself moments before how accurate the video was.
Recently I was listening to a spoken word poem and the speaker said “You don’t just get raped once because the world rapes you a second time.” And that is nothing further from the truth.
In a world that literally hates women, where women are raped and killed for just being women, where men almost always stay silent when they are the victim, it’s hard to see the light. I know that I will continue to experience violence even if it is not to the degree it has been in the past. Healing is a long process. It’s hard to heal in a world that is built against you. A world that re-traumatizes. I know not everyone reading this will be comfortable, but this isn’t supposed to make you feel comfortable.
I didn’t share every story of sexual violence- there were too many, and sharing all of my experiences, would just be far too vast to fit neatly into a blog post.
Although this article strays far from being uplifting, I want you to take one positive thing away from it. I got through all of this, and much much more. I survived. I will never edit my experiences down to make them flowery or easier to read. Although I may spare you the gory details I will always tell the truth. The point of writing for this blog is to share with you real life experiences relating to mental health. Sexual violence has been one of the biggest parts of my mental health and a contributing factor, in my opinion to many of my illnesses. Sexual violence is a hard topic to tackle but I chose to share this with you. If it can help at least one person out there feel less alone, then I have accomplished more than I could hope for.
I was once told that my life was like the series of unfortunate events but worse. I’ll take that as a compliment. I have experienced some terrible things in my life. But I survived. I survived.